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Why look back in anger?

Sport

UNITED THEY STAND The Mayo team stand for the national anthem before the recent All-Ireland SFC Final against Tyrone at Croke Park. Pic: Sportsfile

The way I see it
Ger Flanagan

THE hurt of this All-Ireland Final defeat has hit the county hard.
I know it has been the same narrative after every defeat: ‘That this one is definitely the hardest to take’. But from gauging people’s general mood and reactions, particularly on social media, there is a deep level of hurt and disappointment after last Saturday week.
That hurt and disappointment has really polarised Mayo supporters, too.
Where everyone was united for the one cause after Mayo’s heroic (and, in hindsight, maybe somewhat flattering) victory over Dublin, there now exists the faithful and the frustrated.
The faithful have admirably come around from the post-game blues and are already beating the ‘We Go Again’ drum. The really frustrated are angry and want to burn the house down to find answers for Mayo’s failings.
That anger has led to some fair commentary and some unfair commentary that has strayed away from the straight lines of football analysis into the lane of satisfying personal agendas. This has upset the Mayo faithful, too, who believe the camp shouldn’t face any criticism because of things like ‘sacrifice’ and ‘commitment’ and ‘those great days out’ the team have provided us.
And this is not including the usual national critics of Mayo, who love to dine out on the team’s good days and enjoy some dessert on the bad.
They’re irrelevant, in my opinion, and aren’t worth getting frustrated over.
This is a Mayo thing.
There has to be some middle ground where the two sides of the argument meet. One where a certain amount of criticism can be accepted, because it’s healthy and it promotes better personal and collective growth.
High-performing players and managers should have the ability to handle scrutiny, because it helps them to become better and allows them to learn from their mistakes in the most productive ways.
But when the scrutiny becomes personal and opinions and commentary are full of conjecture, that’s not productive in any way.
One narrative I certainly don’t agree with is that the players and managers don’t deserve any criticism and that we should be continuously thanking them for their sacrifice.
No reasonably-minded person doubts the effort and time they put in be involved at inter-county level in Mayo.
But it’s the term ‘sacrifice’ I don’t fully buy into.
In my opinion, playing for Mayo is a privilege that many want but few get.
No-one is forcing anyone to put in that time and effort, so if you decide to put yourself in the oven, you’re signing yourself up to the chance of being burned at some stage.
And let’s be real, too, if you’re lucky enough to be playing for Mayo, you’re afforded many opportunities that few will ever get.
When football is a religion like it is in Mayo, the very best are rewarded.
Very few are left worse off at the end of the year. Many have sponsored cars, endorsement deals, jobs, top-class medical care and other opportunities afforded to them.
It’s not a bad trade-off for the time and effort invested doing something you love, in my book.

Personal abuse
TOP club players put in time and effort all year round for a season being squeezed harder every year. Club and county are worlds apart in a lot of ways, I’m not saying they’re equal, but there’s absolutely zilch return at the end of the day for club, especially if you get seriously injured.
Equally, if you’re an inter-county player with a smaller county, then that can surely feel like sacrifice. But if you’re with the elite few, I’m not buying it.
However, those luxuries don’t allow a free pass for personal abuse and hate speech.
Tagging players’ personal accounts on social media and shooting rounds at them, leaving comments on threads across different forums, spreading false vindictive rumours and tweeting from false accounts are a poor reflection on the people carrying out the attacks.
And whatever about the players’ reactions to see this sort of commentary, consideration needs to be given to their families; the parents, partners, siblings, aunties and uncles, who have to endure it.
Because no matter how hard a person can try, there’s no escaping it in the digital space of today.
Once again, Aidan O’Shea has become the fall guy for Mayo’s loss, which was always likely to be the case before a ball was even kicked.
As captain he will, and rightfully so, be held to a higher regard than everyone else. As Aidan O’Shea the player, for whatever reason he’s used to that mantra already, captain or not.
His appearance across social ads in the weeks leading up to the All-Ireland Final, where he was pictured running on a beach wearing red swimming trucks while promoting a random phone repair company, also heightened the focus on his performance.
It was ill-timed and should never have been sanctioned under the Mayo senior team’s media/PR policy (if there is one!). But he was obviously afforded the opportunity to make a few extra quid and fair play to him he took it. You can’t fault him for that.
But to his critics, it was like dangling a gigantic silk red rag in front of a stone-mad bull, who deep down are probably fuelled primarily by jealousy but would rather be stoned to death than admit it.
Yet, is that enough to warrant having to take sh*t from all corners of the country after two poor performances? Is it enough to have national columns written solely about your role in a defeat that has a multitude of factors? I don’t think so.
The fault for Mayo’s defeat lies on the field. Poor performances, with the exception of two or three players, poor shot execution, a lack of intensity that returned a poor tackle count and mistakes on the line are some of the less abstract reasons.
So to sum it up, from my perspective, there’s a fine line in criticism that is healthy and rational and criticism that is more malicious and personal.
An even finer line exists between being a hero or a villain.
Time will be the ultimate healer in the whole debacle but, until then, maybe it’s worth remembering that it’s only a game, and not the be-all and end-all, despite the times when we all think it is.

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