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'Football matters so deeply in Mayo that it kind of defies belief that they haven't won more'

‘House of Pain’ author Keith Duggan is this week’s guest on Behind the Lines.

Keith Higgins, dejected at the end of the 2016 All-Ireland final replay defeat to Dublin.
Keith Higgins, dejected at the end of the 2016 All-Ireland final replay defeat to Dublin.
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

THIS WEEK’S GUEST on Behind the Lines is Keith Duggan, Chief Sports Writer with the Irish Times. 

For the benighted and the uninformed  - Behind the Lines is our weekly sportswriting podcast here on The42, in which we speak with sportswriters about their career and their favourite pieces of writing. 

It’s exclusive to members of The42, and to sign up to get access to it along with a whole lot more, head on over to 

Among the myriad topics covered across an hour-long chat was the eternally compelling story of Mayo football, about which Keith wrote a terrific book titled House of Pain: Through the Rooms of Mayo Football.

Mayo have lost a further four All-Ireland finals since the book was published in 2007, so does he harbour any regret that the book was published before another four heartbreaks? 

“No regrets”, he laughs, “although I was kind of stunned by how quickly the Mayo football story went off in an entirely new and even more riveting trajectory. 

“That book came about accidentally, I had done a couple of interviews with the Mayo players of that generation: Padraig Brogan, Liam McHale, and they were all such fascinating storytellers. 

“There is no plan for a follow-up, I’m not even sure it would be possible. A lot of the team from 2011 are still there, and they won’t want to talk about it until they’re done, and I’m sure when they’re done a lot will want to write their own books.” 

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This led to a chat about just why the Mayo footballers are such a compelling story. 

“Sure look, Mayo football teams have made summer after summer. They are a fascinating bunch of individuals, and what they are trying to achieve is sort of epic in nature. 

One of the reasons for the book is that they’ve only ever won three All-Irelands, and the last one was obviously in ’51. But it’s as if all the other years in which they didn’t win was kind of an aberration: it’s such a big football county. Football matters so deeply that it kind of defies belief that they haven’t won more, and this particular team has been pushing so hard to change that. I was speaking to someone about this the other day, about those two own-goals in the [2016] All-Ireland final, I cannot remember a game since in which I’ve seen two own goals, let alone in one half and let alone in Croke Park. Yet it happens to Mayo in an All-Ireland final. 

“I think it’s the way they have kept coming back form those disappointments that has made the whole country appreciate and respect who they are…except for maybe Joe Brolly.”

There is much more besides in the chat with Keith, and it is a must-listen for anyone interested in the mechanics and processes of good writing. You can gain access to the whole show by subscribing now at 

If you need some more persuading – highlights of the series’ second run of a dozen episodes are available for free at this link. 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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