TWO TRIBES GO TO WAR Mayo’s Cillian O’Connor and Galway’s Declan Kyne get to know each other during the All-Ireland SFC Round 4 Qualifer in Limerick last summer. Pic: Sportsfile
TWENTY-FIVE years ago this week, as Mayo began life under John Maughan with a national league fixture at home to Galway, the Smashing Pumpkins released their album ‘Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness’.
The two events - much as I understand - were not connected.
I loved the Pumpkins back then. Hoping to achieve peak teenage angst prematurely, they covered all the bases for me; angry, naval gazing, poetic. Mellon Collie - with hits such as 1979 and Tonight Tonight - was a major reason for the love affair.
Another is the association between their music and a specific time in life. I was young, and suddenly, Mayo were great, which was slightly at odds with my contrived angst.
So were many of the lyrics; “the impossible is possible tonight. Believe in me as I believe in you tonight.”
It was as if Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan was on the Canal end when ‘Larry Finnerty’ bagged the onion back in ‘89, and was imploring us all to dream again.
I’ve thought of that album sporadically between this and then, but last Sunday it came whispering to my mind as I watched Galway full-back Sean Andy O’Ceallaigh flagrantly despair.
Not only did ‘melancholy and the infinite sadness’ seem to best define the pained expression he wore across his face all afternoon, but they also seemed to be the name of his corner-backs. All things considered, even if Claddagh fishermen Patrick and Morgan Oliver were either side of him it wouldn’t have mattered. Seán Andy and Galway weren’t for saving.
Oh, the irony. If I had any money made, it’s likely I would’ve made it from writing brilliant prose – not about Mayo successes – but Galway footballing failures.
Articles littered with schadenfreudean slips and quips.
Events in Tuam, in normal circumstances, would fuel a fire that could burn all winter long. An anthology of essays dedicated to that calamitous ten minutes before half-time could be hammered out in a week. Call William Hill, we have our sports book of the year; ‘Sean Andy and the Infinite Sadness’.
Tuam should have felt so damn good. So, why did I sit there, feeling so…uneasy?
Maybe because I was just happy to be watching Mayo play football again - any football – that the slaughter seemed excessive.
Maybe because I wasn’t sitting there in Tuam, bearing physical witness.
Maybe, like an unexpected Michelin star meal dropping on your lap an hour after you had the dinner at your mother’s house, the massacre of the innocents at the stadium seemed a tad unnecessary and indulgent.
Instead of feeling warm and satisfied, the experience left me clammy and fearing I had gout.
Seven months ago, we joked that the pandemic saved us a beating from our old enemy, and housewives favourite, Galway. That beating - had it come - would’ve banished us to Division 2 football, and the prospect of away trips to Drogheda, the Sunderland of Leinster. You’d take a level 10 lockdown rather than figure out the best way to Louth in February.
Seven months and quite a few family zoom calls later, and not only are Mayo back — like, Mayo are back! — but after sending Seán Andy and co out to sea , we are red-hot favourites to win the first knock-out All-Ireland series since 2000.
Ok, not quite, but that’s what last Sunday week felt like. Maybe the stars were aligning.
The power rankings
THE pre-COVID power rankings had us as a top six team at best, which speaks as much to the rise of others than to the decline in ourselves. Kerry, Tyrone, Donegal and Galway (!) all look(ed) better equipped to last a ‘Super 8’ summer, and perhaps rattle a hopefully bored Dublin. We were still in the conversation - barely - but that courtesy was extended based out of respect for past performance. We had moved from the front benches of the Dáil to the back, a sort of a belligerent but tolerable outlier.
Now? It’s hard to know. Not surprisingly, Galway have not helped us, proof that, even when you beat them - hammer them - they somehow screw you.
We are back on the front benches, and everyone is clapping us on the back.
The catch? We just got handed the ministry for health portfolio.
A truncated season may well be in our favour. Heavier ground too may benefit Cillian’s legs. If Mayo are to go deep, they will need a vintage winter from the Ballintubber man.
A switch from ‘moldies’ back to ‘six-studs’ may suit his battered legs. The emergence of Oisin Mullin and Mark Moran is a welcome tonic. There’s little point in minding these fellas.
My David Clarke/Rob Hennelly head/leg swap proposal has (once again) fallen on deaf ears. I get it, it’s been a difficult year and it was probably the last thing on anybody’s mind.
Let’s just remember all the same, each day out could be our last, so better make the kick-outs stick.
The most unusual and disconcerting aspect of the season ahead will be keeping our distance. Watching from afar is one thing, but staying away when it’s right beside you is quite another.
For the two of you that still care, Billy Corgan and the Smashing Pumpkins last week announced a sequel to Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness .
Let’s hope it scores a winter to remember for all of us.