FUN AND GAMES Long-time friends Eileen Grimes from Celbridge, Co Kildare, originally from Westport, and Mary Fogarty, from Tallaght, Co Dublin, are pictured before the 2016 All-Ireland Final. Pic: Sportsfile
A Fan’s View
CAN you actually believe we are playing in an All-Ireland final, the week before Christmas? Every so often, it hits me just how bonkers it all is, and oddly, how getting to witness it feels in some ways like a strange privilege, an aberration about which to reminisce in years to come. Never has there been a more peculiar year, when football has meant so much, yet the build-up to a final has appeared so muted on the surface.
I get a real sense, however, that when you dig a little deeper, into the WhatsApp groups and family and the various bubbles and pods, little else is being thought about or talked about this week. No matter how pragmatic we aspire to be, we just can’t help but dream.
This year has given most of us an opportunity to reflect on our own journey as Mayo GAA supporters. For years, the narrative from outside the county has focused, pityingly or scornfully on our losses. Only we, as Mayo people, can truly understand what the last few years has truly meant to us, and how special it has been. You can’t blame outsiders for not getting it. The connections that bind us are strong, and indeed, there is nothing stronger to bind and rally an army than a series of shared losses.
I’ve mentioned it before in this column, but I have been borderline grateful this year - purely on a personal, selfish level - for the respite from travel. From a financial point of view, it’s been rather a revelation. It was also good to have a long break from the emotional intensity that comes with following Mayo, and I wonder whether it the players are glad too, to be relieved of that fraught, tense atmosphere of expectation and pressure?
But oh, as time passes, it gets harder to not be there. And this weekend will be the hardest yet.
Still, our hands are tied, and we’ll be grateful for this shot, this opportunity, this Christmas dream. So, on Saturday, it’s with excitement that I’ll don the colours and emerge from the house for a day to meet up with a small, special bunch of people.
The Eskimos. The gang that together travelled the byroads and back roads of Ireland, walked the glamorous avenues of New York, strolled the streets of London. And ran as quickly as we could through out of the square in Tuam. Some I’ve had the privilege of knowing for nearly three decades; others, I’ve had the joy of meeting through Mayo football.
Together we have laughed, we have cried, we have taken wrong turns. During lockdown we have Zoomed and WhatsApped and traded gifts in the post and nearly lost our minds watching games in our living rooms. Over the years we have made priceless memories all the way from Tralee to Ballybofey and everywhere in between.
None of us can be with everyone we’d like to be with this weekend. Some we’ve lost along the way this year, and Saturday will tinged with sadness.
Others are just unavoidably elsewhere. I’ll miss my little sister, a Mayo fanatic since she was old enough to walk, who defiantly decorated her Dublin balcony two weeks ago. This weekend she’ll be working the night shift in St Vincent’s Hospital, where just last week she found herself caring for an elderly, dyed-in-the-wool Mayo veteran, who was as hopeful as ever of seeing Sam back home again.
As unlikely as it may be, the thought of celebrating a win without her, or some of the great, great friends or indeed, adopted families we’ve picked up along the way is unthinkable.
But by god, we’d take it all the same, wouldn’t we?
Maigh Eo Abú.