It says something for either the majesty of the place or some form of eternal optimism on my part that I still get a tingle of excitement each time Croke Park comes onto the horizon as I drive down Drumcondra Road for a Mayo game at GAA headquarters.
As you cross over the Royal Canal, a look to the right brings the imposing and impressive stadium into full view. It is a venue befitting a field of dreams, somewhere that every ambitious footballer wants to be at the end of the season.
So does every fan. Some counties never get close. Others are annoyingly familiar with regular success. And then there’s us. Mayo. We’ve seen Croke Park more often than most. But, like an immigrant refused at Ellis Island, we’ve been turned away time after time just when we think we might be on the verge of a breakthrough.
We’re at the stage where we are subject to that most embarrassing of feelings among other counties - pity.
Many of the people who want Mayo to win an All-Ireland. Poor Mayo. Will they ever learn? Yada, yada, yada.
Us Mayo folk should be sick of the sight of Croke Park by now. And sick of the condescending pity too. Plenty are. But it’s hard to break away either.
True, we’ve enjoyed little enough success at Croker in recent years. As far as misery goes, we have encountered more than our fair share. But, hey, life isn’t fair and sport rarely is either.
The annoying thing now is that every Mayo team heading to Croker must endure and carry the burden. They are not judged on their own merits or in isolation - they are another Mayo team doomed to failure as far as many are concerned.
Our gallant minors of this year were forced to carry that burden. When they lost we were told it was the same old Mayo. This is despite the fact that they weren’t born when Mayo’s modern era of gloom at Croke Park started in 1989. That’s a lot of baggage for 18-year olds.
There will be other days for them for they are young and Sunday’s experience will form a guiding hand in their development.
What of the Mayo fans? No fan on an individual day can feel as bad as any player who has just lost a big game in Croke Park. It is the players who will be lowest this week.
But there is a multiplier effect for fans over time. The years 1989, ‘96, ‘97, ‘04 and ‘06 with the seniors and years ‘91, ‘99, ‘00, ‘05, ‘08 and ‘09 with the minors have all seen All-Ireland final defeat. It is an unfortunate tale of woe. Sunday’s defeat was merely a semi-final but the sense of loss felt as acute.
But onwards Mayo fans will go. There is always tomorrow. Always next year. Hope springs eternal.