THE HAND OF MCSHANE Tyrone's Cathal McShane punches the ball into the Mayo net during Saturday's All-Ireland SFC Final. Pic: Sportsfile
HERE is a list of things I would rather do than write about the 2021 All-Ireland final;
watch my son or daughter play and support Galway. Attend a Garth Brooks concert in
Croke Park. Live in Roscommon. Meet Ed Sheeran. Get a text from Catherine Zappone.
Reread the Canterury Tales. Do my Leaving Cert.
Say “we” when discussing the English soccer team I support.
That’s how painful this is. Not painful in the emotional way I expected. More painful in an interrogation in a black site off the grid in Poland kind of way.
There’s pain and then there’s this pain. It’s shocking severe.
When I was a kid, like most of you reading, I dreamed of playing for Mayo. I was privileged to have a brother who did. I rejoiced in his wins and I wallowed in his losses.
By my mid twenties, I embraced my mediocrity as a footballer and in doing so resigned myself to never playing for Mayo, lest a pandemic came and wiped out half the county.
The pandemic did come, but a good fifteen years too late for me. Those fifteen years have been spent following the team I love, through good days and bad. As I got older, my hairline receding faster than the Lebanese economy, I was lucky enough to be given a platform to express how I feel about Mayo and football.
That too has been a privilege.
Writing about something you love.
People, however few, actually reading it, some of you - you mad bastards - actually enjoying it. Honestly, it is the only thing other than play for Mayo I ever wanted to truly do. It has been an honour. I feel lucky. Until today.
Today is torture. We have been spoiled these last few years. The losses to Dublin especially were mostly epic in their execution and characterised by a kind of heroism that left you bereft, sure, but also incredibly exhilarated and alive.
As Leonard Cohen said, we are ugly but we have the music! For all the heartache, I never once looked at Dublin and wished I were them. On Saturday, I looked at Tyrone and wished that we were at least a little more like them.
In them, there was much to admire, in us, plenty to regret.
Tyrone were cohesive and composed, like a team of waiters in a restaurant in Davos handling some G8 egos at altitude. Sure footed and unflappable. Mayo were like the gaelic footballing equivalent of the Bull Run at Pamplona. Everything was hoofs and dust and horns and people running in every and any direction. And when it was all over? We were left with nothing.
Whatever my pain, I know it is nothing compared to that of those players and coaches who poured every available minute of their lives into the pursuit of glory on our behalf.
There’s no sugar coating it. This was a performance devoid of the guile and gumption that had defined this team on so many memorable occasions. Despite what their deniers will say, there is more than enough goodwill in the bank.
This was an off-day. One that, had it come a month or so earlier, we would have accepted with a lot less aftertaste than Saturday.
The Dublin dethroning was so enthralling in its drama, undoubtedly some shortcomings were concealed. It all makes sense in retrospect.
And for all of that, we could have won. Missed goal chances, missed penalties, under-perfoming stars, this was neither the annihilation of ‘06 or the novice hurdle of 2012.
This was a game we could have won, but absolutely did not deserve to.
Is there consolation in that? Saturday night games have given us so many wonderful memories, the Sunday have only served as another chance to live them out. This past Sunday gave all other Sundays a bad name. This past Sunday made Monday look good.
The summer ends. The pain will heal. Two days before the final, I spoke with a friend about our shared excitement. His hairline may not have been as ravaged as mine (more Greece than Lebanon), but we are of a similar vintage. We spoke of what we hoped would happen.
We spoke about our dads, one of them no longer with us. Then, he spoke of getting his club minor team ready for championship the following night.
Afterwards, I wrote it down, hoping to have to remind myself in victory, that it was this — those conversations about a shared past and the footballers of the future — this is what matters.
Winning would’ve been nice, sure; better than nice. It would have been great, but it’s stuff either side of the winning and the losing that matters now. It’s gone.
We go again.