OVER AND OUT Galway footballer Declan Kyne from Clonbur, right, shakes hands with Dublin’s Jack McCaffrey of Dublin after last Saturday’s All-Ireland SFC semi-final. Also in the picture is Galway’s Seán Andy Ó Ceallaigh. Pic: Sportsfile
Here’s one Mayoman’s account of Galway’s championship exit
YOU probably won’t have ever heard of Hiroo Onoda. It’s eminently forgivable.
Hiroo was an officer of the Imperial Japanese Army who refused to surrender after World War II, choosing instead to continue to fight from his post in the Philippines jungle for 29 years. He survived on bananas and coconuts. He repelled patrol after patrol dispatched to retrieve him, sent to convince him the war was over.
He killed many of those who came for him. He outright refused to believe his commanding officer would abandon him, and more sacredly, the Emperor would surrender. This may be the most extreme case of ‘denial not just being a river in Africa’ you will ever read about.
For nearly thirty years, Japanese, American and Philippine envoys went to the jungle to convince Hiroo the game was up. But, though they knew he was there, they couldn’t find him. There was air-drops of leaflets explaining the outcome of the war, later with personal messages from his family, pleading with him to stop fighting and accept it was over.
He later said he read them all, but dismissed them as propaganda.
In the end, it took a back-packing student to bring him in. Norio Suzuki took off in search of the ‘Last Holdout’ as part of a gap-year bucket list adventure. When he finally came face to face with him – something nobody else had managed – he tried to convince him to return home to Japan with him.
Unsurprisingly, Hiroo was not for turning, explaining that he was only following his last orders of ‘Stay and fight’. Suzuki went home with proof of life pictures and convinced the Japanese government the only man who could convince Onoda to come home was the officer who gave him those orders.
And so it happened, 29 years after Major Yoshimi Taniguchi told Onoda to hang tough, he returned to tell him he was relieved of his orders. The ragged Onoda dutifully saluted, and wept.
Though I could never claim to have matched Onoda’s fortitude and sense of duty (I hate bananas), I have lived like him for the last 17 years in Galway. An outlier. L’Éntranger. Though dormant for long periods, every now and then the sporadically great beast that is Galway football gets restless and with that comes the envoys and the air-dropped leaflets trying to convince me that this is for real. Galway are coming!
Like Onoda, I read all the leaflets. I watched them beat Mayo, too often, and win minor titles and U-21 titles and European City of the Century titles, but like Onoda, I never believed. Mostly because, after we had suffered for so long, how could it be so easy for them?
This year, 2018, was my back-packing Suzuki. He came quietly and ambushed me. After Galway clipped Mayo in Castlebar, Suzuki begged me to lay down my arms, end my exile. I would be immune from prosecution for crimes committed, he said.
Galway would even honour my resistance as a sacred act of a defiant soldier.
Just surrender, he said. Galway are coming. Galway are real. Suddenly, I felt tired.
And with that I felt doubt. With doubt, the inevitable vulnerability. Maybe it was time. Short of dutifully saluting and weeping, I told him to come back to me in three months.
With the biggest scalp. Preferably Dublin’s. I told him if Galway were still alive after Pope Francis left, that I was done. They could have my sword.
And so, I sat on my perch in the Claddagh, and I watched and waited. More than once I considered that my stubbornness, while born of out loyalty to Mayo, was increasingly becoming an act of petulant begrudging insolence.
‘This is your home, your children’s home!’ the voices said. Many an evening I resolved that if this is to be it, how bad is it?
Sure, there seems to be very little journey and a helluva lot of destination in getting behind Galway, and while that seems to betray much of my inherent nihilism that comes with being from Mayo, it seems like a far easier ride and besides, the new championship format fits snugly with the festival season. Everyone wins.
And so, after Galway bet Kerry, I polished the sword. I ironed my number ones. I groomed the white horse, and I went to the top of the Claddagh. I thought of the chidren.
The war was over for me now. I was ready.
But they never came back. After all the noise there was to be no big scalp. Suddenly, the skies are quiet. No more leaflets. No more envoys. No more Suzuki. Just me and my coconuts.
I turn my horse down St Nicholas’ Road. I sheath my blade. There will be no surrender.
I return to my post.