Monday, July 02, 2018

Mayo Post-Mortem #67: Exhaustion

One day you lower the bucket into the well and when you bring it back up the water just won’t be there anymore. That’s the day you know your goose is cooked, and that day arrived for Mayo on Saturday night in Newbridge, in the evening sunlight of this scorching summer.

It’s not the only thing that happened, of course. Kildare bet the house on the venue and won, and their players stood up to be counted. Aficionados of the game were teary-eyed at the foot passes of forty and fifty yards finding their men and, if they do nothing else this summer, Kildare will be worth a cheer for reminding the nation of the value of that skill.

All Kildare will have their ears pinned to the radio on Monday morning to see what’s next to get in the selection box. It’ll be of academic interest only in Mayo. After seven long summers, it’s going to be odd being locked out while the party goes on.

Will Sundays now see lost men and women going into the bookstores and browsing the adult coloring books, or the Danish home design books, or even 12 Simple Steps to Learn Business Cantonese books, as they desperately try to fill the Mayo-sized hole in time that’s opened in their lives? Thank God for porter and Smithwick’s ale – a fine refreshment and a sensible alternative in this hot and heavy weather – for their already-discovered powers of instituting oblivion.

There has been end-of-the-line talk about Mayo. It’s understandable, but it’s not fully thought out. Football teams can be understood in the same way the peculiar nature of fire is remembered down the centuries since the Greek philosopher Heraclitus first twigged it. A fire, said Heraclitus, is always changing, and always the same. How can something be changing and always the same? But look at the thing – how else can you describe it?

And so with Mayo, as it is with any football team. The pieces come and go, but the team, the movement, the idea, the spirit goes ever on.

What makes Saturday seem more of a watershed is that the fire hasn’t been flickering at quite the same rate as it should have been. A team will always change, and managing that dynamic is one of the keys to managing a team.

A reluctance to let reality intrude on romance has retarded that natural and necessary process of change, which will make it seem harsher than maybe it might have been when it comes, but there you go. You’re always best pulling off the band-aid in one tug. The ease-it-off approach is kidding yourself.

The good news for Mayo is that while Mayo are unusual in their extraordinary ability to not win All-Irelands, they are equally unusual in squandering a bizarre amount of riches in the process of competing for those All-Irelands.

Certain people hold that the issue with replacing players was that no players were coming true but that’s just not true. The FBD League was made by God in His workshop in Heaven for the express purpose of having a good look at young players. To use it to put even further miles on old men’s clocks is bizarre.

This is the team that started against Sligo in the FBD League in January, as recorded by the unrivalled Mayo GAA Blog: Clarke; Harrison, Cafferkey, O’Donoghue; Boyle, Hall, Paddy Durcan; Gibbons, Coen; McLoughlin, O’Shea, Diarmuid O’Connor; Doherty, Regan, Andy Moran. Reader: what on earth was the point?

But there it is. Rightly or wrongly, very few people think Stephen Rochford will ask for more once his three years run out in the autumn, and that will mean new management, new processes and, God help us all, new hope. One year after Mayo last lost in the Qualifiers, they beat the All-Ireland Champions to begin a seven-year All-Ireland quarter-final winning streak. The players are there. The players are always there. Mayo is always there. Up Mayo.