Thursday, April 22, 2010

Mayo v Cork in the National Football League Final

There are two very good reasons to attend the League Finals this Sunday in Croke Park, between Down and Armagh in the Divison 2 Final and Mayo and Cork in Division 1.

There are the games themselves, of course. Armagh and Down is a classic border rivalry between teams that could make some noise in the Championship. Mayo and Cork is a game between two teams who, along with Dublin, could set up their own school of psychiatry to teach aspirant medical students about the many different ways of not being well in the head.

For instance, it is a trait peculiar to Mayo that only Mayo could find themselves togging out for a football game from which nothing good can happen.

If Mayo beat Cork on Sunday, it will be met by a huge heave of “so what?” around the nation. Mayo have promised in the past and delivered nothing, more years than anybody cares to count.

The optimistic talk current in the county has all been heard before, not least the last time Mayo got a League Final, in 2007 when they were out-generalled by Donegal. And a lot of good that League title did Donegal, as things worked out.

Mayo have marched to the top of this hill before. When you examine the teams who have won the League and the Championship in recent years you’ll find that they are either Kerry or Kilkenny, depending on whether or not you are playing football or hurling. But those two counties are exceptions to the general rule, and it is just plain wrong to think otherwise.

Who has doubled League and Championship other than those two? Once in twenty years in hurling, one in twenty years in football has it happened that a county other than Kerry or Kilkenny has won the League and Championship double. So anybody who does think that a League win will help their Championship cause is basing that belief on something other than the historical record.

To further blight my countymen’s weekend, Mayo have much more to lose by losing the League Final than Cork. Every day Cork are missing someone else, either Pearse O’Neill or Anthony Lynch or Graham Canty or John Miskella or Miah or Jeh or somebody. So if they lose, what harm? Sure aren’t half the team back in Cork?

But Mayo, even though they’re 15/8 or an astonishing 2/1 against in some shops, can’t afford to lose. They spent the League building up a team and if they were to lose does all that work then go down the broad swanee river?

The excellent Mayo News podcast tells us that John O’Mahony has brought in sports psychologist Gerry Hussey to the backroom staff. This is a good move because Mayo clearly have head issues. And they’ll have serious head issues if Johnno has to send for all the King’s horsse and all the King’s men to put Mayo together again in time for a trip to the shadow of Ben Bulben in the first week in June after getting handed their hats by half-strength Cork.

For what its worth - just about nothing - An Spailpín rather fancies Mayo in this one. Mayo have their issues of course, but you can only dance with the girls in the hall and if Cork are only bringing half a team sure Mayo can beat them. Why not?

Enough of the trivial. There’s another, much more important reason to attend the league finals on Sunday.

This is Thursday morning. In a few hours, the people of Mohill, Leitrim, Connacht and Ireland will make the long walk up that steep hill to the church in Mohill, where their hero, Philip McGuinness, lies at rest. Philip’s mortal remains will make their final journey after requiem mass and I truly hope and pray he’s at ease and at rest in a better world than this.

We who remain in the mortal realm, the vale of the tears in the old religion, and we should make the most of it before we too are called. There are worse places to be than headquarters in the sunshine of late Spring. We that are left owe something to those that are gone. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dilís uasal, suaimheas síoraí do, agus áit ag an Aonghusach go deo i measc na laochra Gael.

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