PITCH PERFECT Mayo’s Andy Moran celebrates with his kids Charlotte and Ollie at Croke Park after Sunday’s win over Kerry. Pic: Conor McKeown
SOMEWHERE between Maynooth and Lucan, hanging from a nondescript overpass along the N4 hangs a flag so flithered by wind, rain and time, it could be that Henry Dixon left it there back in 1951. The flag hangs aptly askew, at an angle suggesting imminent misfortune, a flapping allegory in the squall for the many trials and few glories of the people it represents.
It is not sponsored or endorsed, and its placement was probably the act of a road builder from Ballycroy or a Garda from Kilmaine, who left it there some Friday before a big match weekend, a torch to guide his people east, never expecting it to become the monument to resistance it has.
This flag, battered, bruised and almost certainly broken, hangs like a near invisible totem for the tens of thousands of Mayo people who travel east every day and week, not just as supporters for days like Sunday, but for those who live and work in Dublin, and pay a heavy price for it.
For men and women leaving behind their families, traveling to the airport wishing they didn’t have to. For parents, heading east to the Children’s Hospital with their vulnerable kids, petrified of what may be coming next.
For the lonely students, for whom Dublin is a daunting black hole that drains confidence from their hearts and money from their pockets. For all of those, the flag, even unseen, flies tattered and defiant, an amulet of our origins and that one agent that binds us all, whatever our prejudices: Hope.
Like thousands of other Mayo people scattered across the globe, I was absent from Croke Park Sunday, and that absence made real just how much home and football matters.
The world, we are told, has never been so small, until it isn’t, and on days like Sunday, when technology inevitably fails you, it has never seemed so vast and unconquerable.
Thank God then, for the radio, although it was a dubious and fraught luxury.
Sweet Mother of Fergal Boland, if you think watching a Mayo match is stressful, listening to it is next level. It doesn’t help when there are two Diarmuid O’Connor’s on the pitch. For health reasons alone, I was happy it was only the league.
The pictures that followed late Sunday night finally put colour on the canvas Mid West Radio (and what a service that is on days like these) had dutifully prepped earlier in the day. Watching young James Carr, Matthew Ruane and Ciarán Treacy play like veterans on a big occasion, suddenly you find yourself falling, falling, falling again. Falling ever farther from the doubt that landed like a big black dog last June driving west from Newbridge, lingered all winter and started growling after losses this spring to Dublin and Galway.
Falling for the notion that maybe, just maybe it’s time.
Listening to Ciarán Treacy’s decisive goal unfold on the wireless was most evocative of all. Andy Moran, - ol’ Madiba himself - winning the most Andy Moran type ball imaginable, planting a pass off his crimson boot into the stride of the Ballina youngster for him to dispatch with a coolness belying his inexperience.
It was truly a very un-Mayo way to win a game of football. You could almost hear James Horan utter a four-letter expletive, realising with that score, the county might lose its collective mind with expectation.
He needn’t worry. We have been here before. The very beauty of the league, with all it’s looseness and freedom of expression, is that is just that; the league (there is no other competition, not even the Canon Henry Cup, where the losing manager can claim himself happy with the result à la Peter Keane on Sunday).
What follows for every team – those disappointed with their spring campaign, and those elated with progress – is a buffer zone of time where some degree of objectivity can evolve. Mayo can justifiably be proud of a first national senior title in eighteen seasons (we were still using the Punt, and Don’t Stop Moving from S Club 7 was number one in the charts when we last won), and those persecuted followers deserve their week to wear their joy into their schools and workplaces. There has been enough ridicule and there will be again.
Days like Sunday won’t change us, but they do justify the journey.
As for the flag; I’m not even sure it is still there. It doesn’t matter. It still hangs in the mind. The torch is lit, but we don’t need it. We know the way from here.