In the stand and on the laptop: the Mayo GAA Blog story

This article first appeared in the ‘Mayo GAA – A Decade in Review’ tribute supplement published by the Western People.

A simple plan

It was all going to be so simple.

A Mayo football fan, in some shape or form for most of my adult life and someone with an urge to write that badly needed scratching, this looked like the perfect opportunity. Blogs were all the rage back in 2007, Mayo – beaten twice in All-Ireland finals the previous three years – had just reappointed the Prodigal Son, John O’Mahony, as manager. It looked like one big, determined push to get us over the line was in prospect. I could, I reasoned, be there writing about this march to glory on my newly-minted blog. What could possibly go wrong?

I can still picture in my mind that February morning – now approaching thirteen years ago – when it all began. While I’ve been welded ever since to the creature that I created then, that era into which the Mayo GAA Blog was born now appears almost impossibly distant. It was a world in which online activity – especially where it came to GAA issues – wasn’t anything like as all-encompassing as it is now, coming as it did long before the rise of social media. It was, in so many ways, a more innocent time. A kinder time too, perhaps.

But for all the change that has taken place since then some things have remained stubbornly constant. Like Mayo giving their all and more to win the All-Ireland but ultimately falling tantalisingly short. By the time I started the blog we’d already developed a solid reputation for losing finals, having by then fallen at the final hurdle five times since 1989. Little did I know when I started the blog that we’d more, much more, heartache still to come. But pride too and performances like I’d never witnessed before from the team in Green and Red.

Hard yards

Investment advice usually contains the caution that past performance is no guarantee of future success. So it was for me with the punt I took on Mayo in 2007. I glimpsed the summit, so near one could almost touch it, and I believed that one mighty shunt engineered by Johnno would see us collapse with glee into the Promised Land. Sadly, though, like the Irish economy, the late Noughties saw Mayo’s trajectory turn instead sharply downwards, hitting rock bottom in the qualifier defeat to Longford in 2010.

All of which meant that at the start of the current decade, I’d had very little football success to crow about on the blog. One Connacht title victory, two National League final losses and two All-Ireland final defeats at Minor level. The lad running the Kerry blog must be having an easy time in comparison, I mused, with a constant stream of success to write about.

But, by then, I’d realised that I was, in effect, in a field of one. There were no other fan-based blogs of this kind, in Kerry or anywhere else. The odd one appeared online here and there but none of them ever stayed the distance, with a Galway version hitting the rocks little more than two months after it had announced its arrival on the scene.

I could understand this because, three years in and with the team having done very little to shout about, I already knew what a hard road this was to tread upon. It took a certain amount of cussedness and no small amount of stubbornness to keep going, especially when, from a content point of view, the project was being sustained on such meagre rations. I can see now, though, that this was a vital proving ground for me. I kept the blog going at a time when the easiest thing to do – at a time when not too many people knew about it and when the team’s on-field exploits were, literally, nothing to write home about – would have been to jack it in.

But I kept going, continuing to put in those hard yards, even if the temptation to walk away from it became, on more than one occasion, very difficult to resist. But resist I did. Then James Horan was appointed manager, the team’s fortunes were all of a sudden transformed, and, for me, the task of writing about all this became far easier. Finally, I had a team to write about.

Inflection point

In terms of the life of the blog, I’ll always look back on James’ appointment as an inflection point. On the blog I’d argued strongly in advance that he should be given the job – the first time I’d ever interposed my own viewpoint on a current Mayo GAA issue, where I sought to influence the outcome – and once James was in place it soon became clear that he was intent on making Mayo compete at a far higher level than we’d been used to. Life would never be the same for the county’s support base and – with those fans now spending ever more of their time online – neither would it be for me on the blog.

The web traffic levels I’ve recorded every year since the blog’s inception bear this out. Measured in terms of page counts (or ‘hits’), traffic grew from a miniscule 12,293 hits in 2007 to just over quarter of a million in 2010. In James Horan’s final year in his first term, 2014, the hit count had soared to 1.4 million. This year annual page views will top 3.5 million, with the cumulative total since the blog was founded approaching 20 million.

