This was our finest hour
BEGIN then at the beginning. The late Micheál O’ Hehir once described a shimmy/dummy by Pat Spillane as follows: ‘He pretends to go left and … goes left’. At least I think he (O’Hehir) did. I was around twelve years old at the time.
I used that line a lot when doing commentaries on myself in the back garden. I once took on the full Dublin defence selling that same dummy to all of them, was fouled on the 14-yard line and kicked the resultant free that won Mayo the All-Ireland. Happy days.
In Croke Park last Sunday Mayo sold a more standard dummy. Racing out of the Hogan Stand tunnel they went straight ahead for the firm, obliged the photographers and then pretended to go right but went left. The mentors and stadium officials bought it and were left floundering like cartoon cats on the grass. The most audacious dummy of them all.
Pose the following simple question to the first stranger you meet tomorrow: ‘Name the GAA team you believe would warm up at the Hill 16 end on the same day they face Dublin in a major championship match?’ Go through them slowly and my guess is that of those counties likely to find themselves in opposition to the Dubs, the gentlemen of Mayo would come towards the bottom of any list compiled.
Did it unsettle the favourites? The question is almost immaterial (but for the record, it obviously did; Dublin failed to score in the opening 17 minutes), it is the act, the brazen and anarchic approach of this Mayo side.
This story begins early last week as the county followers absorbed the Laois result and the prospects for the semi-final were discussed. The audit did not make good reading but then the audit we completed can never be the same one the management and players conduct.
This column was worried, very worried and turned to recent history for solace and comfort. The mid 80s is nearly a quarter century ago and memory does play tricks. But I know the circumstances were more or less the same.
On Sunday this squad established themselves with a display that will never be forgotten by those lucky enough to have borne witness to it. It was the finest performance I ever saw from a team wearing Mayo jerseys. By a distance. They have given us all a huge lift and no doubt gained massive confidence for the final frontier.
As Mayo people we often have to listen to others berate our character and because of the endless frustration suffered playing for, managing or following Mayo, we often turn in on ourselves. Perhaps it is only to be expected. We stop defending our team, agreeing too readily with the broad-brush statements of lazy analysis. We nod at the unkind caricature that is a Mayo footballer.
We are reckoned to have no guts, no belief; to be a county of chokers and talkers, who bend the knee and let you pass quietly. Against all the odds we have pep in our step this week. Our self-respect as a footballing county is slowly returning.
Sunday was one of those great days to be alive. With Roscommon minors playing Meath at dawn we decided to bring our three daughters to Croke Park for their rite of passage. Sometimes being a GAA analyst is useful; they needed me to explain the rules. Three points for a goal and one when it goes over the bar, we failed to get into the forensic detail of the rulebook.
So I smiled at their innocence when I read the text from the twins to the commentary position shortly after half time, you will recall Dublin had shoved us out of the box seat and led by 7 points. It read: ‘no panik just need 2 gols and 1 over da bar 2b da same again’. Yes indeed.
No doubt there was panic around the famous old ground. Mayo players, management and fans had the monopoly at this junction and it soon spread like a bush fire to the boys in blue.
See, there is no grand plan, no grand design on how a football game flows. We sit into the roller coaster, fix the seat belt and prepare for the ride. The drama unfolds as it will and we observe to make some sense of it. To my simple mind, this magnificent win defies logic but that may be because we did not believe in the first place. Our fault then, we of little faith.
My own sense of the day is one where the players established themselves as serious footballers in the hearts and minds of a watching county. A day when the rest of the country stood up and admired the sense of style and no little steel Mayo brought to Croke Park. If some weeks ago Kerry rescued Gaelic football from the grip of the dark province, then this second semi-final underlined how fantastic this game is when played as all field games are meant to be played: with speed, with skill and with scores.
Mickey’s Mayo flush the Jacks
LAST Sunday Mickey Moran became the manager of the Mayo football team. In his own right and in his own image. He does things his own way, his methods are different and whether we like them or buy into them, he has led the squad to yet another All Ireland. In many ways, Mickey Moran is the outsider who moves to your town and wants to take over the local team. You let him because nobody else cares about the team anymore. And then you set off to destabilise him. Subtle at first, then a cut here, a cheap shot there.He kept the faith, got the GI haircut and started a new fashion in TV interviews. The least we should have done is kept the faith. So today I am a little embarrassed; you expect your former players to be the last to buckle ...
But today is also a good day. We reflect on a weekend making memories with the children. The drive to Dublin, the true stories and the downright tall tales about the good old days, the overnight in the hotel, collecting the precious tickets, the noise and colour of Croke Park, Mayo in full flow (and Ros’ keeping her lit too!). As our parents did before us, we passed on the faith as best we could.
Mayo beat Dublin for the first time ever in over a century of the football championship. They can tell their children they witnessed it. And their children’s children. Hopefully a goal will still equal three points!
Always end at the end. Sean Moran, writing in Monday’s Irish Times, reminded me of one of the great GAA lines. The same Micheál O’ Hehir that opened this weeks ramble will close it. With the famous Dublin team of the 70s facing certain defeat in a big championship match he searched for the killer summary. He found it just in time. It was a line he could have used at around 5.30pm last Sunday when Paddy Russell finally called full time: ‘The Jacks are flushed’.
ONE HAPPY FAMILY
Mayo manager Mickey Moran celebrates with subs Austin O’Malley and Trevor Howley after Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final victory. Pic: Sportsfile