Ahead of our appearance in this coming weekend’s league semi-finals, John Cuffe has some thoughts on the contest facing us.
Photo: Smashing Lists
I watched the excellent No Country for Old Men the other night … for the third time. It still makes my toes curl and look away at the impending doom at times but it’s always compulsive viewing … just like Mayo the county.
Mayo men of a certain age – say the Tommy Lee Jones character, the care worn sheriff of the above film – has seen many tides ebb and flow in the county over the years. The younger ones like the deputy have youth and hope still pumping through the veins. It’s not that the elders don’t have hope; it’s just that … well it’s hammered out to a wafer thin sheet, always hoping to be fully reconstructed at some stage.
Mayo, second best team in Ireland in 2012, are back for their seventh league semi-final since 2001. Now that’s a record worth noting. Consistency spread over twelve years should bestow a certain edge and belief to the wearers of the green and red. And yet we arrived at this year’s semi-final like a dog panting on a hot day.
Cleverly we codded them all in the league, a win over the worst Kerry outfit ever with losses shading from dire to doubtful against Dublin, Down, Tyrone and Kildare before knocking out the All-Ireland winners of 2010 and 2012. Our game plan was the most cunning of the lot … we totally disguised it so as it actually looked as if we didn’t have a game plan at all.
Like Freddie from Elm Street, when the Dublin team look out the window on a foggy night they see Mayo looking back in at them once more. Bernard Brogan now knows that all the bulbs he blew out against Mayo last time out need to be blown once more, otherwise the last time doesn’t count. For us it’s like being given the exam paper once more with the same questions. All we need to recall are the memories and hope to write a nice neat essay for top marks.
We still didn’t get the two three new forwards we require to ensure the end game but significantly nobody else discovered too many new buckos either. Dublin will not look forward to playing us again. We should relish it, we have nothing to lose but much to gain. We don’t play like Tyrone with an obvious match plan but somehow or other we stay afloat. It’s like improvisation at a high level.
Of course men who are tactically astute tell me that we do have a plan, seemingly we isolate some of the forwards and …aghhh….I kinda lose it there. To me it’s simply Mayo. Great when we have a head of steam up, dire when the powder is damp. And yet I am drawn back to No Country for Old Men. Anton Chigurh, the villain, has the uncanny knack of ensnaring his victims and finishing them off with his cattle humane killing contraption.
There is a scene in the film; it’s called the Texaco or garage scene. Chigurh pays for petrol and a pack of peanuts. He gets irked by the nice attendant and pretty soon the old guy, without realising, is about to have a toss of a coin decide his life. Chigurh tells him to call, the old boy won’t, adding “we need to know what we are calling for”. Chigurh tells him that the coin has been travelling for 22 years and now the time has arrived.
The tension rises, you wonder does the old guy realise that calling it wrong means one thing … death. Finally he asks, “what do I stand to win?” Chigurh, swallowing a peanut, curtly replies “everything”. Luckily for the garage man, the heads he called came up. Chigurh’s character swallowed many victims similarly. What struck me was how the victims bought into his game. They did have choices; they could have walked away or done what I was good at as a kid … ran away.
But no, they chose to wait and be killed, often on the toss of a coin. Mayo have spent too long watching and taking lessons from others. We have bought into others movies and myths forgetting about our own film. Like Chigurh’s coin that had travelled 22 years, we have had a coin travel 62 years. Sooner rather than later we will have to grab that coin from the Chigurhs of this world and tell them we won’t play their games any more.
We meet Dublin on Sunday. The old saying that there is nothing to fear except fear itself is apt. They particularly won’t want us. Good, time then to look at the deal. It’s a simple one. Every match from here on is a must win. Great, nothing like a bit of cold steel on the cheek of the arse to make the mind up. Win the next two and we win the league. Likewise the championship, win, win, win … it’s as simple as that.
Like Chigurh’s coin, the time has come for Mayo to take its own destiny in its own capable hands. It won’t be lost because of others; it will be won because of ourselves. Last year’s travails have to mean something. Of the four semi-finalists we have been the most consistent in the twelve months gone by, no excuse, no one further down the line in training or technique this time.
Kildare and Tyrone are up from Division Two; Dublin tore up Gilroy’s manual and are working a new script. John Morrison correctly said last year that the most natural footballers he ever saw were from Kerry, Donegal and Mayo. I can vouch for Mayo and Donegal and Kerry vouch for themselves. Like the petrol attendant in the Coen brothers’ film our moment has arrived. We seize it or we surrender. No more fucking with fate.