Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Why Mayo Don't Win All-Irelands

The Irish Examiner’s Kieran Shannon wrote a marvellous profile of Tommy Guilfoyle, the greatest Clare hurler of whom you’ve never heard, last summer. Tommy Guilfoyle was, and is, a prince. He is all that you could ask a man to be.

Guilfoyle's hurling career was dominated by injuries as freakish as they were frightening, and also he had to deal with the sort of personal tragedy that puts all those games we play in their true perspective. Tommy Guilfoyle spent the early ‘90s meeting with Triumph and Disaster, and treating both imposters the same.

And then, in 1994, it all came together. Injury free at last, Guilfoyle was back playing with the county and reminded the Banner of his talent by hammering two goals home against Tipperary, hated Tipperary, in a league semi-final in Limerick.

Ger Loughnane then took over as Clare manager at the end of the 1994 Championship. Loughnane is from Feakle, the same club as Tommy Guilfoyle, and Loughnane had trained Guilfoyle at Under-14. For Clare hurling, 1995 was going to be The Year.

And so 1995 was – just not for Tommy Guilfoyle. When Loughnane selected his panel for the 1995 Championship, Guilfoyle wasn’t on it. Guilfoyle wasn’t happy about this, and held it against Loughnane for sixteen years. And then news broke of Loughnane’s cancer battle and Guilfoyle, like the gentleman he is, put things in perspective and renewed his friendship with the man who denied him an All-Ireland medal.

Why didn’t Loughnane pick Guilfoyle? For this reason: Loughnane knew exactly the sort of team he wanted playing for Clare, and exactly what it would take to make them. The brutality of Clare’s training in 1995 is well documented.

Loughnane knew Guilfoyle couldn’t take that sort of punishment after all he had been through, and Loughnane also knew that there were no half-measures. No exceptions could be made. Everyone had to get equal treatment. And so, in the name winning, Loughnane cut Tommy Guilfoyle’s heart out and threw it in the bin.

If Tommy Guilfoyle had been a Mayoman, his would have been the first name down on every team sheet in 1995, and Clare would still be waiting for an All-Ireland. Clare people would love Tommy Guilfoyle and happily fight anyone who dared besmirch him or question his right to stand in the pantheon with Leahy and Whelehan and Pilkington.

But they wouldn’t know what it was like to hear the Clare shout ring out from Jones’ Road all the way west to the crashing waves of the broad Atlantic itself, as the team came home to the torchlights with the Liam McCarthy cup on the front of the bus. They’d still be waiting on that particular joy.

In Mayo we think they’re big-time because of all these finals we’ve been in. Mayo are everyone’s second county and we lap that plamás up like cats at a saucer of milk. We never stop to ask if all that milk is any good to us, or if it’d be any harm to have a shot of whiskey now and again instead, to put hair on the chest.

Anthony Daly was Ger Loughnane’s captain when the curse of Biddy Earley was broken in 1995. Nineteen years later, he resigned as Dublin hurling manager after Tipperary hammered Dublin into the ground in a quarter-final. He was doing colour commentary on RTÉ radio some weeks later when Limerick put up a heroic-but-doomed stand against Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final on a wet day in Croke Park.

Joanne Cantwell asked Daly what TJ Ryan, the Limerick manager, would be feeling on the sideline. Daly, as ever, didn’t hold back. TJ Ryan will be proud of his men, said Daly, and would not feel the scalding humiliation Daly himself felt when he watched Tipperary lay waste to Dublin from the Dublin sideline earlier in the summer.

Daly went on to talk about the welcome the Limerick players would get back home, and how everyone would congratulate them on how well they played and commiserate them on their bad luck. They don’t commiserate you on back luck in Kilkenny, mused Daly; if Kilkenny had let a chance to win slip as Limerick had done, they’d go off and pick a team that wouldn’t let that happen. No forgiveness.

That’s the difference, said Daly. If you want to be big-time you have to be ruthless. You have to be able to cut the beating heart right out of your best friend and throw it in the bin like it’s nothing more to you than a chewing-gum wrapper. Winning has a price and if you can’t pay it, you can’t have it.

Up Mayo.