KITCHEN SINK DRAMA
It was just before the final whistle in the second semi-final that I realised I was fine with Dublin being the team to prevent Mayo lifting their first Sam Maguire in 62 years. Because I was a bit worried about that, you know? Like most sports fans, I am given to sentimentality: I love, for example, seeing men take to the field whose fathers I remember seeing play (I draw the line at grandfathers, though; that’s just depressing).
I’m enchanted by plucky outsiders, by unlikely lads and ladies. When the Irish cricket team shocked everyone by beating England in the World Cup in 2011, I wasted two whole days of my life trying to develop an interest in the game, just so that I could wallow even deeper in the romance of our victory. I love hearing about clubs without clubhouses managing to win trophies and amateurs beating professionals at their own game. If they can do so having survived a life-threatening illness, all the better.
And if you’re that way inclined, then Mayo practically have a monopoly on sentiment. There are all manner of statistics that Mayo people can throw up in support of their claim to an All Ireland title, but essentially they all boil down to the same thing — Mayo is far and away the most successful GAA county not to have won an All Ireland senior title in most people’s living memory.
It was for that reason that I desperately wanted Mayo to win last year. And even though I have a few drops of Kerry blood in my veins, I even wanted them to win that awful 2006 final, when they collapsed in the face of the relentless football machine that calls itself The Kingdom. In other words, I really wanted Mayo to get that Sam Maguire-shaped monkey off their back before they inevitably faced Dublin in a final. Because I was genuinely afraid that if they didn’t, then I wouldn’t be able to begrudge them a victory over us.
It was that fear — and that fear alone — that saw me shouting for Tyrone for the first (and I suspect only) time in my life in the first semifinal. Because if Tyrone could have seen off Mayo, then I wouldn’t have had to worry about the sentiment thing. But they didn’t. And right
I want Mayo to get that Sam Maguireshaped monkey off their back. But now that they’re facing the Dubs? Mayo Shmayo
up until that final whistle in the second, spellbinding semi-final — well, okay, maybe just up to the heart-stopping thrill of Kevin McManamon’s goal — I still had my concerns.
But then, even as the sharp whistle propelled Dublin into our second All Ireland final in three years, after one of the most thrilling encounters I’ve had the privilege to witness, my worries disappeared. Mayo Shmayo, in other words. One match stands between the Dubs and our second title in three years; the fact that the other team happens to wear green and red and has a big, gaping hole in its trophy cabinet doesn’t matter a jot. I was talking to another Dublin fan about all this last week, and he pointed out that in any event, there isn’t a huge difference between 62 years and 63 years. In other words, if Mayo have waited this long, then they can wait a bit longer. But that very generosity of spirit, I reminded him, would mean that we wouldn’t want back-to-back titles next year, and we will, very much. And after that, of course, there will be the three in a row. And don’t mention 2016 because, by then, Dublin could be on course for the drive for five.
For a little while after that conversation, I began to think it would be all right if Mayo won an All Ireland title in, say, 2018 or so. But then I thought about The Boy, who, I’m pretty sure, would like to enter his 20th year as a supporter of the current All Ireland champions. And in the years after that, he might become a father himself... and which grandparent (non-footballplaying) doesn’t want to spoil their grandchildren with consecutive All Ireland titles?
And there’s the bind. I’d love to see Mayo win an All Ireland title and, at the same time, I hope they never, ever do. Honestly, you’ve got to love sport. Especially on days like today, when your toes start tingling even before you wake up, when you walk down Jones’ Road with your heart in your mouth, only 70 minutes standing between you and glory. And when you know that every other person walking towards their grail — regardless of the colours on the back — feels exactly the same. It’s a kind of madness, really. A kind of lovely, perfect madness.