sam hope Nothing could remotely stir the blood west of the Shannon quite like Mayo ending their All-Ireland famine
Can James Horan's men take a last step on the road that would culminate perhaps the most epic journey Irish sport has known?
It is easier to imagine Garner’s most memorable soundbite resonating with Horan or Cillian O’Connor or the magnificently unbending Westport gladiator Lee Keegan should the light of their careers ebb without the defining summer moment that shatters all the years of heartache.
A Texas politician sufficiently sharp-tongued to earn the nickname “Cactus Jack”, Garner famously dismissed the office of American vice-president as “not worth a quart of warm spit.”
Almost a century on, the crusty old senator’s inference remains clear: There is but one seat of worth in the aristocracy of achievement. And, for all the compensations and profile it offers, it isn’t the one occupied by the number two in any hierarchy.
To distil it down to its Lombardi or Shankly-esque essence: Winning is everything.
Mayo, even after all their brilliant deeds and conspicuous courage in straining for the highest terrain, remain handcuffed to the second last rung on glory’s ladder.
They have lost the last two All-Ireland finals, four of the most recent six, a scarcely believable half dozen since their reversal at the hands of Donegal in the 2012 decider.
Here’s a remarkable list: Tyrone, Dublin, Kerry, Donegal, Cork, Armagh, Galway, Meath, Down, Derry, Offaly, Louth, Cavan, Limerick, Tipperary, Kilkenny, Clare, Wexford and Waterford.
These are the 19 counties who have won either a football or hurling All-Ireland since Mayo last raised Sam to the heavens all of 71 years ago.
Even when finally breaking the spell of Dublin last summer, it was only to run into a Tyrone roadblock.
Have Horan and his compadres – with vital figures like Aidan O’Shea, Rob Hennelly, Jason Doherty and the wondrous Keegan deep into the autumn of distinguished careers – one last shot to fire?
With Dublin’s aura severely bruised, and the summer of ‘22 brimming with egalitarian possibility, can Mayo take a last step on the road that would culminate perhaps the most epic journey Irish sport has known?
The messages are mixed. A renewed surge of belief may come from launching their Division One campaign with a memorable 14-man comeback in Donegal on opening day, followed by a ground-out win in Clones last weekend.
As has been noted elsewhere, Mayo advanced all the way to the league final on the three previous occasions over the past 15 years that they went unbeaten through their first two games.
The flip side is the torn ACL which thieves them of Tommy Conroy for the season. Mayo’s shallow pool of game-changing forwards makes it at once a cruel and debilitating blow.
Horan’s ambitions long ago outgrew even the warmest embrace the league has to offer. His lone obsession centres around the classic imperative of returning to summer’s great fortress to finally master football’s race of truth.
On Saturday week Mayo make an unseasonal visit to Croke Park. For once it might be a fixture freighted with more significance for Dublin, shell-like in their early-season lassitude, than for the green-and-red uniformed opponents.
Even in Saturday’s fug of post-Six Nations giddiness, a huge audience, one that peaked at just under half a million, tuned in for RTE’s live coverage of Kerry’s victory over Dublin.
The weight of affection for Mayo, along with a scanning of the night for any Sky Blue response to suggestions that the old champions are slipping into a competitive coma, might summon an even greater armchair audience next week.
Ireland’s West is riding a sporting wave.
Connacht’s Mack Hansen and Bundee Aki combined to deliver the opening try in the skewering of Wales, a game in which Mayo’s Caelan Doris franked his world class credentials.
For the first time in living memory, all six Connacht counties (London are shoehorned in as they compete in the championship out west) won their football league fixtures last weekend.
Henry Shefflin’s arrival in Galway has granted the Tribesmen the opportunity to imagine a great redeemer has arrived in their midst.
But nothing could remotely stir the blood West of the Shannon quite like Mayo ending their bone deep ache.
In installing them as 8/1 third favourites, the oddsmakers rate their chances of winning it all above that of the 9/1 defending champions Tyrone, and way ahead of the early-season form horse Armagh (25/1).
There would be an abundance of lyrical tributes were Horan to emulate Joe Biden, whose ancestors left Ballina for the US more than 170 years ago, in leading his people to the Oval Office.
Not a single one of those songlike testimonials would be remotely inclined to quote the earthy language of oul’ Cactus Jack.
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