Needless to say, I never – truly – expected this to happen. The blog was intended as a pastime, a fleeting interest to which I might devote some spare time but which would inevitably wither and die. After all, that’s the fate that awaits most blogs, at least 99% of which fail, most having attracted little or no web traffic to them.

So what’s different about the Mayo GAA Blog and why is it, all these years on, surviving and thriving? My firm conclusion – one that I believe those traffic figures bear out – is that it has all been to do with the team’s performance on the field. Without the county’s footballing stock climbing to new heights over the last decade, I’ve no doubt that the blog’s popularity would not have been as great as it has been. The two have gone hand in hand.

The days of our lives

What times we’ve had together. From that breakthrough, coming-of-age win over Cork in 2011, the tension-filled triumph over Dublin the following year, the destruction of Donegal in 2013 and the pure unbridled satisfaction of besting Kerry in 2017, we’ve had great days on the big stage at Croke Park in recent years.

There have been a fair few tough days too, of course, in particular those four heart-wrenching All-Ireland final losses, three of them agonising one-point defeats to Dublin.

Following Mayo over the last decade has been a veritable rollercoaster for all the county’s supporters. For me, at the helm of a website that was with each passing year itself becoming an integral part of the Mayo GAA story, the wild and unpredictable ups and downs were further amplified.

I was writing all the time, I joined forces with Rob Murphy on the Mayo News football podcast and so I started, weirdly, to become a recognised voice at Mayo matches. The Mayo story was one that surrounded me constantly. This had become much more than the pastime it was supposed to have been.

Along the way, I learned how easy it was to bash out exuberant match reports right after the team had performed well and we’d won. I discovered too – starting blankly at the laptop screen at five in the morning following yet another All-Ireland final loss, after a night where sleep had utterly deserted me – how difficult it can sometimes be to write even the simplest sentence about a game of football.

There’s always next year, of course – in the GAA world, that refrain will never lose currency – but taking this past decade as a complete body of work, I can, I know, look back on those years with enormous gratitude. In so many ways, the Mayo GAA story, where there truly never has been a dull moment, was the hottest topic of the decade. It was my good fortune to have created a vehicle that found itself careering along in the wake of this riveting sporting experience.

The unwinnable battle

Taking an even longer view, I can also see that the blog’s existence now spans two very definite eras. It was born into that quiet, peaceful world that once existed before social media took hold. The world that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the rest now, for good or ill, shape and dominate is a very different one from that which preceded it. While debate and discussion has undoubtedly been opened up by these platforms, it’s also true that too much public discourse nowadays is fuelled by anger, hatred and the sowing of division.

I’ve seen plenty of this online and I’ve seen a good bit of it wash up on the blog’s shores too. While I’ve done my utmost to promote fair and reasonable discussion on the blog – where a large, often boisterous, community has come together over the years – I often feel I’m swimming against the tide. Far too many people commenting online at the present time think it’s perfectly okay to post hateful, abusive content. Even worse, they consider it their God-given right to do so. My battle has been to ensure that the debates swirling around about Mayo GAA are calm and fair-minded – and a real battle this has been – but this is a battle that never seems to go away and it’s one I’ve no real chance of winning over the long-term.

Where to from here?

Which, I suppose, begs the question – where to from here for the blog? That’s one, I’m afraid, I’m in no position to answer. The blog has, almost despite myself, become part of who I am. Were I to walk away from it now, I’m not sure I could just revert back to being the often languid supporter I once was.

I guess, with 2020 approaching fast up ahead, I’ll just keep doing that which I’ve done every year this past decade and more – approach what I do on the blog one match at a time and see where this leads me. So far it hasn’t given me the chance to record my thoughts on winning the big one but, where Mayo are concerned, it’s always best to expect the unexpected.

‘Mayo GAA – A Decade in Review’, the newly-published tribute supplement by the Western People is on sale now, priced €5, and is available widely across the county.

50 thoughts on “In the stand and on the laptop: the Mayo GAA Blog story

  1. Well written piece – best wishes to you and your family for xmas and i look forward in earnest to following the blog in 2020

  2. Congrats on the last 13 years WJ- the success of the blog is of course down to the performance of the team. However, the other reason is you’re work ethic; it’s second to none.

