Thursday, May 14, 2015

What's Another Year, Mayo?

For all the good-natured teasing other counties like to indulge in when it comes to the County Mayo, it is only fair to acknowledge that there’s a strong line of realistic fatalism that runs through Mayo people’s devotion to and enthusiastic promotion of the county team.

This was at its most noticeable at the first of the Mayo GAA Blog meetups in Bowe’s of Fleet Street, Dublin 2, the night before Mayo lost to Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final of 2011. Nobody in that bar thought that Mayo had a prayer the following day, and they were fine with that. After getting sliced up in Sligo and Longford the year before, Mayo people were content to be still alive in August.

Which is why, perhaps, the county isn’t tearing itself apart as the Championship looms (“looming,” of course, is a relative concept; the Championship proper started a fortnight ago when Galway played New York, while Mayo won’t make their debut until another month from now, by which time Galway will have played two Championship games. But there it is). The people of Mayo have drank deep and well during the Horan years. If 2015 is to be a down year, then so be it. Country people can relate to the notion of seasons.

Now that the pressure has come on Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly, the two men tasked with not only living up to Horan’s standards but taking the team that one step further, the prospect of a down year has not been as apocalyptic as we thought it might be.

The team has a puncher’s chance against anyone, of course. Any team with Aidan O’Shea and Cillian O’Connor among its ranks will always have a puncher’s chance against anybody. But the people of Mayo have seen enough of thoroughbred football in recent times to know that the team isn’t quite that this year.

It can’t be repeated too often that winning a fourth All-Ireland only requires Mayo to be one point or more better than anyone else that year, as opposed to having to measure themselves against some sort of eternal Platonic metric of football greatness. And if, as has been noted, the contenders aren’t quite battering down the door this year, that still doesn’t mean that Mayo 2015 will be good enough. Besides; the evidence of history is that whenever a “soft” Sam has been there to be won, it’s Kerry who weren’t too proud to stoop and pick it up for the collection.

People will remember a similar foreboding before the trip to Salthill two years ago next week, when Mayo battered Galway as that proud county have seldom been battered before. But this year feels different, somehow.

Cillian O’Connor was present in 2013, for starters. Evan Regan, the long-heralded Sorcerer’s Apprentice, continues to be blighted by injury and these two men’s absence leaves the Mayo attack looking like men taking bows and arrows to a gunfight.

Would a loss in Connacht, either in Salthill or later, be the end of the world? Not necessarily. There are those who believe a time in the shadows of the Qualifiers, bursting forth to glorious life in Croke Park at harvest time, could be the ideal route for Mayo. The Qualifier Odyssey would give the group a badly-needed opportunity to gel and pull themselves together.

But here’s the rub. It’s not like these men are strangers. It’s not like they’ve just met. Whatever is keeping Mayo from performing at the level of which they’re capable, it’s not because they’ve just met each other.

And so we have it. Short of a miracle, the 1951 team have one more year to wait, at least. As for Mayo, if they don’t win the All-Ireland this year, the powers-that-be have to decide if an All-Ireland is still in the current group – the majority of whom are in their prime, of course – or if the bus has left the station. If there is an All-Ireland in this group, it won’t keep. It’s up to the Board then to decide what went wrong this year and what can be done to put it right. Before it’s too late.