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final countdown Seven decades of hurt quashes any notion that this is some passing infatuation for Mayo

Mayo’s epic wait like Mozart’s unfinished requiem

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Many neutrals will support Mayo’s Rob Hennelly.

Many neutrals will support Mayo’s Rob Hennelly.

Many neutrals will support Mayo’s Rob Hennelly.

It will be a night that shines brighter than Orion, the one when Mayo finally touch the football heavens.

Should the tolling of freedom’s bell be heard on Saturday, then it will be a date circled in the historian’s calendar.

As the hour that fundamentally alters the lives of so many.

Whenever the chasm – presently a gaping 70 years wide – is at last bridged, it will be marked with tears, incredulity, rapture and silent prayers to the many fallen among their clan who did not live to see the day.

It will chime like a moment that cannot be improved upon. The pursuit of All-Ireland abundance long ago became elemental to Mayo’s identity, an unbreakable connective tissue between a land and its people.

It is the chain that links so many battlefield titans; Liam McHale to Lee Keegan; John O’Mahony to James Horan; Willie Joe to Andy Moran to Keith Higgins to Paddy Durcan.

It is Ireland’s equivalent to ­Mozart’s unfinished requiem, an incomplete opus awaiting a final, glorious crescendo.

A compelling novel ­requiring its final ­climactic page.

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James Horan.

James Horan.

James Horan.

A line from A Gentleman in Moscow, a masterwork from Amor Towles that decants endless snifters of potent wisdom, seems entirely ­appropriate to the Atlantic county’s football journey.

“It is only our heartbreak that finally refutes all that is ephemeral in love.”

Seven decades of accumulated hurt quashes any notion that this is some passing infatuation, and vividly reveals the grip this sporting obsession has taken on Green and Red passions.

The Great Ache, and the quest for a remedy, dwarfs even Croagh Patrick as the county’s defining landmark.

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If there is a hunger for the clouds to part, it would be entirely inappropriate to depict the voyage as one of endless darkness. The years have been dappled in any amount of life-affirming sunlight.

As they walk their endless Camino, Mayo’s clans have found a brotherhood in being.

Even if they have yet to reach their destination, the adventures have forged bonds and filled photo albums with snapshots of imperishable life experiences.

Qualifier journeys that felt like a route 66 of self-discovery, days of thunder like last month’s ending of Dublin’s empire.

It’s overstretching it to agree with Robert Louis Stevenson’s thesis that to travel hopefully is better than to arrive, yet there is no denying that it has been one hell of a ride.

Still, the terminus half-way up the Lower Hogan Stand steps remains tormentingly elusive.

The numbers, even though they are familiar, are kind of breathtaking.

Mayo have not crested football’s mountain top since 1951; ten years before RTE’s first television broadcast; seven years before Marty Morrissey took his first breath; five years before Ed Sullivan introduced the world to Elvis Presley.

Tease

Since 1989, they have contested ten All-Ireland finals. And lost each one.

Twice there was the excruciating tease of a replay; four times – three of them in the last eight years – they fell by a single point.

Summer after summer they permit the hope of liberation to flower.

Only for destiny to assume the unsmiling countenance of a pitiless parole officer, and decline to end what is, as of today, 25,550 days of incarceration.

Sisyphus gazes across the centuries at Mayo and marvels at their persistence.

Eighteen counties have won either a senior football or hurling All-Ireland during the seven decades of western want.

Across Mayo’s famine years, their field stubbornly fallow, the harvest elsewhere has been bounteous.

Since 1951, Kilkenny have 23 times tied black-and-amber ribbons to Liam MacCarthy; Kerry have adorned Sam Maguire with green and gold on 21 occasions over those 70 years.

A powerful breeze of public empathy will gust from behind whatever goal Rob Hennelly is guarding on Saturday evening.

It would be a fiction – all be it one frequently peddled by those of us in the press box – to announce that Mayo are universally loved.

Some of their peers detect a grating sense of entitlement in their makeup; others see an arrogance that is in inverse proportion to hard achievement.

Yet there is something epic about their wandering, an authentically uplifting message in the theatre of their endless summer.

All the years in a sporting Guantanamo, all those September waterboardings, and still, they are unbroken.

Maybe we are attaching too much significance to young men simply doing what young men do – playing a game by which they are consumed – but there is something inspiring in how they keep coming back, declining to bow.

Dublin have lost only three championship matches in ten years, two of those (2012 and 2021) were to Mayo.

Even if they went nine years and 17 games without beating the Sky Blue titans, the games between the two brought a heavyweight feel to the long days.

They were afternoons as big and bold as Times Square, when Croke Park’s playhouse felt like the epicentre of Broadway.

Mayo empty palette after palette of colour onto summer’s canvas; they are a team pursued by a supporting caravan that stretches to the horizon.

Their trek across the years has yielded a soundtrack that is primal, visceral, bittersweet, unforgettable.

And now, the reel not yet run, they are ready to again journey down a familiar avenue.

Deploy

Elsewhere, you will read about the tactics Tyrone and Mayo might deploy, the match-ups that define the contest.

But it is neither strategy nor individual duels that touches the marrow or that causes so many hearts to palpitate.

Of course, it would be a monumental moment for Tyrone should history side with them.

But it is the convulsions of joy waiting to be uncaged if Mayo can race across the decades that will draw hundreds of thousands to their TV.

It is anticipating Croke Park as a euphoric chapel of thanksgiving on a day that would outlive all those present to bear witness.

And imagining the power of an evening that might well blaze more miraculously than all the constellations in the night-sky.

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