DREAMING OF SUMMER DAYS A Mayo supporter waits to enter St Conleth's Park in Newbridge before the 2018 All-Ireland SFC Qualifier against Kildare. Pic: Sportsfile
SELF-ISOLATION is, was and always will be the default of Mayo men and women abroad. Especially on game day, when distance from home is never more acutely felt. The last thing you want to do is be with people — like, any people — watching an important championship match, surrounded by philistines and dilettantes, from places like Kill or Portarlington, who are trying to, and succeeding, in wearing a hole in your head, explaining how — though by their own admission they know very little about “Gah” — they know Mayo have won nothing coz’ they’ve no forwards.
That’s it. That’s the reason.
Yes, self-isolation is nothing new for us. I am a self-isolator-in extremis on game day. I become like Christian Bale on a movie set; don’t look me in the eye. Don’t get in my personal space. So extreme I am in my methods, I have foregone the watching of an All-Ireland final (Donegal, ’12) with my actual eyes, choosing instead to listen on the wireless.
I tried. I really did. Stood in a crowded mess-hall somewhere in the Middle East and I tried, I swear on Aushtie O’Malley I did. I couldn’t do. I went up too early for the build-up perhaps, and consequently had to endure the experts form around our great little country break down the pros and cons of starting Kevin Keane.
I thought I had perfected that skill taught to potential POW’s where they can pick a spot on a wall and literally tune out, not hearing anything. I mean, I spent my college years doing just that, so, I though I was ready. I wasn’t.
Every comment, no matter how innocuous or even well-meaning stung like a nettle. I tried to regulate my breathing. I hummed the tune to “Right Boys, right boys steady as a rock we’ll win the Sam Maguire and we’ll fly her in to Knock” a dozen times beneath my breath to try and drown out the incessant noise. Northing worked.
With Michael Murphy’s goal came a slap on my back. It didn’t matter who it came from, it was a sign from God. I went to my room and turned on the radio.
Though never calm, I could at least be myself.
THAT’S the thing about self-isolation, you can be yourself. Losing All-Irelands is always better alone. Having never experienced the opposite, the scenario of not having someone to share it with is something not worth mulling over. I, like thousands of others, have asked myself, could you forgive yourself missing winning it – notwithstanding the fact not being there is out of your hands?
Having been there twice, my answer was always a hard yes. It hurts, sure, missing all the good stuff. The friends and family on game-day, the nervous craic that serves as a preamble to the most unbearable tension. And then, there’s always that moment, just as it’s about to start, that you convince yourself we will win it, just because you are not there.
Like, that’s how the world works? And, you allow it, and with that thought comes a hundred others; who you’ll call first? Your dad? I always resolved that if they did win it those days I wasn’t there, I’d still want to be alone, and not spoil whatever feeling may come with the glory, by mixing with those who didn’t care that much to begin with.
Is that odd? Probably. But I’ve long made peace with that.
Last Sunday was to be the first Sunday of the year I wished to be alone for a couple of hours on a match-day afternoon. Mercifully, it didn’t come to pass, and I don’t mean that just from a societal “Do the right thing” point of view. The prospect of Galway being responsible for Mayo’s probable relegation would have required intense self-isolation.
And not just any Galway; this Galway. The housewives’ favourite Galway. The ones coming into our homes and lighting their farts and making our women laugh and swoon Galway.
All the while winking at us. They have become the Niall Horan of Gaelic Football.
If there is a silver lining to this pandemic pumped cloud, it is that. Being away is bad as it is but having to reflect on such a defeat would be enough to make a man not call home, which in these uncertain times, would be unforgiveable.
I know, I should have more faith in our boys. And I’m hoping that as each of them self-isolate these coming weeks, they find it within themselves to go full Rocky IV; set up little home station training units – like the two boys in the Hardy Bucks – and re-emerge in our post pandemic world looking just the same, but having developed the necessary skills to arrest this current slide.
For now, we wait. And as old Mayo matches get the rewatchables treatment on TV, we will have to pick the spot on the wall and ignore the noise around us on why we never got it done. The self-isolation of our football mad minds.
We are more prepared for this than you think.