Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Happy Birthday to the Mayo GAA Blog

These are strange times, my masters. The Cork crisis shows no sign of resolution, despite signs manifesting daily that there could, in fact, be a pair of them in it. Dónal Óg Cusack was talking to Miriam on Prime Time last week, talking like some 'seventies throwback apparatchik from some Glorious People’s Republic, explaining that the workers would never surrender. Dónal Óg Cusack isn’t old enough to remember those crazies, is he? How deeply distressing that he should be so fluent in their lingo.

In such distressful times, how very refreshing it is to focus on a man with a little more perspective than Comrade Cusack. The Mayo GAA Blog celebrated its first birthday last week, on St Bridget’s Day, and An Spailpín begs your indulgence to honour Willie Joe, the anonymous straw that stirs that particular drink.

Willie Joe himself reflected on his twelve months before the mast on Friday, and interesting reading it made too. I don’t know who this Willie Joe is (although I have noted, from the footage he likes to post, that he likes to stand in that same section of Páirc Mhic Éil favoured by An Spailpín Fánach and his little gang), but I have met the spirit before, in many places. I salute it, as it represents that to which An Spailpín aspires, but from which so often falls short.

Willie Joe is an idealist. Idealism is the rhyme and reason behind the Mayo GAA Blog. Willie is currently trying to post statistics on Mayo matches marching back to the time of the Tuatha De Danann - how fantastic, how worthwhile, how inpirational a venture is that? As well as his work as an archivist, Willie Joe likes to keep his finger on the pulse of this grand passion, this Mayo football team and their Grail Quest, and as such he makes it his business to post daily, religiously, such updates as he can track down. Every day there’s something fresh there, and it’s always reported with style and that certain panache that An Spailpín always associates with the county Mayo. There is a peculiarly Mayo way of looking at the world, a particular take of black humour that probably developed during the 19th century squeeze between the broad Atlantic at our backs and the advancing waves of blight before us. We learned to laugh in order to hold the bitter tears at bay.

And this is Willie Joe’s way. He tears his hair out as much as any over the team and its empty works and false promises, but he’s never mean about it. In a place like the County Mayo, where the good land has to be won from rock and bog and heather, it ill behoves thrupence to look down on tu’pence ha’penny.

The National League returned last weekend – Mayo lost, if you can believe it – but both Willie Joe and your own humble pensman are keeping their powder dry for the moment. The false dawn is no stranger to the Mayoman. But still Willie trawls the sites and mulls the possibilities, which is the only option open to those who are bitten by this bitter beauty, the team that is Nearly, and yet, Not Quite. So even though it’s only the league, there are still permutations to be sorted, tactics to discuss, places to fight for, prospects to savour. Willie is mulling Ronan at three, while An Spailpín remains faithful to what he saw in Monaghan two years ago. We don’t know how it will work out, but how deeply satisfying it is to wonder, and roll the prospects around in our heads for a while. Anticipation is always half the fun. Sometimes all the fun, when little accidents happen, as happened last year against Galway and Derry. Sigh.

Your faithful correspondent noted a couple of weeks ago that Willie is considering attending tonight’s meeting in the Garda Club, where the Mayo County Board are to give their benediction to a new venture where another supporters’ club is founded in the capital. An Spailpín is tempted to go, but the mention of a “Mayo fleece” brought back too many distressing memories. You don’t want to be putting notions in some bucks’ heads, you know. And the Cork boys think their county board is tricky. They ought to get out more.

But in the meantime – happy birthday Willie Joe, where-ever you are. See you some September evening when, on a blessèd day that is not far distant, all of us in Mayo shall see each other as we truly are. Champions.

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