AS I write this column, we are in the throes of high summer. The sun is beaming, there is warmth in the air, and the tar is melting! And of course, Mayo is once again the last Connacht team standing in the Championship. Glory days, indeed.
Of all the Mayo GAA rollercoasters we’ve jumped upon over the past few years, this one has surely been the most unpredictable. A race against time to recover from injuries, bed in a new management team, a new system; a new belief. From the injury-strewn January to the relief of falling over the League line in April. From the Ruislip sunburn and partying, to the sting of rain and defeat to Galway. From the tentative first steps in the qualifiers, to the defiant, almost arrogant quenching of Tyrone. From the crushing to the exhilarating. The plot has frequently contradicted itself. The defensive system with – at times - holes so vast you could drive a tank through, a forward line you’d kill for on paper, yet who have barely influenced the scoreboard at times? If football really is a religion, more than a few of us have questioned our faith this year.
If the plot on the pitch has contradicted itself, that’s nothing to the paradoxes off it. A read of just one of the threads over on the ever-excellent Mayo GAA Blog will prove beyond all doubt that, unlike religion, football is truly subjective, and that every person will see a different version of the game that is played out before them. And bafflingly, it’s even possible to agree with more than one version of events at the same time. I feel that I myself have become a walking contradiction. On one hand, I want us badly to win at all costs, yet on the other, I’m sick of the big deal that winning has become. Try figuring that one out.
Winning at all costs is something Mayo has never really embraced, but it finally feels like we are becoming meaner in our quest for victory; less passive, more aggressive. Dabbling in the dark arts on the pitch; embracing it as necessary off it. These days, I want us to do whatever we have to do to win. Anything. Losing makes you harder and colder. Any morals I held as a supporter are lying in tatters below in Limerick after the travesty of our semi-final defeat to Kerry in 2014. That day fundamentally changed me, and I suspect many more. Now, I don’t care if no-one likes us. In fact, I’d prefer if they didn’t – at least that way, there is no pity when you lose. (The pity is the worst).
Yet, paradoxically, I’m tired of the exhausting “Sam or bust” mentality that has pervaded the county. I am sick of the perception as a supporter that every year we don’t win an All-Ireland final is worthless. Cast your mind back over the past six years and remember the many days we have left Croke Park smiling. Those are the days when memories are made, friendships are forged. They are to be savoured, filed away to keep you warm in the depths of winter. Long-suffering Mayo supporters? I beg to differ. I feel sorry for those who don’t experience these highs - and even the lows. I would sooner be challenging and losing a final every single year, than not be challenging at all and missing out on days like these. What’s the point in reaching the destination if you can’t enjoy the journey?
I hope we hold nothing back in our quest for the Holy Grail this year. I want this wonderful team to be rewarded for their Trojan efforts. I hope they play hard, on the edge and dirty if they have to. I hope they win at all costs. Yet if they don’t, to us, as supporters, it just means life goes on as is. There is no “bust”. What else will we do but climb back on the horse and chase the dream again next year, just like we do every year?
That’s just one of the contradictions of being a Mayo fan, I suppose. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.