ON THE ROAD TO CROKER Mayo fans Declan Jennings and his father Des from Breaffy are pictured on their way to Croke Park for the recent All-Ireland SFC Qualifier against Kildare. Pic: Paul Reardon
A Fan’s View
THE story of David and Goliath is told in 1 Samuel 17, and most of us are familiar with how young shepherd boy David stepped up and saved Israel from the Philistines with a brave, carefully aimed shot from his slingshot to render the giant dead.
This weekend’s game has a touch of the David-and-Goliaths about it, only in this case the giant is called David, and Mayo are no Goliath.
As we approach this crossroads, it’s no harm to turn back and look upon the ground we’ve covered. Heavy hearts post-September were buoyed by a promising start to the league campaign; new faces trialled, decent enough performances, top flight status secured early. The abject league final performance suggests that we might have overshot the runway; reaching it was clearly never an objective, and whether or not we agree with how it was handled, there was only ever one show in town for Mayo.
Did the magnitude of that defeat affect Mayo against Galway? Who knows, but it’s been a rocky road since. From a supporter’s point of view, perspective is everything.
Hope may not have died last September, but it’s fair to say that expectations have been relatively low. Has it been enjoyable? This writer would say yes.
Despite the simmering discontent that has underpinned the last few months, with the lowering of expectations has come a new appreciation for living in the moment and enjoying each occasion on its own merit, rather than constantly focusing on the end result.
A kind of Mayo mindfulness, if you will.
Back to the present day, and elsewhere, there is so little optimism for Mayo’s chances on Sunday that below in Kerry, many of them aren’t even bothering to “yerra”.
Among supporters at least, this game is being mooted as good practice for Kerry before they meet Dublin, who incidentally, also first need to win their game this weekend.
Such confidence, it can be argued, is not built on fantasy; the Paddy Tally factor is strong, the Jack O’Connor X-Factor is stronger, and that Kerry team is a different unit now than it was 12 or 18 months ago. The soft underbelly has hardened, the defensive problems have been addressed, the pace and firepower up front have never been pacier or firepower-y.
We’ll do well to keep it kicked out.
But Mayo weren’t too far off in Tralee back in March, and there is no pressure on them on Sunday. Kerry, meanwhile, carry a huge weight of expectation; seven years of failing to close out games has frustrated fans, who feel, rightly or wrongly that this team has under-delivered. They haven’t been tested for a while.
They may have tightened up at the back, but every suit of armour has a chink, and Kerry’s is its goalkeeper. To win, Mayo will need to bring a high-intensity game – the likes of which we have only seen in flashes thus far. Mayo at their best are often described as chaotic, which does them a disservice.
In full flow, it is anything but chaos; it is hell-for-leather confidence play with smooth, co-ordinated, fast paced waves of attack. If we can bring that intensity and confidence to Sunday’s game, it will test the Kingdom. But on paper, given what we’ve seen thus far, you’d have to consider Kerry overwhelming favourites.
And yet – yet! – here in Mayo, there is an unfathomable sense of expectation that they won’t have it all their own way. Some even predict an ambush is on the cards.
This, of course, is based on no logic whatsoever, bar that special sort of logic that convinces Mayo supporters every year that this just might be our year, no matter how dire our circumstances may be, no matter how injury ravaged our troop.
“Hope” is the thing with feathers”, wrote Emily Dickinson. It is a strong-willed bird that lives within the human soul and continues to sing its song, no matter what. Emily surely must have encountered a few Mayo fans prior to writing it, because after the last nine months, that there is any level of optimism at all remaining is a testament either to hope in its truest form, or the capacity of the human mind for self-delusion. But in Mayo, even in the driest drought, somehow hope always finds a way to bubble up through the rocks.
Lest we get carried away with the romance of it all, let’s go back to our friends David and Goliath. It’s a great yarn, but sometimes stories grow legs, and this is no exception.
2 Samuel 21:19 tells us who really killed Goliath, and – here’s a spoiler – it wasn’t David.
It may not be Mayo that hits Kerry between the eyes, and the giant may even ultimately be victorious.
But this is not the Bible, it is an epic novel of even greater proportions.
In this unlikeliest of unlikely Mayo victories, who’d bet against us?