THE TWO TOMS Mayo’s Tom Parsons tackles Galway’s Tom Flynn during last Sunday’s FBD League semi-final at MacHale Park. Pic: Conor McKeown
“I can’t go on like this”
“That’s what you think”
- Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot
FOR most of us, January is to be endured, not enjoyed. A divisive unit of time that acts as a sinus rinse for the soul. As unwelcome as it is necessary. Never do we feel so physically swelled with excess. Never is the gap between paydays so acutely felt.
Yes, January is the annual existential hangover we all must struggle through like the eternal Monday of a Bank Holiday weekend, all just to reach February and emerge into spring, refreshed, infused with hope.
That’s how it normally is, at least, but given the tumult that has beset football in our county these last few months, January arrived like a welcome tonic for the tortured soul. We should have lit bonfires. The first month of the year means a return to grass, to the more crude aspects of sporting life - the simplistic beatified basics of boot and ball.
Last Sunday week, as the coxs called time for their crews on the River Corrib, Mayo footballers mercifully returned to onfield action with a narrow victory over NUIG in front of a few dozen spectators, some Sunday morning joggers, and a stray dog.
Never has a nondescript friendly fixture been so welcome. If last month’s county convention bookended the most absurd period of our recent footballing history, last Sunday week’s sporting stroll in Dangan became the first words jotted on the notepad of a season just beginning.
The politics of sport have come close to suffocating the life out of the actual games we all enjoy, whether it be the FAI shenanigans, GAA fixtures or the county board cluster.
There is nothing quite like some good old fashioned grudge-holding or boardroom filibustering to dissuade the practitioners of the sports we love - the players, the volunteers and supporters - from lacing up and going again.
But far from being dissuaded, there can’t be a man, woman or child in Mayo that wasn’t happy to see the back of 2019. Ironically, as an actual senior football team, we may be at our lowest ebb in nearly a decade. This is not quite the hottest of takes, but, despite our National League title last spring and some early semi-final heroics against the Dubs in the autumn, there was a sense that we were slipping ever so slightly, while our erstwhile rivals for Best Supporting Actor, Kerry, were on the rise again.
Time will tell whether the autumn of discontent has had a negative effect on team and management. James Horan is a tough old boot, not one to suffer fools.
But, these last few months you can picture him sitting confused, in the back of the car, silently wishing his quarreling parents to stop fighting like the cute kid in the recent movie Marriage Story, a picture rather accurately and depressingly lays out the breakdown of a once loving marriage, and captures the consequences of the collateral damage on the innocent offspring.
The most demoralizing aspect of the story - hardly worthy of a spoiler alert - was the realisation by both parties in the end that all the public shaming, all the legal wrangling, all the expense - was all for - if not quite for nothing - certainly not all that pain.
Neither side in the recent debacle may ever be ready to accept that. But many of us caught in the crossfire might. Last month’s county convention put Belmullet at the centre of the universe for the first time since the Blacksod lighthouse gave the weather report for the D-Day landings. By the time the session ended and the ‘Moffolution’ began, there was a palpable sense of anti-climatic relief in the air.
The battle for the hearts and minds of the good folk of Mayo was over, though it was hard to see who the victor was once all the debris was cleared away.
What is clear is the scar tissue. Even some Hollywood A-Listers became collateral. For the best part of three months last summer, Hollywood actors Jon Hamm, Jamie Dornan and Emily Blunt lived in Ballina while on a shoot. In Ballina.
The only American who ever lived in Ballina was Deora Marsh. Bless their over-photographed souls, but they must have loved it. Barely a mention in the Ardnaree notes. Why would there be when the entire county was consumed by a soap opera that was part Brian Friel, part Succession . If ever there was a time to have your name appear in a local paper for an innocuous court appearance, it was last Autumn in Mayo.
Nobody cared, coz nobody was reading. Too consumed we all were with the madness that spread like measles.
It’s over. For now. It’s time to concentrate on what really matters. Time to act all calm and mature before losing our minds again during summer. At least it will be from the terraces we will be screaming, and not at dead trees and telephone screens.