ALONE IN THE STAND Some of the members of Mayo's extended panel are pictured at Croke Park last Sunday. Left to right: James McCormack, Jack Coyne, Rory Byrne, David McBrien, Darren McHale and Colm Boyle. Pic: Conor McKeown
THERE was something oddly satisfying about Mayo’s annihilation of Tipperary last Sunday. Maybe it was the distinct lack of hysteria that often flows from semi-final victories, fertilised by the gargle most usually, as we — the long forgotten, much maligned spud-crunchers from un-farmable land — get a day out in the ghetto of greed that is our capital city – a city, incidentally, we claim to have built with our own bare and broken hands.
Maybe it was the sight of Carnacon’s Cora Staunton on RTÉ’s coverage as a pundit alongside Pat Spillane and Ciaran Whelan, offering fresh and nuanced perspective, while also being the only one to have the sense to wear a wooly hat.
Maybe it was the ruthlessness of the performance, a guilt-free rampage, which combined admittedly kamakaze defending with an all-out offensive strategy which treated Tipperary with the respect they probably deserved. It was immensely satisfying that there was no drama. No playing to the level of the opposition. No apologies for hurt feelings.
This was not a win for Tom in Tallahassee or Ciara in Columbia. This was a win for the team.
2020, in its endless absurdity, has enforced many uncomfortable truths upon us; the most figurative being perspective.
Sport has never mattered less, as adult children are separated from their elderly mums and dads, infant kids from their grandparents. It’s never mattered more for those very same reasons. Weekly phone calls, once arbitrary functions of filial obligation, now carry unprecedented weight.
Having sport to talk about – especially instead of the obvious – is a life saver.
The mundane can often become majestic, certainly in the context of finding that comfortable ground that father and daughter can comfortably grace, without fear of saying the wrong thing. To that end, Mayo and their journey have been a blessed relief.
The joke was at the outset of the pandemic that, of course Mayo would win it in an empty stadium. If it was to be any year, t’would be this etc. And here we are; three weeks from Christmas, facing the most low-key of preambles to potentially the most historic night in our county’s contemporary history. Typical.
EVER the optimist, it’s easy to find the silver linings; James Horan spoke last week to the positives in not having a baying mob to placate. Ok, he said it much more politely than that, offering that the absence of fans has allowed some of his younger charges to learn in a more holistic environment. No crowd meant one less variable.
Given Horan’s aversion to public attention, it’s hardly surprising to learn he is quietly happy the distraction of those behind the wire is removed. It may be an emotional drain for the rest of us, but for the brains behind the operation, the less noise the better.
Horan too would agree with the aforementioned Pat Spillane’s post-match assertion that semi-finals were about winning, not performance. Drive for show, putt for dough. Even if it was Peter Shilton-esque in it’s magnanimity, the point can’t be argued other than to say too often Mayo have laboured with the favourite’s tag and stuttered to semi-final wins, and it still did them no good. This performance was more – dare I say it – Dublin in it’s execution.
It felt good.
Now, we, the fan, face the prospect of history happening in our absence. It’s a sobering thought. It’s like telling somebody you love that - come what may - all you care about is their happiness, only for them to go off and be happy without you.
There is a hierarchy of needs that is secretly hard to stomach but impossible to dispute; if (and I mean if) Mayo were to beat Dublin, the victory would belong to the players and management first, their families second, and we, the fan, third. Twas ever thus, but every year before this, the joy (and misery) were at least part of a gloriously shared experience.
So, whatever follows these next three weeks will require patience.
Luckily for us it’s the one virtue the dreaded virus may have forced us to perfect. It’s likely a blessing for the players the lead-in is short, the microscopic lens of public focus less intense.
Players working from home will negate the need for needless banter. Tickets and press nights are already a relic of a bygone age.
There is no new normal or old normal, there is just now.
Gaelic football will never have seemed so simple; two teams and a ball, the sky above, the field below. The fact the other team is Dublin will scare them none.
As this decade has evolved, it seems so has this squad’s destiny; every back-door trip to Ennis, every Super 8 sojourn to Semple, it seems like fate it would always come down to Dublin.
Like Ross told Rachel in Friends; “it’s always been you Rach”.
Just try forget how it ended for Ross.