A HARD WATCH Some Mayo fans look on anxiously during the closing stages of Sunday's Connacht SFC quarter-final in Castlebar. Pic: Conor McKeown
A Fan’s View
A PAL and I trade Wordle results, and sometimes, subtle hints, on WhatsApp most mornings. Championship nerves meant I was awake and at it first on Sunday. “Hopefully today’s word and Mayo won’t appear together in a sentence”, I typed. Unfortunately, ‘inert’ was just one of a few five-letter words we could have chosen to describe our second-half performance.
It had all the ingredients for a perfectly cooked championship Sunday. The glorious weather. The magnificent new surface. The buzz of the 25,000-strong crowd. The roar at throw-in. Despite our injury woes, Sunday felt like it could have marked a fresh start for Mayo; putting to bed that abysmal league final loss, reminding the visiting crowd and manager where they were, and of what the pecking order should be.
But our Connacht campaign just petered out with a whimper.
It’s important without getting overly sentimental to acknowledge the occasion.
Post pandemic, to be part of the heaving crowd making its way into the ground on Sunday, packing into the terraces amongst friends and comrades felt like a privilege. For this supporter, the highs and the tribulations of following the Mayo journey have finally brought the perspective that involves taking joy in the good days and the company of good people, and putting the negativity, disappointment and anger of the bad days to one side and moving on.
Because what’s the point?
It wasn’t all bad. There were some moments of magic to savour. Carr marauding up front, doing what he does best – torturing Galway defences. Diarmuid O’Connor back to his magnificent self. Ryan O’Donoghue on fire, despite to our detriment being relieved of his free-taking duties.
But our predictability and old failings in front of the posts returned to the fore, as we clung to a decade-old system that most teams in the country now know how to counteract. We are all full of wisdom and only half a picture on the terraces, but equally we can ask the obvious questions. Like, on a day when we needed to be able to score from distance, why were two players who can do precisely – Boland and Coen - left sitting on the bench? Why bother bringing on subs with three minutes to go? How many more learnings do we need?
Without being disrespectful to Galway, Mayo managed to make them look a far more impressive team than they are. Our naivety made the Galway manager look like a master tactician, when he was simply willing to put his values aside and adapt his favoured game plan in order to get a result. Galway, despite their time-wasting antics, thoroughly deserved their win, but we made it far too easy for them.
There were other irritants. The misspelling of Gaillimh on the scoreboard. The familiarity of what is possibly the worst stadium PA system in the country. (Also, as Cillian is lining up to take a free is not the ideal time to start talking.)
The band entertaining the crowd at half-time having to compete with thumping pop music. Small details, big picture? And the Galway panel being invited in to train on our new surface early in the week is unfathomable.
Who makes the call to hand our closest rivals an advantage like that?
In the aftermath of performances like this, you find yourself wondering whether it is all part of a bigger plan. Was it a deliberate loss? Is the qualifier route the better one, given the extra recovery time, for this injury-ravaged squad? But any port in a storm, as they say.
Are we just deluding ourselves? Instead, are we simply just not good enough?
There was a time that a defeat like this would have hit hard, but we would have taken some pride in a decent, honest performance. But September marked a turning point for many Mayo supporters. Days like Sunday no longer elicit sympathy; they now serve to irritate. We are not blessed with a glittering trophy cabinet, but what we have had is heart and resilience.
Last week’s paper spoke of the nature of this intense Mayo-Galway rivalry. On Sunday, it felt galling that Galway just waltzed into our home ground and beat us with what felt like ease. Where was the bite, the hunger, the pride we have come to expect?
But we were still able to go for a few pints after the game and make a good night of it.
The Mayo support is fickle. A good run in the qualifiers might lift us all up again.
But it was telling that when Galway were marching into the lead on Sunday, that for the first time I can ever recall, the silence in McHale Park was such that you could hear the players shouting to each other on the pitch. Who knows where we’ll end up in a month time, against which blanket defence we will falter again?
Time to fasten the seatbelts.
A rocky road lies ahead.