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A night at Conor Mortimer’s book launch

South of the border

A night at Conor’s book launch

A night at Conor’s book launch

Willie McHugh

2014 is the Chinese Year of the horse. Maybe we should have kept an eye on Old Moore’s little pamphlet. Seems it was Irish year of the autobiography. They’re all at it. Brian O’Driscoll, Roy Keane (again), Margo, Shane Curran, Ivan Yates and Paul Galvin among a plethora of others.
It looked like south Mayo might have been left out of this great literary loop but one man stepped up and filled the gaping void. Last Wednesday night Conor Mortimer launched his autobiography ‘One Sunday, A day in the life of the Mayo football team’. The book was ghost written by Jackie Cahill.
Maybe Cahill’s football prowess wouldn’t match Conor’s proficiency, but in the fashion stakes the Tipperary freelance journalist could go toe-to-toe in any twirl with the flamboyant Shrule man.
In his coloured dickie-bow Cahill cut a dapper dash as he rushed around the foyer of the McWilliam Park Hotel in Claremorris on Wednesday night shortly before they unveiled their body of work.In the lead-up to the launch Conor fretted as to the turnout on the night. But he needn’t have worried. As usual, Shrule togged strong for one of their own. Even some with hardly a passing interest in football were there purely out of neighbourly loyalty.
Freda Gray and her work colleague Delia O’Neill were present. Highly unlikely there are two greater GAA aficionados working in any shop in this land. They even bring a bit of good old-fashioned border rivalry and the banter it engenders to their workplace.
Freda is from the Mayo bank of the Black River and Delia crosses in from the far levee. Two sounder women you couldn’t meet on either side of the river or counter, and the world is better whenever you happen on both (or either) of the double act.
They came from neighbouring Kilmaine too. Mike Burke, Johnny Heneghan, David O’Loughlin, Oliver Walsh, Joe Callaghan and Pat Kelly, he with the whispered but always meaningful word of encouragement. Johnny and Maureen O’Malley, among others, journeyed from Ballinrobe and the Claremorris football fraternity stirred themselves for a wander down town.
The book is published by former Meath footballer and All-Ireland winner, Liam Hayes. In times when Hayes, the footballer, was only a household name in his own house, we knew him best as sports writer with the Sunday Press.
First time we saw him up close and personal in a Meath jersey was in 1987 when they officially opened Kilmaine Community Sportsfield and played Mayo. Hayes and Mayo’s Denis Kearney took a footballing dislike to each other. PJ McGrath was referee and Kilmaine’s famous knight of the whistle took remedial action.
PJ was also present in the McWilliam Park for Wednesday night’s launch. As was Galway’s Johnny Tobin, probably the first player in Ireland to wear white boots. Along too was Ja Fallon, one of the most naturally gifted footballers Galway ever produced. Fans never left a ground truly satisfied unless they’d seen Ja execute his famous trademark sidestep. In Mayo we witnessed it to our cost betimes.
Conor dedicated his book to his late grandfather George.
George journeyed everywhere ferrying Kenneth, Trevor and Conor to training and matches. Not as much as a cup of tea, let alone a monetary reimbursement, did he get or expect for his time.
George Mortimer, half astride his bicycle and he engaging someone in football conversation, was a regular Shrule sighting. Conor’s grandmother, Evelyn, forsook her nightly bridge school to attend Conor’s special night.
The book takes the reader on a Mayo football journey. The crushing defeat in the 2006 All- Ireland final, a detailed account of his sudden departure from the Mayo panel, and the residue of hurt and loss his decision visited on him. On the county too perhaps. ‘Could Mayo have done with him in 2012 and 2013?’ is an oft-asked pondering question. It will forever go unanswered.
“Could you see him coming back?” someone asked leaving the McWilliam Park last Wednesday night. Did he ever leave?