    Similar to the team itself (when it’s going well) what this blog does is bring people together; fostering a sense of identity if you like irrespective of how long a person has lived outside of the county.

    One gripe I have, if I may, is the shutdown re the Foundation/County board saga – I have a few things I’d like to say on that matter….but so be it.

    A quick question for you- Legally speaking, who’s liable for a libellous comment on this site? You or the person that posted it?

  3. Great story WJ.
    You need to find a way of making it pay its way and that will help spread the load.
    That’s the only way it can keep going without swamping you.
    There is a book in all the articles and comments in the past 13years.
    It’s the nicest spot to visit online.

  4. WJ, I and I am sure I speak for many are glad you are staying on for another year! Thank You and look after yourself.

  5. The blog has become a major part of my game day/life too WJ. There was a time it was a seasonal affair, and I started to prowl through the debate days before a game. Now I’m in and out every week, as following Mayo has become an all year round state of being.

    This blog is a local treasure, but available to all our clan, many of whom (like myself) are based offshore at the moment.

    Really not sure it could ever be replaced. So keep her lit and we’ll keep coming back.

  6. I had, literally, no choice there, Spotlight. The debate was being hijacked by people with a clear agenda and I wasn’t in a position to allow it to continue down the path it was headed. That saga caused what I fear is irreparable damage to how the comments work here. I’ll have to dodge the legal question, I’m afraid – I’m clear in my own mind where responsibilities lie and it’s up to everyone who posts a public comment anywhere to inform themselves likewise.

  7. Willie joe. As others have said you provide an excellent service for exiles like myself. You provide hope and optimism to us and a dose of reality too I’ll look forward to the comments on Tooreen s upcoming match with fr O’Neill’s Keep up the good work. Up mayo

  8. Crazy to think it’s been nearly 13 years since this blog came into existence.
    Well done WJ and glad to hear you’re sticking around for the time being.

    I’ve said it before, but it’s so important for us exiles especially.
    I’ll admit to being a bit disappointed at the time that we couldn’t discuss the foundation saga, as trying to find out real information for those of us outside the county wasn’t always easy. I avoid most social media like the plague, so this blog was pretty much the only avenue for information.
    But you explained it perfectly in a post a couple of weeks ago and it was clear that the debate couldn’t carry on here the way it was going.
    It just goes to show the thin line that exists between honest debate and libellous comments, and made us appreciate even more the difficult position you can find yourself in here.

    All the best for the Christmas WJ and everyone else here. We’ll all be back in the saddle in January, can’t wait.

  9. Well done WJ on this fabulous article you have written above and especially for all the work and time you have put in into making this blog where it is today.
    I am very proud as a man who came from a neighbouring town namely Ballyhaunis to you and to have written on your blog and I am so happy that you are continuing for another ye

  10. Congratulations Willie Joe on 13 years running this fine blog, its a credit to you and I for one am most grateful to be able to post/vent here. best wishes to you and your family for Christmas and may 2020 bring you all your heart desire including the Sam Maguire.

  11. WJ, I make comments here occasionally but never miss the read, it pains me so much to read about the losses, I mean it’s a physical pain !! But when I got home and logged into the blog I at least felt less alone, we will never stop following, as I have often said the mortgage would be long since paid if it weren’t for Mayo GAA but ‘ je ne regret rien’ thanks for it all W J I really appreciate the time you put in, Maigheo abú

  12. Its a credit to you, WJ, that this incredible blog has been in existence for 12+ years now and is getting millions of hits. Delighted to hear you are continuing into 2020. The level of discourse on here most of the time is on such a high level that’s it addictive. Looking forward to getting my fix next January ;>) A happy and safe festive season to you and yours.

