Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Football Debate in the County Mayo

The AcademyAn Spailpín is flattered to be once more in the pages of the Mayo News this week, the paper offering the best sports coverage in the county Mayo. And aren’t their pictures from the Connacht Final just marvellous? You have to hand it to them.

As the discussion rages and we tear over the evidence of the defeat to Galway, your sentimental Spailpín couldn’t help letting his mind drift back to four years ago come Friday, when a few of the boys were whooping it up in Eddie Gaughan’s saloon. We were discussing Mayo’s victory earlier that Sunday in Castlebar against Roscommon, whose sad decline had already begun at that stage.

It was a poor enough game, and memorable really only for a final minute pitch invasion that caused then selector George Golden to run out onto the pitch (at a much faster clip than you’d think a man that wintered as well as Georgie could manage, I might add) in fear that the match would be abandoned. In a practical effort to clear the pitch, Georgie set about boxing every head within swinging distance, a performance that put Horatius at the Bridge in the ha’penny place.

So it was a mellow gathering in Gaughan’s that night, as the summer stretched before us. Our thoughts turned to the vagaries of management, and how John Maughan had returned to lead his people once more to the Promised Land. Or at least, it was mellow at the start.

“It just goes to show you,” said An Sionnach Seang to the assembled company. “Maughan is the best manager we ever had.”

“He lost them on the line!” spat An Bata Damhsa.

“What are you on about?” queried An Sionnach.

“1997!” wailed An Bata, for whom the hurt was still real. “Maughan changed four lines to make one substitution! Madness – the softest All-Ireland ever! Johnno is the only man for that job – will he no’ come back again?”

“Johnno?” An tUbh Breac looked up from the stool in the corner. “Johnno is a traitor. No man did more damage to Mayo football than John O’Mahony. Galway were dead and gone and they’ve two All-Irelands now! And it’s all Johnno’s fault!”

An Bata Damhsa wasn’t taking that one lying down.

“Sure what else could he do when his own didn’t want him?” countered An Bata. “Didn’t the Board run him out of the county?”

“Don’t make me sick,” said an tUbh, seldom a man to back down. “He did nothing in his final two years in Mayo except lose to Galway and lose to Roscommon. No-one can compare to John Maughan’s achievements. Least of all Johnno.”

“Well I don’t know what you’re all talking about,” said An Tuiseal Tabharthach, coming back in from a refreshing smoke and scope up and down O’Rahilly Street. “You haven’t even mentioned the best manager we’ve had in over thirty years yet.”

“Who?” chorused we all.

“Pat Holmes,” said An Tuiseal, pulling on his pint of special.

“Pat Holmes!” Consternation in Gaughan’s.

“Yeah, Pat Holmes,” said An Tuiseal, wiping his mouth with that implement a thoughtful God gave him for that very purpose, the back of his hand. “Wasn’t Pat Holmes manager of the only Mayo senior team to win a national title in thirty years, the League in 2001?”

“Ah for Jesus’ sake a Thuisil!” said An Sionnach, getting more Rua by the minute. “For the love of God – Pat Holmes! Pat Holmes!” added An Bata, making common cause with his enemy of two minutes’ before. An Spailpín Fánach thought he spied an tUbh Breac coming dangerously to the boil, and decided it was time to step in. I slurped some strengthening stout, rose unsteadily, and addressed the congregation.

“Boys – isn’t this the story of Mayo football all over? We’ve just had a great win in the Connacht Final over an ancient and feared enemy, and here we are getting stuck into each other six hours later! For God’s sake, can we not enjoy it while it’s here?”

So we sat down to toast Mayo, with the long summer whose twists and turns, the high of the win over Tyrone and the miserable low of Bradygate, were still full and fertile before us. But that argument developed after Mayo won the Nestor Cup, their first Nestor Cup in five barren years as I recall. You can imagine how many wigs are on the green at home this week after Mayo lost one.

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