Setting the ball rolling on a mini-season of guest pieces on the All-Ireland final and its meaning in the scheme of things, John Cuffe sets out some thoughts on the issue.
Photo: Mayo Mick
“Now it is autumn and the falling fruit
And the long journey towards oblivion
The apples falling like great drops of dew
To bruise themselves an exit from themselves
And it’s time to go, to bid farewell
To one’s own self, and find an exit
From the fallen self”
DH Lawrence folks wrote that, not I. September brings autumn, All-Ireland Sunday and the harvest. We in Mayo are very lucky; we tend to be around for all three events more times than most other counties. Last May the planted seeds of thirty-two counties plus London and New York, those frontiers of émigré Ireland, were tended and watered for their football crop.
Sunday September 22nd saw just two counties stand in the field to harvest the corn. We, thank god, were lucky enough to be one of them. Many prominent farms were choked in weeds and bramble, many lasted until they ran out of water but we got to the thrashing day.
Where we were
Four games in May/June 2010 left us a miserable pile. Cork hosed us in the League final, Sligo with a grinning gum-shielded Eamon O’Hara beat us for the fourth time ever in championship football. Longford ended our misery but it was a game between the league final and the Sligo match that displayed our misery to me.
The opening of Belmullet’s new ground saw the arrival of Cavan to play Mayo. Out on the pitch a Mayo forward soloed the length of the wing followed by a Cavan marker. The man in front of me, we weren’t acquainted, turned back and said “Watch this, our man will now solo back down to us”. He did and promptly essayed a forty-yard pass across the pitch which was intercepted by a Cavan midfielder who promptly drilled over the bar for one of their few scores from play. We were in the basement of ideas, heart and tír grá.
Tommy Lyons was to be our man. Good manager but not the man for us. This blog and any other forum available made their feelings known that we might prefer one of our own to have this shot at spinning the bottle. Lo and behold amid mild to serious shock, James Horan got the gig. He has not disappointed. Three successive championship semi-finals, two successive finals along with two league semi-finals and a league final are not a thing to sniff at. Ask Kieran McGeeney and Kildare.
Where we are
Actually in a great place but a steady hand and head are now needed. Above I outlined our rate of progress but next comes the difficult bit for those who steer our ship. Dublin won the All-Ireland two years ago. In winning this year’s title they dispensed with the 2011 style and modus, they dispensed with at least five of the actors on that film. Sentiment played no part in keeping the famine to a two-year snack. We must stop sentiment. Ours is a famine of real proportions with tantalising glimpses of a huge feast.
Where we must go
After last year’s loss to Donegal I believe the consensus was to find three forwards that could write their own music. We didn’t. This is not a criticism of the men who played but it is a fact. We recycle six from about nine up front. Three are out and out half-backs. We cannot succeed that way.
Like in 2004 when the destruction of Tyrone became our high water performance, so too was the annihilation of Donegal this year. Tyrone showed cracks that we choose to see as positives when they should have been alarm bells. We also underestimated Kerry. We felt they were old and that Dublin struggled to put them away. We were wrong.
Kevin McLoughlin is central to this Mayo team of the last three years. The lad’s engines are over-worked. We need him flying again but we also need another outlet. Straws in the wind were ignored. Three easy goal chances spurned against Roscommon, a fourteen-yard free tossed casually away against Tyrone was dismissed as a glitch. It wasn’t, nor were the goal misses. They indicated a problem.
Half-time in the All-Ireland final should have seen us with at least five more points on the board. Kickable frees were missed. But kickable frees were missed against Donegal a year earlier at the same stage. In a game of inches those were yards and cushions. At the death when a touch of madness and gung-ho was needed we opted to make a play when a blast was needed. It should never have come down to that.
The men on the pitch are to be commended. They live the dreams we dare. To make the dream real the manager must now don a mask of inscrutability and do his pruning in November. Up front it just hasn’t happened for certain lads on that big day … that big day that really matters. They should be let go. To go back again and repeat the sins from the past would be unforgivable. And mark this … Mayo are easily capable of going all the way to next year’s final. The slash and burn, the pruning done in November will make that dream real.
Oh I will survive. Six decades wraps the old soul like a worn but welcome blanket. I am free to give out and not worry who I might offend. No one owes me and I owe no one. After last year’s final I made two mistakes. I wrote a piece for publication alluding that maybe Mayo lost the match inside the first ten minutes. It didn’t fit the narrative nor was I on message. On enquiry I was told that pressure for space saw its demise, strange that the same organ had no problem asking me for an opinion piece for the semi-final.
My second error was that for any future articles I would now require a monetary acknowledgement of perhaps thirty or forty euro for my pieces. The right noises were made, indeed I was asked could they use an article they had on file from me … for free. Soft Mayo man that I was I said ok. I am still awaiting the phone to ring since.
So folks the nuts and bolts of the article are this. We are all right, we will survive. If a bit of stiff will is shown, a forward or two found then we will be back in the rich meadow cutting the harvest soon again. The minors are back in the winner’s enclosure after a few years absence and Mayo has the health and the youth. Maith sibh a gasarí, ta múid an bróduil as ibh.
DH Lawrence ended with these lines:
“Oh build your ship of death; oh build it
For you will need it
For the voyage of oblivion awaits you.”
Careful handling of our football stock will ensure that Mayo never sails in The Ship of Death … to give the full title to the excellent poem I quoted from.