FOLLOW THE SIGNS Mayo supporter Des Walsh from Kilmaine and friends are pictured with their sign at last September's All-Ireland SFC Final. Pic: Sportsfile
An alternative take on the end of the 2017 All-Ireland Final
It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense. - Mark Twain
2017 has been a strange year. Strange is often beautiful, but, sitting here suffering from Christmas induced gout and enduring the first of many the-year-that-was specials, there are far too many reminders just how strange it all got at about quarter past five on September 17 last.
Those cruel remembrances can lead you to that one place you swore you wouldn’t go — re-watching another All-Ireland you believe Mayo should’ve won. It should be torture, and mostly it is, but this time you allow yourself an alternate ending. A what if? It’s stupid, sure, but nowhere as stupid as that decision to go back for a turkey, ham, stuffing, coleslaw and Tayto sandwich at 11pm last night.
You read it right – an alternate ending; indulge me; the Sliding Doors moment comes bang on 50 minutes as John Small collides with Colm Boyle. Donie Vaughan runs to rebuke Small, starts to swing his arm and instead runs his fingers through his hair, the way one ten-year-old might taunt another in a schoolyard donnybrook. Small gets the line and suddenly Mayo are one point down but a man up with 20 minutes to play.
56 minutes: On the side-line Michael Darragh MacAuley (MDMA) has abandoned his usual warm up routine which clearly is not impressing Jim Gavin, and begins to do one armed chin-ups off the roof of the dugout. Jim stares stoically ahead, unbreakable.
64 minutes: Mayo win possession and begin a perilous game of keep ball-that includes Conor Loftus and Kevin McLoughlin exchanging headers. There are shrieks of terror from the stands. Stephen Rochford tells Rob Hennelly to go out and warm up. The crowd goes wild.
70 minutes: Following a fortuitous line-ball, Mayo win a free on the fourteen-yard line under the Hogan Stand. Cillian thinks for a second of his miss at the death of last year’s final. He banishes the thought with a roar so deep and guttural that seagulls drop from the Drumcondra sky. After taking two minutes and 35 seconds to set himself, he splits the posts with an archer’s precision.
75 minutes: Taoiseach Leo Varadker is summoned from his seat to take a call from Canadian PM Justin Trudeau. Excitedly he exits to the back of the Hogan. He quickly realises it’s all a ruse, as Enda Kenny slips into the vacated Taoiseach’s seat and immediately fist pumps and points at everybody and nobody. This is all captured on the big screen. The crowd goes ape.
A fist pump that could launch a thousand ships. If Mayo are about to win there is no way Enda will not be Taoiseach for it. Leo isn’t that put out as he was unsure what was going on anyway. He retires to the buffet where he sits and watches Love Actually - his favourite movie - on his iPhone.
76 minutes: Spurred on by this Coup d’Enda, Mayo defend like lions. Gavin looks to his bench, ignoring MDMA once more, he spies Jack McCaffrey, icing his leg and supping a few cans of Stella Artois. He pulls a funny face at him.
77 minutes: MDMA goes to the Mayo bench and sits down - telling Rochford he’ll go on if he needs him.
78 minutes: The crowd are whistling now. Praying for an end. Mayo are clinging on, but crucially still winning. The big screen shows Rochford nervously pacing the sideline. Creeping behind him is John Maughan bedecked in a pair of Speedos. Looking younger and fitter than all the Mayo squad, he appears to be preparing himself for a Platoon style drop-to-the-knees should Mayo win. He is removed by stewards.
78 minutes: Still Mayo defend. Dublin have it but are going nowhere. Suddenly, incredulously, Joe McQuillan blows for a free-in to Dublin, spying Keith Higgins opening the valve on Diarmuid Connolly’s arms, illegally deflating them. Dean Rock steps up. Andy Moran attempts to distract him by handing him a flier for a Zumba class in his gym. McQuillan moves the ball in ten yards. Lee Keegan throws an entire laptop at Dean Rock. It matters none. He nails the free. Drawn game.
79 minutes: David Clarke dummies to hit his kick long, instead opting for Brendan Harrison who in turn finds Keegan who carries up-field, eventually passing to Aidan O’Shea, who had taken the previous twenty minutes off to answer emails about an upcoming movie about his life.
Aido takes it, shrugs James McCarthy to the floor, hands off Ciaran Kilkenny, dummies Johnny Cooper. Suddenly, time slows. O’Shea steadies himself and, despite screams to pass to pretty much everybody, he proceeds to hit a slider off the outside of his left. As the ball sails toward Hill 16, Aido pulls from his sock his iPhone and, in a display of admirable dexterity and composure, takes a selfie of himself and posts it to Instagram even before the ball splits the uprights. Mayo lead by one, and it’s almost over.
Cluxton hurries. But for once to no avail. He desperately searches for a quick kick out to guarantee possession but every Mayo player has their Dublin adversary in a wedgie.
It's 5.15pm. McQuillan blows it. A deathly quiet erupts, the crowd completely unprepared for this endgame. Somewhere in the Lower Hogan, David Brady spontaneously combusts. A cold wind blows through the Croke Park press box as a hundred journos realise the words they've written for today and a hundred Sundays yet to come are rendered useless.
Somewhere off in the distance, a dog barks.
Jim Gavin sheds a solitary tear, and promptly short circuits. He drops to his knees as the blown fuse exposes wires and a battery that confirmed a long-standing suspicion he is in fact a robot.
Joe Brolly is rendered speechless for the first time since the nanosecond before his mammy birthed him.
The Yen crashes.
As Cillian O’Connor alights the 34 steps to heaven, the Dublin County Board prepare their legal challenge to the result, citing no precedent in living memory for such a happening. As he accepts Sam from Enda, Cillian eschews convention and in a nod to millennials everywhere delivers five minutes of impromptu slam poetry rather than a speech. Enda resigns as Taoiseach, slips on his leather jacket and heads straight to Flannery's on Dorset street.
By 9pm, the rest of the country hates Mayo and collectively longs for yesterday, when we were the laziest story ever written.
If you believe in the science of The Mandela Effect - one theory which argues we live in alternate realities - maybe all of this happened last September. Content yourself with that thought this coming January, and wish your soul to that parallel universe, where Mayo are All-Ireland champions. It almost makes too much sense...