In a WhatsApp group I’m in, one man took great pleasure in Mayo’s late win over Roscommon.
“That’s the stuff for them bloggers,” he wrote. I thought that was a tad harsh on poor Willie Joe and his ilk. Or unfair on the Rossies, depending on your outlook.
Of course auto-correct was playing havoc with him and he meant to say boggers. Of course there’s more bog in Mayo than Roscommon but that’s beside the point.
Ten years ago boggers would not have been auto-corrected like that. We did not have smartphones for one. Any engagement with the internet was only done at work or by cranking up your computer at home. The latter was only possible if you had internet at home, which was nowhere near as omnipresent as it is now.
But in his home in Drumcondra, John Gunnigan was getting the wheels oiled for a beast that would become the online meeting spot for Mayo football discussions, the Mayo GAA Blog. In fact, ten years ago you were much more likely to have a chat about Mayo football in the bog than on the blog.
Anyone who spent hours of their childhood doing backbreaking work in the bog won’t lament this change.
No one could have predicted the success the Mayo GAA Blog would become in the ten years which followed. It has become the online equivalent of pulling up a stool in Mick Byrne’s in Castlebar or Inch’s in Ballinrobe of an evening and talking football with like-minded individuals. Nodding heads in agreement or arguing the contrary forcibly but all driven by a passion for the topic at hand – Mayo football.
Of course the proprietor is a hard taskmaster. If you’ve had the online equivalent of too much to drink, you’ll be brought into line and told to observe the rules of this particular house.
Where some online forums are the equivalent of a Sunday in what was the Oxegen musical festival with people struggling to stand up and talking pure gibberish, the blog is a much more refined place where people come to enjoy their chat and know where the line and the door is if they take things too far.
For that’s a huge part of the online sphere now. Some people think they can say what they like online. And, in most cases, they get away with it. Facebook has become a breeding ground for gossip and innuendo, say what you want with little regard for factual accuracy.
The same is true of many GAA forums. It’s to John’s eternal credit that the blog rises above that. I’m sure his family must curse the blog on a daily basis when he interrupts dinner or an outing to go onto the blog and moderate, put people in line and, if it comes to it, calls them a taxi and sends them home for the night.
If they hold their hands up, they might get served the next day.
It’s why so many people go to the blog for often informed and measured commentary. You might not always agree with the comments but they might get you thinking and reflecting on your own viewpoint. That’s the beauty of proper debate. The blog is only occasionally sullied by innuendo and insults – and only until John comes along and cleans up the mess.
There’s no doubt that there are many, many fans of the blog who never comment but enjoy reading the different comments. I largely fall into that category. On busy days when there’s hundreds of comments, you simply cannot read them all and try to get a day’s work done.
So we find ourselves scanning by username. Those who have earned the right to be respected for their views over time are the ones we stop at. It could be Anne-Marie, AndyD, PJ McManus or JP, Diehard, Liam, Catcol or Pebblesmeller, John Cuffe, Hope Springs Eternal, livenhope or Jim Flag to name but a few. We rarely find ourselves agreeing with True Grit but find ourselves drawn to him or her to get a sense of the opposing view. Again, proper debate is the better for a wide range of views.
The contributions of posters from other counties is a very welcome aspect to the blog and underlines how balanced and measured the commentary tends to be. Long may that continue.
Year on year the blog has grown. Part of it has been the growth in online use. Reading comments from some posters who recall Mayo games of the Sixties and Seventies, you suspect some of them are late bloomers to computer usage and this blog must be a treasure to them.
In an era when there are concerns about social isolation, blogs like this have certainly played a part, however small, in allowing people to engage with like-minded folk.
Another reason for the growth has been the success of the Mayo senior team in recent years. Success will always bring growth and while some of us may moan about ‘Johnny come latelys’, there is something magical about a county being completely taken over by the quest for Sam.
The blog has proved a hit for us journalists too. The results archive is a treasure trove for any hack looking to find out when Keith Higgins made his debut or when was the last time Mayo played Kilkenny.
Over the years John has become a valuable contributor to the pages of The Mayo News too and we’re delighted to have him on board. His musings from the vantage point of a fan and a blogger add another layer to our coverage.
He’s been the fulcrum for a lot of new friendships too. Not just on the virtual space that is the blog, but via his informal meet-ups in Bowe’s of Fleet Street on nights before big Mayo games. Work responsibility means I’ve been an infrequent attendee at these gatherings but the one time I did go, I left after a wonderful evening talking football with like-minded strangers.
For facilitating so many new friendships, bringing so many passionate Mayo fans together on the one forum and reinforcing just how ingrained in so many lives the love for Mayo football is, we all owe John a debt.
Here’s to the next ten years and to the moment he goes into the results archive at the end of a year and enters a Mayo win for the third Sunday of September.