We’re not going to lose the run of ourselves.
Too many Mayo supporters have been scorched too often in the past to let their imaginations run wild now that we’ve finally tasted a bit of success on the national stage. We’re all way too battle-hardened for that.
But what we can do – and what we should do – is to savour the moment and enjoy Sunday’s win for what it was. A thrilling comeback, a second half display that showed what a Mayo team playing at its best is capable of doing, a tidal wave – a blue one! – that swept Kerry’s challenge away and carried us onwards to a twelfth National League title.
We’ll all harbour deep in our own minds a few memories from Sunday at Croke Park. Two in particular stand out for me.
The first is an obvious one, about the connection that exists between this Mayo team and its supporters. We’ve gone into battle so often together at this stage that we do so in unison. The team feeds off the support, the fans up their game in response to what the players are doing out on the pitch.
On Sunday, for the first time in a national final at Croke Park, we carried this all the way to the finish, to the steps in the Lower Hogan where Diarmuid O’Connor accepted the silverware on behalf of his team, the county and Mayo people everywhere.
That unique bond has been there for years and we knew of its existence well before Sunday’s emotion-laden finale. But what we saw this time was different – as we came down the closing stretch both players and supporters alike glimpsed the glory that awaited and together moved in to claim it.
The second observation from Sunday relates to how sport can often mirror life, at times – as we know so well – in its cruelties but sometimes in more uplifting ways. On Sunday we were given a vision of sport as redemption and it was presented to us in the form of Robbie Hennelly’s beaming face.
Robbie should never, of course, have been scapegoated in the way that he was after what happened in the 2016 All-Ireland final. That match was lost – by the narrowest of margins – for a variety of reasons, yet most of the blame for the one-point defeat was unfairly heaped on the Breaffy player’s shoulders.
It’s been a long road back for Robbie. This year, however, you could sense his confidence returning and when it became clear in the days leading up to the final that David Clarke might not be fit to play, the notion that Robbie would be between the sticks for us once again in a national final wasn’t one that gave any cause for concern.
But that alone wouldn’t have been a compelling enough storyline to make it really noteworthy. What did so was Robbie’s truly outstanding performance in the final, where he repeatedly rose from his line to fetch incoming high balls that could have crept over the bar, where his restarts were flawless throughout and where, in the dying moments, he pulled off a miracle point-blank save from Kerry’s David Clifford.
Had that effort hit the net, the result – and all the headlines – would have been very different. But it didn’t and, on a day when we had many outstanding performers, Robbie’s heroics between the posts is a special memory to treasure.
His display provided vivid confirmation that nice guys don’t always lose and that sport – like life in general – can sometimes demonstrate in the most uplifting way the power of redemption.
This article first appeared in the Mayo News, 2nd April 2019.