  13. No doubt about it, but this is unquestionably the best GAA Blog by Mile’s on the scene…. From the outside looking in, the biggest problem seems to be, the constant and growing need for ‘Moderation’ .. On some occasion’s, I might have tuned in here to read what’s going on and what the Great Diaspora that is the Mayo Fan Base is talking about, then seen a somewhat ‘dubious’ comment pinned by someone, and by the time I next tuned in , the offending comment would be either ‘Redatacted’ or ‘Deleted’ with an explanation of the reasons why… possibly saving the writer of the ‘Dubious’ comments from legal action, and definitely saving the comments section from decending into the sewer…. But this Blog is available to Read, or Write comments 24/7 for the 52 week’s of the year….It’s probably is an impossible task to expect anyone to be able to monitor what every possible errand poster might try and post 24/7 for the 52 week’s of year…. What is absolutely amazing is that Willie Joe has been able to do just that ‘Moderate’ this open All Hour’s Blog with millions of ‘Hits’, thousands of ‘Post’s’ and and an almost infinite amount of possible ‘Posters’ so well for so long….

  14. From an outsider, it’s a great place to pop in for a look on all things Mayo football. Keep up the great work..

  15. Great work Willie Joe maybe a subscription fee may deter some wind up merchants and help offset your costs. I’d be willing to pay for this great service you provide. Been here since the early days in 2007

  16. I only discovered the blog a couple of years ago and I genuinely think it’s given me a broader knowledge of the game from reading the comments ?
    As I am going to Australia in January ( only for a year!!) I will be relying on the blog moreso then ever, so delighted it will be there to read while sat on a beach somewhere ??

  17. Fantastic platform, all plaudits are more than deserved..continued success to you both here and your business life Willie Joe…and more importantly good health to you and yours

  18. I must also applaud this blog, can’t really imagine the time and energy that goes into keeping it going.
    I discovered this blog in 2014 yet it doesn’t really seem like 5 years ago. I have read some very forensic views on Mayo games this past number of years.
    Going to be a few interesting years ahead for Mayo, ie, can they cope with the nearing professional status of the Gaa world? , can Mayo ever beat the Dubs?, will any other team beat the Dubs in the next 2 years?
    I await the next Mayo bunch to reach the All Ireland final, this seems a long way off at the moment, but as always will be there to see if they can finally pull it off.
    Long live the blog and Willie Joe.

  19. Willie Joe, that was a truly enlightening and beautifully written article, but I couldn’t wait to get to the end, not knowing whether you were going to finally pull down the shutters, or what? Thankfully that’s not the case, and to know that we can now look forward to more Mayo GAA madness on this blog in 2020 is so uplifting.

    As you said yourself this blog has grown out of all proportions and as I’ve no doubt the team will continue to perform to a very high standard next year and beyond, your job won’t be getting any easier. It’s with this in mind that I wonder would you consider bringing on board some like-minded person, or persons, who would share the load during those busy times.

    Whatever you choose to do, be assured of having the full support oy the Mayo GAA family and may I wish you and your family a very Happy Christmas!!!

  20. Mile buiochas WJ for this fantastic blog. I am In agreement with my fellow bloggers above. Go neiri leath agus fo clann i gconai. Mhuigheo abu!

  21. Long may Mayo GAA Blog continue. Thanks WJ for your wonderful work over the past 13 years. Who knows maybe sometime in the nest 13 years when I hope you will be still writing, we may have Sam won a few times. Wishing you and your family a Happy Christmas, and all the best for 2020.

  22. It could be argued that with a County of fanatical fans, a brilliant football team and the off the field annual multi episode Soap Opera’s, a blog in this County might just be the hardest to keep on the straight and narrow of any County in the Country.

    Football means so much to the Mayo man, woman and child and the diaspora all over the world that very often the family schedules and calenders are organised around the dates and throw in times of the green and red.

    We are getting ready for our 2020 campaign to kick off, and the goal will be the same as every other year. Get the best team out on to the pitch and land Sam.

    As said by all above, we have the best blog and someday WJ will have a picture of a Mayo Captain holding up the Sam Maguire. I’m sure of that.

    A bit early I know but happy Christmas to all.

  23. Thanks all for the good wishes – all I was doing was putting up that piece I wrote for the supplement but the sentiments are appreciated. I do, though, need to write a follow-up piece, which I’ll do shortly when I get a chance, explaining why, of necessity, things can’t and won’t be the same on the blog next year as they have been in the past.

