OUT IN FORCE Mayo fans watch the action unfold at at Semple Stadium in Thurles last Saturday. Pic: Sportsfile
CONDUCT Under Capture protocols are rehearsed by most western militaries deploying to hostile areas to ensure that their soldiers are equipped with the skills necessary to behave during captivity and, most crucially, survive with dignity.
This latest iteration of the Mayo senior footballers have become subject matter experts in the art. Watching events in Thurles this past Saturday was to witness a lesson in placating your captor to the point of them punching themselves drunk. Tipperary went as hard as they could for 55 minutes. Once they relaxed their guard to draw breath Mayo slipped under the fence, dignity intact, like Steve McQueen.
Which is all very admirable. But oh, so avoidable. Mayo are so well rehearsed in escape they’ve forgotten the first golden rule of how to survive a kidnapping: DON’T GET KIDNAPPED IN THE FIRST PLACE.
Early on, it seemed as if we had finally learned this lesson. Our forwards were playing like actual forwards and revelling in the silage-saving weather. The O’Sheas were scoring and Cillian was carefree. There was purpose and zip and for all of fifteen minutes you felt all we needed to do was slap on the factor 50 and enjoy the procession.
And then; the ambush. There have been entire referendum campaigns concluded in less time than Josh Keanes’ Quinlivan-bound delivery hung in the air, almost suspended, and that entire time you really felt — this will not end well.
Paddy Durcan, usually so accomplished, might as well have been holding two 99’s and a bottle of Cidona for all he contributed. As for David Clarke — well, I have watched the tape two dozen times and I haven’t seen a dance move that whack since Billy Joe Padden in the GPO niteclub, Galway circa 2003, when the Manic Street Preachers came on.
They evacuated the club that night. If my memory serves, Billy suffered a grade 9 hamstring tear and missed the Comortas. He never wore skinny jeans again, and the GPO closed soon after. Clarke’s acrobatics were as bizarre as they were utterly ineffective.
The only shame was that we couldn’t hear man-of-the-hour Brian Kerr’s co-commentary of the goal: “Janey Mac Finno – the Mayo goalie looked like a chap who had a bit too much gargle there. He came for that ball like a lad in Tamangos who was trying to scissor-kick the bloke who was eyeing up his missus”.
To Clarke’s credit, his ability to dust himself off is unnerving.
Calamitous goal conceded? No problem. He just picks the ball out and puts the tee down like nothing happened. He truly has the memory of a goldfish.
Which is a good thing for a Mayo goalkeeper.
And so, the familiar tale unfolded: the Tipperary ambush and Mayo succumbing to kidnap, again. The text messages received at half-time make for comical reading now, but act as reminder of the prevailing zeitgeist amongst worried Mayo supporters. One friend suggested a Marley & Me style mercy killing as if this Mayo team is some old golden lab whom we love dearly, but needs to be euthanized for all our sakes (needless-to-say, forty minutes later he executed a triumphant Trumpian U-turn!)
Once more, our doubts were misplaced.
Every successful escape requires a fortuitous intervention and we found ours via James Durcan’s 52nd minute goal. If it were tennis, Durcan’s effort would’ve required a raised hand, bowed head faux apology. Instead, the young man’s celebration was indicative of how desperately the gap in the Thurles fence was needed. That score proved the beginning of the end for Tipperary, and just maybe the birth of the summer proper for Mayo.
The journey continues, and suddenly, unexpectedly, the welcoming bosom of Croke Park awaits. It’s not all sweetness and light – the injury to Seamus O’Shea ends his season and complicates selection. The one upside is it pushes much needed fresh blood to bat.
Now more than ever, it’s time to trust them.
Kildare will quietly fancy themselves. Cian O’Neill will brazenly so. It’s lazy to say it won’t be easy – especially as nothing with this group ever really is.