In the two months since this column last appeared, optimism among Mayo’s supporters has dipped
OUTSIDE my window bluebells sprout! The leaden sky and the biting wind reflect no feeling of spring, but the growth of the perennial little bluebell hints otherwise.
Spring is here.
Like the bluebells, Mayo football is also beginning anew and if the darker side of our nature harbours no optimistic predictions for the season, it has not failed to excite the curiosity of the county’s loyal followers.
They come, as they always do, flaunting nothing but the dignity of their support. They look for something on which to pin their pride, some new shoot of evidence. It’s a fading sentiment but they dream on unquenchably.
In the two months since this column last appeared, optimism among the most faithful of supporters has dipped perceptively. Nobody to whom I have spoken is confident that any semblance of success is possible this year, not even a Connacht championship, let alone an All-Ireland.
Worse still, there is now a widespread fear out there that Mayo football is in reverse, and it seems to have sprung from their performance against Meath last year.
For many there was a finality to that defeat which suggested that outside Connacht, Mayo have become ensnared in a losing mentality. You hear everywhere that there is no smouldering passion to their play anymore, that they have been swept into an eddy of defeatism from which there is no escape.
Anyone watching in Croke Park that day last August must have wondered what in God’s name had come over them to confer on Meath a stature that the Royals did not deserve. I don’t know about the footballers, but a lot of supporters have not been able to expunge that defeat from their minds.
It is not today or yesterday that heads have fallen inexplicably in Croke Park where the promise of Connacht invariably falls short, and it pains me to see Mayo football caricatured in other strongholds as a hopeless cause, as a team of nice footballers but with scarcely a smidgen of heart.
True supporters will not be deterred, however, and their persistent presence at matches is a victory in itself … the triumph of hope over experience. As always, expectation grows this time each year that Mayo football will free itself from errors of the past, that something or someone will appear on the horizon to release the passion that must lurk somewhere deep in their psyche.
Already the FBD league has concluded. New talent is under the microscope of John O’Mahony and his selectors. Next Sunday the Allianz National League gets under way, and the county commences the gruelling challenge of holding onto to Division 1 status.
Faced with four games away including trips to Cork, Kerry, Derry and Tyrone, the fear is that Mayo will suffocate under the weight of such luminaries.
Just now a visit to anyone of this four is clearly a formidable assignment. On their own ground in front of their own supporters, each is a hot contender for All-Ireland honours … higher in the order of preference than the Connacht champions.
No evidence has emanated from their FBD campaign that Mayo are ready to surprise the big guns of the division in the coming weeks. College players not available for FBD football will flesh out some trouble spots and there is always the chance of an occasional upset but, realistically, the odds are stacked against them.
Only in their home games — against Galway, Monaghan and Dublin — is any crumb of comfort possible. And with Galway sporting a brand new manager, next Sunday’s opener at McHale Park could set the trend for the remainder of the National League.
And after all that, there is the prospect of travelling to Markievicz Park in defence of their Connacht crown where Kevin Walsh lurks in the long grass intent on proving that last year’s near-misses were no flash in the plan.