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Mayo football a game of opinions

Sport

SHAKE ON IT Mayo goalkeeper Robbie Hennelly shakes hands with his opposite number, Dublin’s Stephen Cluxton, before the recent All-Ireland semi-final at Croke Park. Pic: Sportsfile

Colin Sheridan

“We are all part of the same hypocrisy.”
- Al Pacino, Godfather Part II

AS a colleague once remarked, after a seven day period during which he was shot at (twice) and hit by a moving car; it’s been a long week. Every Mayo football season for 69 nine years has ended disappointedly; so we are not unused to the autopsy that follows a year ending loss.
War councils convene in coffee shops and snugs, over garden walls and in between cattle sales at the mart. This is sadly common territory for us Mayo folk. But, we are as God made us, and have as much say in it as the colour of the eyes you are born with.
This past week, however, has been a little bit different. For starters, there was no argument that it could’ve ended any other way than it did, given the year we had and the immovable object we met at our Waterloo. Then, there was the fallout concerning the ‘Great Integrity Robbery’ of 2019, after many – or all of us it seems – took exception to the blow cast upon the character of this Mayo team and its inability to win an All-Ireland in last Sunday’s papers. Lest you think I am belittling the offence intended and caused, I am not, but I do have some thoughts. Almost all opinion, however educated or otherwise, is based less upon scientific reasoning and more on personal bias. Your prejudices. My prejudices. His.
The same goes for politics and music and movies and what you think of your neighbours. Show me the completely objective writer, and I’ll show you a liar. Or at least a boring one.
Take for example the attitude of ex-Kerry footballers writing about Tyrone; their published opinions are jaundiced by their views of a rival that became the Anti-Kerry over a near decade-long rivalry during which Tyrone paid them no respect, something Kerry people were not used to.
Likewise how I write about Galway football. Having never forgiven them for ending the innocence of my youth by winning the easiest All-Ireland in history in 1998, I now take great joy in mocking their inability to be taken seriously; sporadically promising but consistently never delivering. Sure, I let fact inform my arguments, but it’s my bias that drives it.
If I were a better known writer (or perhaps just a better writer), my musings could be taken as nasty, vindictive pieces of work. I would argue they are just dash of colour on the landscape. We have been breathing rarified air in Mayo this past decade.

Sycophantic hype
There’s a cold truth we are forgetting, or choosing to ignore. When we bond as one over these perceived slights, we do so somehow believing in the sycophantic hype that we live in a bubble of bliss, that we are incorruptible as a people. Which is, I hate to point out, even more demonstrably ridiculous than any of the slurs aimed at us these last few weeks.
There was a time when the horrible epitaphs we hurl at each other on Twitter – preserved for eternity by screengrabs – were at once lost in the Garrymore sky, no sooner out of our septic mouths then consigned to history. More often we felt embarrassed by those moments after the final whistle, silently regretting we called the ref a ‘cheating p***k’, and the county man we back slapped last week an effin so-and-so.
Guilty as we feel, we still do it, week after week at club matches, as if to grant our watching children a rite-of-passage as they stand beside us, undoubtedly confused by the bile that spews from their normally sane daddy’s mouth.
Yes, like it or not, we are all part of the same hypocrisy. Seamlessly switching from righteous fan to ignorant fool like Paddy Durcan switches from defence to attack. Sport brings us much joy, but it can also make us look incredibly stupid. The dreaded role of social media has only intensified the folly and ensured the arguments continue long after the final whistle.
There was a time in the contemporary history of this country when it was the legacy of Civil War politics that ensured we were grudge keepers without peer. Later came the land – that half a rood of rock – that divided brothers and parishes. Now we have devolved to the point that provocative quips by sportswriters stir our passions like nothing else, allowing a red mist to descend and leave us driving blind.
This is not just true of questions of Mayo football, but of Man City and Conor McGregor and a hundred thousand other inconsequential things. These questions, once the preserve of the high stool and school assembly halls, weaponise ordinary decent people to the point of rage.
Selective memories
The writer Martin Amis reviewed the lives and books of his peers in the 80s. Many of them – like Mayo – were borderline immune from criticism. Saul Bellow. John Updike.
Norman Mailer. Gay Talese. Giants of their respective fields. But he read them and he reviewed them and he rebuked them, based on his personal bias.
Mailer was washed up. Updike grossly overrated. He was paid to give his opinion, and right or wrong, his opinion became part of the narrative for each on their respective legacies. But it did not define them. Forty years on those writers are either great or not great, based not upon Amis’s opinion, but upon their body of work, and how it resonated with people. I don’t mean to say as Mayo people we should be somehow ‘above’ the criticism, as if patronisingly dismissing it, but we should be able to handle it.
We have selective memories in Mayo. We didn’t exactly storm the Bastille to protect the integrity of the ‘outsider’ Brian MacDonald after he was thrown to the wolves following the heave of 1992. MacDonald, incidentally, lived in Castlebar long before and since, he is ‘one of our own’. Likewise the treatment of Holmes and Connelly, and Stephen Rochford, whose departure – despite the countless testimonials to his brilliance this summer when Donegal were hot stuff – was greeted with tumbleweed from the dressing room last summer.
Read that as criticism all you want, but it’s true, and understandable if not forgivable based on the fact that human nature trumps logic when it comes to Mayo football. I don’t think even the players would dispute this. In each case, they did what they thought was right. It doesn’t mean it was right, but it does make it at least defensible.
Furthermore, there’s been many a Mayo player in the last 30 years who can attest to feeling anything but love from the home terraces during the bad old days, when wins were as rare as shifts at Craggagh discos. Yet, given our recent ascension into the pantheon of national darlings, we feel immune to interrogation and affronted by questions regarding our fortitude. Yes, we all part of the same hypocrisy. Loyalty to your heroes is admirable. But so is perspective. When the criticism is to the collective – even if vaguely disguised and perhaps personal – it can serve multiple purposes, or none at all; it can motivate, or (wait for it) it can guide and inform.
Give cause for reflection and possible improvement. We can’t be right about everything.
Otherwise we would have another match to play and win this season. And we don’t.
Call off the dogs. This is sport, even when it gets personal, it’s still only sport.
Those with a bone to pick with Mayo will do so, as is their right.
C’est la guerre. It’s up to each one of us how we receive it or reject it, and ultimately evolve.