MEETING AND GREETING Mayo fans Pat and Fintan Lynchehaun from Achill are pictured with Dubliner David Hall from Ballbriggan outside Croke Park last Saturday. Pic: Conor McKeown
The Fan’s View
THE final whistle is a blessed relief, as the noise in Croke Park reaches a crescendo; a horribly familiar sound. Shattered, battered by the blue wave, lies the 2019 dream beneath us on the rocks. It’s over.
It’s the hope that kills you. It lifts you sky high, plants you on a precarious ledge alongside your dreams, then laughs tauntingly in your face as the ground collapses and you plummet into space. Twelve minutes into the second half, we hit the ground.
This, however, is no ode to heartbreak. No sentimental, watery-eyed eulogy for another lost season. There is no pity; because to be pitied is the death of pride; and together, defiantly, we remain fiercely proud.
Make no mistake, it still hurts. The walk back to the car stretches for miles. Resolutely, you keep your eyes focused straight ahead, your jaw clenched. Breathing deeply and deliberately, avoiding eye contact, lest they detect the slightest chink in your armour and surround you with their jeers and taunts before you reach sanctuary. Pathetic fallacy, the rain reflects the mood as the wet road reflects a slow, funeral procession of red taillights, as far as the eye can see. Heading west, to lick our wounds, like so many times before.
How to make sense of it? There is no way. There is some comfort in knowing we held our own for a while; but the force and frenzy of the assault in the second half leaves you wondering; even with a few more days’ recovery, could we ever have really competed? Is the Championship as we once knew it dead and buried, destroyed by inequity? Or was it just not our day against a simply phenomenal group of players; a beautifully oiled and synchronised machine of blue?
Today is probably not the day to ponder this; perspective is scarce. When the cloud lifts, we’ll look back on the year we’ve had – one which exceeded expectations.
The bitter cold and wet nights of the League. The joy of winning in Croke Park. The pride of battling through the awful Super 8s. The many long car journeys; memories made. The excitement of the last week; unfortunately, too short to savour; but where hope was at its strongest. The hours of podcasts devoured. The beauty of words like those of Keith Duggan – who understands what beats beneath these shirts of green and red.
The defining story of the day should not be the nature of our defeat; we are far from the first to experience it. It should be the return - almost unacknowledged - to the senior inter-county stage of Tom Parsons, on the biggest day of them all. Only Tom, his loved ones and his medical team know the effort he has put into not just recovering, but honing his body and mind to reaching these heights once again, and that incredible level of resilience epitomises both his personal strength and the strength of so many of this team.
It was heartening in the Irish Examiner preview podcast to hear of the affection in which our team is held by both Cian O’Neill and Tony McEntee, who know them so well.
It’s therefore not hard to see why, when they are at their lowest, and are attacked by fair-weather fans and petty pundits alike, we will circle the wagons and close ranks around this Mayo team. They are of us. We will stand tall with these lion-hearted men of our place.
While others, in their very own words, should be forgotten about as men.
The resilience of this group is why the wounds of days like this will heal, and we will embrace what lies ahead next year with similar enthusiasm and defiance, and above all, hope. We may bid a bittersweet farewell to some of those who gave so much to the cause. And we may not; but regardless, the dream will endure. Winning back Connacht now our new goal.
It has been a privilege to document this year’s journey, and to commit the memories of these days to paper. And so, the Fan’s View will turn to the comfort of the club championship, and the country dream will hibernate, to awaken gently in January, rejuvenated, for the next leg of the journey. And of course, we’ll go again. What else do we know?