  24. Well done and congratulations,hopefully we can look forward to many more good days,I do believe that you need to make it pay I would certainly be prepared to pay a fee for the information on it

  25. Thank you Willie Joe for providing this wonderful service. I know you have stated you are against advertising and subscriptions etc but with the numbers of page visits etc., you could probably make a living out of this. I certainly wouldn’t mind paying a subscription and I’m sure many others would echo the same. Bring on 2020!!

  26. Great article Willy Joe and I’m both delighted and relieved that it concluded the way it did. I thought reading through it that it sounded like the beginning of the end at times.
    Mayo football just wouldn’t be the same without this exceptional blog. During the high season, I would check it at least once a day and even in the off season I’d dip in and out regularly. It’s a godsend for all supporters but especially for those, like myself, who live outside the county.
    Thank you for your dedication and long may your excellent work continue Willy Joe. I have absolutely no doubt that this blog has been a major contributor to making the Mayo supporters such a potent and united force throughout this decade.
    We’ll climb those steps very soon and you won’t be able to sleep then either, but at least you’ll have the satisfaction of penning your musings from the winners enclosure.

  27. A super source of information and conversation for all Mayo fans with many welcome comments from genuine gaa people from other counties thrown in. It is I am sure the envy of supporters in other counties who would like a reasonable forum which is well moderated to air their views. I see it as an extension of our county team as it reflects the incredible highs and lows which we have experienced in following our amazing team. It is a credit to you and from a selfish point of view, long may it continue. Thanks once again for your hard work

  28. Great piece Willie Joe. You are right that Mayo’s success on the field (absent the big one) has given us all something to talk about. But, you are too modest in playing down your role as facilitator, which enables us all to participate fully and throw in our two cents worth. Just getting it all out on Mondays, and every other day, is a form of catharsis, that has kept me sane many’s the time and oft.

  29. It was taken on the terrace at Mac Cumhaill Park in Ballybofey, in March 2018, the day Kevin McLoughlin’s late, late point saved us from relegation. We’d just finished up chatting for the podcast and I was probably putting up the MOTM poll on the blog or something like that. My eldest daughter took the photo – we did the trip together, up and down on the day from here in Dublin.

  30. One of my greatest pleasures is on a Monday morning after a Mayo win going for a run with the dog by the sea and listening to the Podcast. The blog would be prime reading at breakfast time.
    Just me and WJ going over the match with whoever else is talking. Love Sean Rice too.
    The dog is used to me laughing out loud and yahooing to myself as we run.
    I always seen to agree with your thoughts WJ as there is wisdom and sense in them.
    You are a Mayo fan first and foremost and that comes through in your thoughts while not being blind to reality.
    The question of when will we win Sam is still the big one and if its not too far away would that not be the natural end for your blog and the journey you are on?
    Thanks again for everything. The blog always brightens up the day.

  31. Like many I’m a long time admirer and avid follower but yet a first time poster. What stirs me you might ask? Too many things to mention. Suffice to say that it’s a serious grá for the game and the county, love of the jersey, admiration for the players, and serious respect for this forum and all the true hearted, well intentioned, passionate yet measured and respectful posters and true supporters. Those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it, someone famous may have said. I may be wrong but this forum, a shining light and example, faces somewhat of a crossroads and a possible existential threat. The power to change that is with us, on the keyboard. Don’t show the white feather….

  32. Jim Gavin has announced he’s stepping down. We have a huge chance once again! 2020 here we come baby ?

  33. For some reason I’m overjoyed since hearing earlier today that Jim Gavin had resigned, a cloud has lifted now that the Dubs stranglehold will be broken, Gaa just got really boring since 2016. Gavin broke our hearts in 3 finals.
    This is finally the break that all the Gaa world needed, there is hope for Meath and Kildare in Leinster.
    I believe Kerry will be the new force and will win a few All Irelands in the next five years. Can Mayo make a big assault in 2020 or 2021? , no new Dublin manager will get the same out of those players.
    It’s a long time ago now since 2011, hopefully Sam will visit many different Counties in the next few years.
    Galway will be a good side also, I remember telling a few young Clargalway footballers on a visit to our Dublin club in 2016, that Galway could win an All Ireland before Mayo in the next few years, I wouldn’t bet against it, Pádraig Joyce will raise the bar.
    We will all have a few pints tonight.

