YOU’D FEEL FOR Mayo players.
You thrash the All-Ireland champions Dublin with a blitz of hunger and power and skill but are told they were without the Brogan brothers, you were at home and had it not been for a right dose of fog, they’d have done you over on the night the game was originally scheduled for.
And besides, it’s only the league.
So you keep your heads down and head for Tralee and you draw with Kerry, but are told the league suddenly matters when you’ve a chance to beat an old nemesis and they had their second team out and were already into the semi-finals and didn’t give it a right good go and you blew it down the stretch even if you’ve limped into the last four.
So you keep your heads down and go to Croke Park of all places and beat the Kerry first team — Donaghy, Gooch, O’Sullivan, the lot of them — in a belter of a game where you never gave up and you leave the pitch looking forward to a final only for a few papers in the lead up to today being full of cheap and lazy journalism about some Croke Park curse.
If this gets any worse, win today and Mayo players won’t be allowed bask in a national title, as, instead, they will be expected to bag an All-Ireland before the year is out or they will be derided just like all the other sides that were ‘only’ good enough to reach a final but not actually win it.
During the week the stats were again dredged up about Mayo winning one final out of 12 over the last 41 years but it’s irrelevant if only for the fact it filled column inches. James Horan wasn’t even born when that run began, and for most of that time hamstrings were what you put between two slices of bread for a good feed.
It’s gotten out of hand and if you don’t agree, just consider this. Cillian O’Connor, last year’s superb Young Player of the Year who returns to start later on, wasn’t alive for a fair few of those games and wasn’t a part of any of them. Neither were many of his teammates. So why lash them all with a record they had absolutely nothing to do with?
It’s so easy to look at that Mayo history and have a go.
But unless you come from one of the premier counties, you’d look at 12 national finals in 41 years as a major success. How many other counties and players and supporters would love to have been part of so many massive occasions and it’s a figure that should make Mayo people every bit as proud as they are frustrated. They have another trip today that so many up and down the country could only dream about and while of course winning matters, it’s an awful lot better to be losing a final than not reaching one.
But at least Horan has recognised all this and his time in charge hasn’t been about breaking curses or the Holy Grail. Those things can be thrown away with all that other pointless history.
All he has cared about is making his team better and more competitive and more physical and more mentally tough. Last year was a major stepping stone as he coached a talented group like no career manager could ever have done. They lost to Kerry yet again but so what? They beat a better team in Cork and reached an All Ireland semi-final and it was a marvelous season that even exceeded Hogan’s lofty targets.
Now for part two of his plan. Winning today would help, not so much to break some mythical curse, but to stop the likes of O’Connor having to hear about it every time he and his county do well and so they can actually get the praise they deserve for achievements few intercounty players are capable of. But being there and being competitive matters an awful lot and keeps a side that were falling apart just a couple of seasons ago firmly on the road to redemption.
It’s just a pity so few can see that and we have to feel for Mayo players on the morning of a league final they should be cherishing.
Join Ewan MacKenna from 1.45 on The Score for all the live action and reaction from today’s double header in Croke Park. If you have any opinions, feel free to contact Ewan at Twitter.com/EwanMacKenna or firstname.lastname@example.org