Over the course of this decade we’ve become used to being in the limelight. Every year from 2011 to 2017 we were one of the main stories of the summer, frequently the most compelling one. We were box office.
Even last year, when our involvement in the Championship was cut short and we missed out on the novelty of the first year of the Super Eights, we were still an essential part of the story. Would Newbridge or Nowhere have got the same kind of traction if we weren’t involved? And of, course, when we headed for nowhere in Newbridge’s aftermath, we were treated to all those overly-hasty eulogies for the team’s demise.
With the League triumph this spring followed by the partying with Marty in New York, the soap opera has continued this year too. But following the defeat to Roscommon and our banishment once again to the qualifiers, we’ve suddenly found that, in Round 2 at least, we’re no longer the most gripping storyline of the summer.
RTÉ did, it’s true, take a swipe at us today – I’m not going to link to the story, it’s a pile of old nonsense which has no merit whatsoever so there’s no reason to point anyone in the direction of it – but that’s the first piece written about us all week. Aside from the news about Mattie Ruane’s unfortunate injury, we’ve attracted little or no media attention of late and there’s been no word from the camp, either from James Horan or from anyone else on the backroom or playing sides.
Even the game itself has failed to attract media attention in the days leading up to it. There are three provincial football finals on this weekend and it’s only natural that it’s on these contests that the focus is being trained. Kerry and Cork are set to contest the Munster final on Saturday evening, with the throw-in at Páirc Uí Chaoimh set for 7pm, as is our game up at Páirc Esler.
So no media attention, no TV coverage, no news about the team and, most likely, a smaller number of Mayo supporters at the game. This makes it a qualifier contest like no other for us, one played well away from the media’s gaze, one which many supporters of the team will be following on Midwest or via score updates on social media rather than roaring the team on from the terraces.
Will this changed environment prove to be a positive or negative for us in Newry? To be honest, it’s difficult to know.
I think the absence of focus on us in the lead-up to the game is a good thing and I feel it’s no harm either that the game isn’t being broadcast. Being outshouted by the opposition, though, will be a novelty for us in the qualifiers and it’s unclear if that will force our lads into their shell or instead push them on to greater effort.
What is clear, however, is that all of the heavy lifting on Saturday night will have to be done by the players and by James and his colleagues on the sideline.
But, sure, isn’t that the way it always is, I hear you retort. Yes, but so often – think the Fermanagh, Kildare and Derry qualifiers at MacHale Park, the Clare game in Ennis, the Cork match in Limerick, the two Kerry semi-finals – the huge, raucous Mayo crowd acted like a veritable Sixteenth Man.
While the team won’t be devoid of support in Newry, they’re unlikely to have that kind of cacophonous backing either, which makes this in every sense a qualifier test that is very different from all the others we’ve experienced in recent years.
And all the more dangerous for us because of it.