We wait in the wings, still. We thought for many moments that our time had come and Samta and Santa would meet under the green and red of the Christmas tree. Alas, it was not to be. Samta didn’t arrive, Santa did.
This year was different because of so many reasons outside of our control. While many felt robbed of so much for the past ten months, life still went on. Despite the pain of separation, lockdowns, isolation and helplessness there was still a little flicker of hope. Inside, we kept it to ourselves, daring to believe that perhaps there might be one other reason to make this year different, one reason to make it special.
In quieter moments we felt a gentle cloud of confidence that breathed comfort. It is a form of belief. Every Mayo person has it. You have to. It’s part of the DNA. Regardless of what has gone on before, regardless of past pain, even recurring pain, one just keeps a flame of hope burning gently. It never goes out. It has faced many a storm but has never been quenched. It never will be. The nature of a flame is to keep burning.
It still burns even if a sea of fathomless disappointment now surrounds it. We all feel the hurt. We know that it hurts much deeper for those who donned the green and red jerseys on the day, the team and panel, manager and backroom team. These are the people who turned up day after day to wring more sweat out of their cathedral bodies. The mood has all the elements of grieving – disbelief, anger, blame, depression and acceptance. Emotions spill over one another not making coherent sense of any feeling.
Our own disappointment is swamped in the empathy we have for these great soldiers of discipline. The time and the effort they have all offered on the altar of Mayo football is way beyond any call of duty. It is about sacrifice. Our only sacrifice is to wait in the wings.
This year we even revelled in the lack of hype. It was as if the undercurrent of expectation had no way of making itself known! In a strange way it allowed us to be more inward looking. We focused more on the internal rather than the hyped distractions of television, radio and social media. We dared to dream.
It was not simply that an All-Ireland win this year would only be great for Mayo, which it would be, but it would also be so much more. A Mayo win would have lifted the whole country. It would have been the proverbial response to the underbelly of a pandemic, its unpredictable ways and the chaos it leaves in its wake.
A win would have silenced many of the chatterboxes, the verbal revellers. The mind echoes Eliot: ‘The endless cycle of idea and action, Endless invention, endless experiment, Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness; Knowledge of speech, but not of silence; Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word’.
However, this is not the time for finger pointing, home or away. Suffice to say our day will come. Right now is a time of pain but also of gratitude to brave men with selfless hearts, heroes and champions one and all. They might not have won the Celtic Cross this time but they have won the Celtic hearts, still beating and assuring them of our unbridled support.
What other team can muster support across the nation like Mayo? There is no other. There is still honesty in Mayo football that is not present in many other counties. Mayo footballers are tough without being cynical and strong without being bullies. There were many tears shed on the Saturday evening before Christmas and they weren’t all in Mayo. It is important to give thanks so I say ‘thank you’ to all involved in making the winter and the pandemic tentacles more tolerable. Our Mayo team is truly incredible. Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.
JC Mangan has the last word: ‘O, there was lightning in my blood, (Green and) Red lighten’d thro’ my blood’.