  34. It’s wishful thinking that the dubs will fall apart with Gavin gone. They’re still 4/6 to win the all Ireland next year. I don’t expect much of a drop off. I’m all for anything to make it interesting again though. It has got boring.

  35. The only county out of Connacht to make the breakthrough in the post Gavin era will be Galway. Under Joyce they will be a real force in Gaelic Football over the next 5 years.

  36. Gavin was a great manager in charge of a great team. If I am honest I feel its a little late for us to take advantage. I feel the dubs may be in decline but I don’t think we are anywhere near as good as we were between 2012 and 2017. The biggest rejoicing will be in the kingdom. They are convinced its only a matter of time until they are reunited with Sam. In the meantime enjoy your retirement Mr Gavin. 6 All Ireland titles including a 5 in a row is some achievement. Considering they beat Mayo in 3 finals by a point including one after a replay and also beat us in 2 semi finals including a replay it means we have seen plenty of Gavin over the last number of years. While we were ultra competitive against the greatest team ever we just couldn’t beat them.

  37. Hopefully with Gavin gone it will give our lads a boost during the tough slog over the winter. Be great if Dublin came back to the pack a little bit in 2020. Looking like Dessie Farrell is odds on to get the Dublin job which going on his underage record will not weaken them too much. We should be aiming to be the best of the rest come August and have a go at them again. There’s really nothing between us, Kerry, Tyrone, Galway, Donegal.
    Probably need to get our house in order in Connacht and go the direct route in 2020.
    Worried that our neighbors to the south becoming a force under PJ. They have the talent, tactics were problem under Walsh

  38. Agreed Davitt51 – getting a fully fit panel into the Super 8s will be key. The key to doing that will be going in via the front door. Fingers crossed the league reveals another couple of forwards, as if Andy was available I’d think he’d still get on the pitch

  39. WJ…thank you and all our Mayo folk throughout the world for endless hours of intrigue and drama. It’s a beautiful blog and it’s all made possible by your dedication and passion for all things Mayo GAA.
    God how I wish we had won once but the trying alone has been amazing. I love Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the arena” speech and in it I see Mayo football. It’s not all about winning but the sheer guts and courage to try again and again. Never let defeat define you. It has been a long and lonely road but I believe we will eventually reach the prize. We’ve been so close with so much stacked against us and yet no-one can take our belief away. Maybe, just maybe 13 will be the lucky number. Thanks again WJ and to you and all us Mayo people I wish peace and happiness this Christmas…and in the year ahead. Ok to the not Mayo people too!! Go n-éirí linn. Maigheo abú.

  40. Fair play to you Willie Joe, this blog is an excellent resource for Mayo people all over the world and must take some effort to put together, considering the various multimedia outputs going in to it and your day job to boot.

    Ceist tapaidh: are all the comments going into pre-mod now? Cheers.

  41. Thanks, It Means Nothing to Me – to answer your question, Yes, all comments are being routed into pre-moderation at the minute, ever since the debate started to get hijacked about the funding issue. It’s not a problem right now, as the traffic levels and number of comments being posted are low but I’ve yet to decide what to do on that front once the football starts up again in the New Year.

  42. Thanks for the quick reply Willie Joe, have just spotted it now. I’m sure it’s a step you’d have rather not had to take but it was also inevitable given the greatly increased traffic here, not just from Mayo supporters but a growing band of external posters.

    Still looking forward to some vigorous debates in 2020 and would echo some earlier comments on supporting a subscription fee if you choose to pursue that model. Cheers!

  43. Just to respond to that point about possibly setting up some kind of subscription model for the blog (with apologies for not responding on this before now) I don’t see that as a viable option. Firstly, it would involve time and effort to set up and manage (which I don’t have) and secondly it would, unwittingly or not, inject a transactional element into what I do here, a direction in which I definitely don’t – indeed, can’t – want to go. I appreciate the sentiment behind the suggestion but neither the practicalities nor the philosophy of such a move work for me.

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