ENJOYING THE JOURNEY Mayo players Ryan O’Donoghue, Diarmuid O’Connor and Colm Boyle celebrate after their win over Dublin in the All-Ireland SFC semi-final. Pic: Sportsfile
“Longing on a large scale is what makes history. This is just a kid with a local yearning but he is part of an assembling crowd, anonymous thousands off the buses and trains, people in narrow columns tramping over the swing bridge above the river, and even if they are not a migration or a revolution, some vast shaking of the soul, they bring with them the body heat of a great city and their own small reveries and desperations, the unseen something that haunts the day—men in fedoras and sailors on shore leave, the stray tumble of their thoughts, going to a game.”
- Don DeLillo, Underworld
I CONSIDERED composing this entire article from song lyrics about love and loss. From DeLillo quotes about longing. From Kozelek. From Heaney. From Beckett, Steinbeck maybe, and, just for the heck of it, some late Hemingway.
From text messages sent by friends, composed the night before finals, when our hearts are full and we are drunk, metaphorically and literally, with the possibility of tomorrow.
From the follow-ups, the tragic postmortems, sent 24 hours later, telegrams dispatched smothered in cynicism, laden with tired resignation, anger even, over selections and decisions and referees and the bitter aftertaste of a brutal bouncing ball.
I imagined this as a stream of lucid consciousness, an enlightened dispatch littered with contemplative platitudes on why winning won’t change us. On why defeat won’t define us.
I contemplated building the piece around the old boy from Shawshank - Brooks - who spent his whole adult life wanting to leave his cell, only to finally be granted freedom to find he couldn’t cope. BROOKS WAS HERE.
That was my ending.
Are we ready? Do we want to leave? Are we prisoners perennially wedded to our captor?
Has it always been the journey, never the destination?
And what of Sisphus? The legendary king of Corinth, condemned eternally to repeatedly roll a heavy rock up a hill in Hades, only to have it roll down again as it nears the top? Was his mother from Geesala? Is this our lot in life? Is acceptance better than the blind fury of our perpetual rebellion? Etcetera etcetera.
I was ready for all of this. I had the playlists primed and the poetry prepped. I had dog-eared novels with spines battered down and paper, stained by time and coffee, ready to be raided for quips and quotes. I don’t know what happened, but, as the Goddess of existentially challenged Mayo people, Sally Rooney, is my witness, this time, the desperation is not there.
The longing remains, but that feeling of hopeful hopelessness is gone.
I want us to win as much as ever, but, somehow the need is absent. Is it a defence mechanism? Have I tested and tasted too much? Have I been so browbeaten by life that being there has somehow become enough? Is it parenthood? Is it losing people you love?
Is it real life?
I don’t know, but, for the first time since I was a kid, the anxiety is gone. I think.
Maybe it’s because I believe there is nothing new left to happen, only win. Literally every other outcome has been realised in 32 years of trying.
How I shake my head at the naive novelty of ‘89 and ‘96. How I lament a lost childhood realised in the cruel crescendo of ‘97, the knife twisted by Galway in ‘98. How I blame my stupid self for believing in the false dawns of ‘04 and ‘06.
How I hang my head in shame for not being there in Pearse Park, Longford in 2010, for if we have come to learn anything in Mayo, it is that your dedication to the cause is not measured in tokens gathered in good times as much as it is scars suffered in the bad.
If the last decade of being from Mayo has taught me anything, it is that it has actually taught me absolutely nothing.
Either I am incapable of learning the lessons offered, or they are lessons not so much to be learned as lived through. We have conspired to win games and lose games in every manner possible, and still emerge with at least a morsel of integrity intact. Integrity!
Oh yes, I can hear the critics cry.
Who wants integrity when you can have Celtic Crosses? Integrity won’t put groceries in the fridge. It won’t get the girls either. And anyways, is integrity throwing a GPS unit at an opposing player, mid kick? Damn right it is. He should have thrown an entire laptop at him. And the user manual.
Tyrone would have.
This year was supposed to be a year off, for God’s sake. Retirements. Ruptured achilles. Returning champions. Mayo were supposed to know their place. Instead, the Dublin semi-final was just another example of everything you know is wrong.
Living your life by the bale rhythm of Mayo’s football fortunes is to submit to an entropy so volatile, it is an act of blind faith. All because you were born in a place, or of a place.
And we wouldn’t have it any other way. Football has guided us through another summer, the unseen something that haunts our day. Without it, we would be left with a void to fill. Idle chat to make. Situations to contrive.
Fun to be forced.
With it, we are reminded that the world is a fine place, and worth fighting for.
There. I did it. I had to.
Whatever happens Saturday, that mantra will remain.