I tried not to get excited but how could you not? Meeting up with John, Rob and Co. in Bowe’s on Fleet Street on Friday evening would make even the calmest of men giddy.
The Guinness was flowing as was the chats and while Tom McLoughlin gave a prediction of a Mayo win as we stood outside and recorded the last few chunks of the podcast, I still stuck with what my heart was telling me.
You can try and fool your brain but eventually your brain and body will catch on to your tricks. 6:30am on Saturday morning, I’m awake.
I gave into temptation for a bit and fired on some Mayo GAA related songs from over the years as I closed my eyes and tried to convince myself that it was a normal day.
And I kept that way of thinking up until about 4:50pm that day. That crowd, that atmosphere and that first half.
Anyway, 5:40pm and it’s straight to the toilet for me but I’m going to have to try and stop going to the toilet at half-time of games.
Why? Because I am always stood next beside some person who gets my hopes up. The only exception to this was at the Meath game this year when I was stood beside some buck who was just as unsure as I was whether we could see The Royals out.
But Saturday, as it has been in previous losing situations in Croker, was much the same.
“I think we’re going to do it”. I told him I wouldn’t be happy until the final whistle went and we knew the outcome for sure but it was already too late then.
Those words had poisoned my mind and while part of me was trying to keep the head clear, the other part was already booking the week of the All-Ireland off work.
It’s the hope that kills you.
I was lucky. Talking to some people after the game, they went to the toilet just before throw-in for the second half thinking we had the beating of them and by the time they came back, the game was practically over.
Then again, I got to witness it happening so maybe lucky isn’t the right word.
Twelve points in twelve minutes. My brain went the complete opposite way, I remembered how Dublin nearly clawed back a 10-point lead against us in 2012. Keegan’s goal went in, seven points down and straight away I thought of 2006.
I reverted back to my ways of thinking as a child where I would watch Mayo until the very end and be so optimistic as to think that even if we were six points down with a minute to go, we’d be able to summon two freak goals from somewhere.
My modus operandi behind being a slight bit pessimistic at all times when it comes to Mayo is that, if the outcome is better than what you have focused on in your head, great stuff.
But if you believe there is no other possible alternative than a Mayo win, and then not only lose but lose in the fashion in which we did, it’s a very hard thing to comprehend.
I didn’t even watch the other semi-final yesterday. I assumed Kerry would win but in my head do I think they’ll beat Dublin? No.
They’ll run them close, they’ll get a goal and maybe even two at that but this Dublin team is just different class.
As I said last week, Dublin fans I’ve talked to said that it was only right that they would meet Mayo and Kerry on their way to “that number”.
They want to prove they are the Greatest of All Time by beating those who have nearly stopped them before and I firmly believe that if we couldn’t catch them, nobody can.
I wouldn’t begrudge them of the feat either. I gave out to my housemate who was praising them on Saturday. What he was saying was right but it was just too soon to admit it.
You really do have to just sit back and admire the way they play, the players they have, their manager and the way they can destroy teams with just a few passages of play.
They’re more than a football team. They are a brand, a company, an organisation. At least, that’s the way they seem to be set up.
Jim Gavin calls the Drive for Five “that number”. He won’t even say it. As far as he’s concerned, it’s another All-Ireland and if they do win it, the focus would probably be already on the following season.
He said in the post-match interview that he doesn’t need to say much to the players, that they’re already motivated. But, what he does say, I’d say, is worth a million screams.
Alex Ferguson famously gave a short speech to his players before they won the Champions League Final in 1999. He told them one thing: That if they lost, they’d be able to look at the trophy at the end of the game, walk beside it and be within centimetres of it, but that they wouldn’t be able to touch it.
I can imagine that Jim Gavin’s team talks are similar.
Even Paul Mannion and Con O’Callaghan’s buzz-cut hairstyles make it seem like they’re part of an army, not an amateur football team.
Even just focusing on Con alone. Keegan stuck by his side for 40 minutes. He only had eyes for him – I don’t even think Leeroy knew where the ball was in the first half but he certainly knew where CO’C was.
But when Con did spot a split-second lapse in concentration, he fired Keegan to the ground and hammered in the first goal. After that, the job was oxo for Dublin.
People give out about how the Dubs and Jim Gavin are bland after games. They don’t show excitement – nothing. Whether they’re playing Louth or Kerry, it’s the same spiel from Gavin about how they were a tough opposition and they can learn a lot from them.
They do celebrate in fairness. A few of them were in Copper Face Jacks along with fans on Saturday night but you can be sure it was business as usual come Sunday.
I’d say the celebrations are short and sweet. Would you rather celebrate one All-Ireland for months or celebrate 7, 8, 9 … 10 for a week and then focus on the following season.
As the song goes, ‘There’ll be time enough for counting, when the dealing’s done’ and they would probably gladly sacrifice wild celebrations and showing emotion in front of media and fans alike so that when all is said and done, they can hang up the numerous Celtic crosses on their wall.
As for our lads, you would have to wonder after the last day whether their search for the cross is finally over. I don’t mean because they’re not good enough. I mean because they’ve simply gave it their all.
Moran and Higgins still had great seasons in the Green and Red while Boyler is almost certainly on his way for an All-Star but will they feel that there’s another season in them. And if so, is the goal still a Celtic cross?
You’d think that it would drive you daft to think like that. If that were the case, you’d be almost afraid to leave. ‘What if I go and they end up doing it next year?’
I admire their bouncebackability and the sheer determination to go back to the well every time. It makes me sad to think that they might go down as one of the best football players never to win an All-Ireland medal. In fact, the next time some publication decides to put together ‘the best fifteen to never win it’, they may just fill it with Mayo names.
Being coined the second greatest team of the last twenty years is great. Sadly, though, nobody remembers the runners-up but us Mayo people will never forget the warriors who gave us so many joyous days out.
This is not me writing an obituary for this team but rather just reflecting on the last seven years.
Thank you to each and every Mayo player past and present for giving us the wonderful days out that they have since day dot.
Sure, the hope kills you but without the hope, I honestly don’t know what my life would be like. What I’d daydream about when I’m on the train home, what I’d plan my summers around, what I’d dream about when I hear ‘The Green and Red of Mayo’.
I’ve mentioned it many times but my good friend Michael Gallagher once said that following Mayo is a journey. The end result is obvious – to reach the Promised Land – but after that, then what?
We have always been so focused on the journey that it’s hard to know how we’d react if we did do it.
Would you have rather if we’d won it in 2012 and had not been within an ass’s roar of it since or to have not changed anything at all?
I honestly don’t know. It’s better to have known heartbreak than to have never experienced love at all, as they say.
One thing is for sure, the hope is going to kill us.