Monday, July 11, 2005

Dear John

Pluais na bPúcaí,
Lios Lom na Lúbaireacht,
Contae Maigh Eo.
11ú Iúil, 2005.

Dear John,

I see there's not even any quote from you in today's Times or Indo after that Salthill disaster yesterday. I can't say I blame you - I didn't feel too much like post-match analysis myself, and I couldn't even get out of Dublin to get to the game. Didn't look too great though, and I'd say it was even worse if you had the lads watching it on the telly on the bus while you were trying to get out of Galway.

That post-match analysis is a funny thing John. Papers aren't interested in what really happened you know. They are to an extent, but generally they're interested in keeping the show on the road. Product is all. You remember the Maurice Fitz coronation after the '97 All-Ireland? The papers had been waiting to write that since Maurice first laced an inter-county boot, and the story of the day, Mayo blowing up, was the B feature.

Of course, the story at home that year was your changing of four lines for one substitute. I think you're still pissed at that criticism John, you know - I remember you mentioning it in an interview last year and I remember thinking, my God, he's still pissed, seven years on.

You have to let it go John. On another day, you would have been a hero. The ball hops in sports. That's the way of it.

Of course, it was a hopping ball that did you most of all, wasn't it? 1996 was your year, it really was. Mayo went from the old Division 3 of the National Football League to a Connacht title, a six point win over Kerry in the semi-final, and then they were all over Meath in the final. All over them. That winter, when it was all over, people were coming out with this old shite about Meath never being bet, they were always going to come back, yada, yada yada. Sure that's all me arse John. Meath came back against Down in 1991 and didn't catch 'em, did they? Coyle poxed it with that kick. Bouncing over the bar? You wouldn't see it in a kids' game. Do you remember they had Coyle on Breaking Ball on the telly trying to get him to do it again? Never got near it. Pox. Pure pox.

As for the replay, it's hard to win when you get your best man sent off. The Meath boys aren't buying that, but we know it's true. Poor Pat McEneaney knows it true too. Here's one you don't read in the papers - McEneaney spent the night after that All-Ireland in the bar at Jury's Hotel at Custom House saying My God, what have I done? I fucked it up. The papers don't print that, of course, and they shouldn't - reffing is about as thankless a task as there is - but we know that's the difference between zeros and heros. All this other chat, where you try to coach flair and happenstance out of games - well, they're not games anymore, are they? That's life - good things happen to even the best families.

You know that prayer you see in some houses John, maybe just to one side of the Sacred Heart Lamp? "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference?" It's something I think about a lot, when to fight, when to let go. I have to sit in traffic a lot getting home to the West John - serenity is badly wanted on that job.

I suppose it's something you think about a lot too. What I was saying earlier about you mentioning changing the four lines that time - not much serenity there. I remember you being quoted on as saying that while winter training was a bit of a balls, it's far better than being back in the house watching Coronation Street. But John, do you ever wonder if this is all there is, if the law of diminishing returns kicks in after a while? F. Scott Fitzgerald reckoned there were no second acts in American lives. I wonder are there second acts in Gaelic Football?

Micko and Johnno - can I mention Johnno? Doubt if he's your favourite dude at the minute - have won here and there, but they haven't carried grails, the way a Mayo All-Ireland is a grail to you, and to any Mayoman. The only one that has is Kevin Heffernan, and then, if you can put twelve Dubs beating fourteen Galwaymen down as the original gameplan, well, I'm not that likely to believe you. Besides, the only reason you hear so much about Heffo is because he's a Dub. We'll be hearing a lot of that this week, God help us.

A manager can't win the frigging games John. Only the players can do that. All the manager can do is show them is his vision, hope they follow that, and hope that God smiles on them. But after a while John, the vision begins to fade, and you get the feeling the boys have heard it before. Things have been on the slide since 1996 John, really. There'll be a lot of boys at home twisting ropes for you, but then it was always like that. It's just a pity.

People that are talking about worst-evers are talking through their hats. These are the greatest days for Mayo football since the 1950s. How could they not be? Two club All-Irelands, heaps of Connacht titles, a National League - better than the boys of 1969-'81 got, which was precisely nothing. Nada. Not a sausage. Joe McGrath eviscerated the great Harry Keegan for 2-5 in the Connacht final of 1979, and Mayo still lost by eight points. That's worst ever territory, right there.

You came when things were pretty low John - Division 3, another hiding in Tuam, losing to Leitrim the year before, losing by twenty to Cork the year before that, the mutiny the year before that again, Derek Duggan putting the knife to Johnno in 1991 - those were rocky days. And here are Mayo now, at the national table. Yesterday was a bad day John, but there have been good days. There have. The only thing is, as with any man, you're only remembered for your last game, your last season. You put Mayo back on the map in the mid-nineties John, and we've been there since, but right now there's not a lot else you can do.

Your old buddy Peter Ford had Galway up for the game yesterday John, and Mayo weren't. Our poor fellas looked like sheep in a heap, who didn't know where to go or what to do. It's the manager's job to tell them what to do and that they can do it, and that wasn't forthcoming. Bradygate didn't do you any favours last year, and this year you're like a man running scared, always worried about being second-guessed. Let it go John. Let the Board give Johnno the finger again, like they're only dying to, and let them put in McStay if that's what they want. Let some other fecker have the sleepless nights. You've done you bit. Take over Castlebar, and see if you can get them back to the heights. The Mitchells will have young Moran for the next ten or fifteen years to build a team around, you can have a piece of it, and maybe get some thanks at last. Go on your own terms John - one of the reasons the lads on the Board have been there as long as they have is that they've always been able to find a scapegoat, and this year it's going to be you. Don't let them throw you to the wolves - we've had too many good days for that.

Take care John. It's been magical.

Is mise, le meas,

An Spailpín Fánach.