Posted by Daragh Ó Conchúir
Thursday 5 September 2013
Booking their place in the main event invariably provides and instant buzz; assuredly a night of celebration.
But then comes The Fear. Anyone who has over-indulged in a bit of alcoholic imbibition knows the feeling. Every bit of paranoia, negativity and terror imaginable invades your being. You will pay for enjoying. You will pay for dreaming.
Bitter experience feeds this dreadful sensation for followers of the green and red. Years of losing finals at senior, U21 and minor. Tremendously gifted, free-wheeling, high-scoring teams somehow finding a way to lose, either by dint of ill-fortune, shooting themselves in the foot, meeting a better team, or meeting Kerry.
Always the bridesmaid
The only succour was the odd club All-Ireland. The 2005 success for Ballina certainly meant a lot to David Brady, who had suffered heartbreak in seven previous All-Irelands.
“I’ve been a loser all my life” he said afterwards, looking straight into the eyes of TG4 frontman, Micheál Ó Domhnaill.
Unfortunately for Brady, his tally of All-Ireland defeats would finish on eight, after the crushing loss to Kerry in 2006.
Yet he is of the opinion that it’s better to have loved and lost, than never have loved at all. That’s why everybody loves Mayo. That optimism yes, but also the absolute courage. It isn’t easy to get a whipping and come back. But Mayo always come back.
People forget that when they reached the 1989 decider, it was their first appearance as a headline act at senior level for 38 years. In what was the beginning of a sequence of Groundhog Day occurrences, it was certainly a game Mayo could have won and possibly should have.
Anthony Finnerty scored a wonderful goal and then was denied another from an almost identical position by a sensational finger-tip save by the late Cork goalkeeper, John Kerins. To compound matters for Mayo, they were never awarded the 45 that the deadly Michael Fitzmaurice would in all likelihood have converted.
That left a nervy Cork side that had lost the previous two finals off the hook and Larry Tompkins edged the Rebels clear.
That infused belief despite the loss and on Sunday fortnight, they will be competing in their sixth senior decider since then. Only Kerry will have appeared in more.
The conversion rate doesn’t stack up of course, and the gap to Sean Flanagan and co in 1951 remains to be bridged.
Of all the setbacks, and there have been some very chastening days, 1996 must rank amongst the most devastating. That was in the bag. Six points clear of Meath entering the final quarter, and cruising.
They retreated into their shell though. The Fear had permeated the air, suffocating the players. Meath sensed weakness and as they had done so many times, fed on it. They reeled their opponents back in.
And yet… time was up. The next time the ball went dead, the game would be over. Mayo were a point ahead. John Maughan was a hero. They were all heroes.
Colm Coyle collected a ball at the second attempt. In fact he was very close to handling it on the ground. The combative half-back whaled a kick from around 60m out, having spotted the run of Mark Reilly. The ball never found Reilly. Instead, it hopped once, higher and further than any ball had hopped all day, and cleared the crossbar.
It was just pure bad luck. A galling freak. Mayo goalkeeper, John Madden turned into the net and kicked at the air in disgust, railing at the unfairness of it all. You can see him screaming it in his head.
“It’s just not fair!”
Talk about inches and fine margins. Seconds later, it was over. Poor old Madden was criticised for not coming out to fist the ball, even though he’d have been coming through a crowd of bodies, and coming a long way at that.
Coyle was sent off early in the replay but he took Liam McHale with him. That was a win for Meath, with all due respect to the Royals defender. It was also strange that only two walked in a scrap involving 27, with more boots and fists flying than in the Royal Rumble.
Mayo lost to a very late Brendan Reilly point. Destination devastation. Instead of being a hero, Maughan would end up being pilloried.
The bizarre equalising point and the infamous row have been shown a lot on television in recent weeks. That’s all Mayo supporters need; reminders… sorry about that.
Silk and steel
Don’t worry about the players though. This is a new Mayo and that is not to denigrate crops that produced talents of the ilk of Ciarán McDonald, McHale, James Nallen, Fergal Costello, James Horan et al.
There is plenty of talent in the squad that Horan has picked but less of the flash. These guys are all business, with a bit of the bad boy about them. Silk and steel if you like.
That is not to say they are immune to tension. We saw plenty of it early on against Tyrone, as we did in last year’s final. But this time, they fought out of it, played themselves out of it.
This is a hard bunch that can produce eye-catching football but are pragmatic too. Winning the right way is all well and good if you win. Looking great and losing isn’t worth a fiddler’s. So they’ll do what they have to. They won’t mind yellow cards.
They’re here to win, not entertain although they have entertained plenty in the past few months. They have no interest in a well-meaning, sympathising but ultimately patronising arm around the shoulder after another loss that leaves them hollow.
History won’t cripple them. It will drive them.
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