PALPABLE PRIDE Rob Hennelly, left, and Jason Doherty celebate with Mayo supporters after Sunday’s National Football League Division 1 win over Kerry at Croke Park. Pic: Sportsfile
We saw at the final whistle in Croke Park at 5.30pm on Sunday just what Mayo means to so many from this great county of ours. Though league titles may not always be celebrated with such enthusiasm, it is instructive that, yet again, Mayo would do things differently.
A national title was there to be won and once it was won, after a dramatic and tension-filled second half, it was there to be enjoyed, to be savoured and remembered. We saw in the reactions of the players, both long-serving and fresh-faced, what the victory meant. And we sure saw it in the faces of fans in the crowd, some teary eyed, most merely jubilant.
It was special because we have waited a long time to see Mayo claim victory in a national title at Croke Park in the senior grade.
Since Mayo’s last success – the 2001 league title – we have walked what Paddy Prendergast, one of the two remaining heroes of 1950/51, has often referred to as our own Via Dolorosa.
We’ve lost three league finals since 2001 and, most agonisingly, six All-Ireland senior finals. John O’Mahony said in 1989 to ‘keep the faith’. Mayo fans certainly have done so. Final-day heartbreak has not reduced Mayo’s support; if anything it has swollen it.
But it would be wrong to describe our fans as ‘long suffering’; there have been some amazing days along this remarkable journey. Sunday was another chapter in the highlights reel and it is there to be enjoyed and remembered by players and fans alike.
And if it is a prelude to what a whole people yearn for, then it will go down in history as a vital stepping stone towards our county’s Nirvana.
‘What Mayo Means To Me’ was the theme of our inaugural Neill O’Neill Creativity Awards. Run in memory of our much-loved and greatly missed Managing Editor, who died suddenly in October 2017, the awards are designed to recognise outstanding talent in the fields of writing, art and photography, with grades for adults, secondary-school students and national-school students.
The closing date for the awards was reached on Friday last, and here in The Mayo News we have been blown away by the response of people in this county. It is clear that the competition has struck a chord.
A cursory look at the art and photography entries demonstrates the huge talent that exists in these fields in the county. With judging for the writing awards to take place first, it is those entries we have been sorting first and reading with pleasure.
There’s no doubt that many of those who put pen to paper were in Croke Park on Sunday for the centrality of the Mayo football team to people’s sense of what Mayo means to them is very apparent in entries in all categories and all disciplines. It is a constant thread woven through the rich tapestry of entries.
From the girl from Louisburgh who recalls how, in the lows after the final whistle in the 2017 All-Ireland final defeat, it was people from Mayo whom she did not know who comforted her, to the clear inspiration that the footballers of this county provide to our young to the adults reflecting on the journey, Mayo football has huge meaning to our county.
But there is a broad range of aspects of Mayo covered in entries that are worth noting.
There’s the unadulterated joy of people born in other parts of the world who are now blessed to call Mayo home.
There’s the full appreciation of the beauty of our landscape – our mountains, beaches, sea and wilderness.
There’s many who say it is the people who make the county, the people who rally together in times of need, with several references to fundraising efforts for the Regina’s Fight for Life charity.
There’s a nod to the influence Mayo’s multinationals have had, from the 1970s on, in allowing people born in Mayo to remain living and working here.
There’s an acknowledgment of how Mayo will always be home to several entrants born here but, who, for one reason or another, live in other parts of the country and, indeed, the world.
Football is a core theme among the hundreds of written entries received. And as people of Mayo walk a little taller this week, it is clear to see why.
Neill O’Neill would have been in his element this week in The Mayo News. Leading his team late into Monday night to do justice to Sunday’s win and looking forward to what the summer can bring.
And days like yesterday have to be enjoyed by those of us lucky enough to be there as we recall the many great and good of this county, people like Neill, no longer with us.
We will be announcing the winners of the Neill O’Neill Creativity Awards in the coming weeks. Spare a thought for our judges who have the unenviable task of trying to pick winners from such a high-quality field. Keep an eye out for more news in the coming weeks.