My grandfather was a gentleman and a great character. A sharp, dry wit, and for someone that never touched a drop of alcohol in his life, was the centre of attention at many a late night music session well into his nineties. He never really held more than a passing interest in football – his passions were cultural rather than sporting – but he was always finely tuned into the fortunes of the green and red.
I remember countless league Sunday afternoons, Mayo either featuring either on Mid-West or “Teilifís na Gaeilge” as it then was, when he would stroll in the back door and get settled into the armchair. Never a man to prevent a kettle from being boiled, he’d know the first question to be asked.
“Will you have a cup of tea?”
“I will surely. How are they doing?”
“Up by two.”
We could have been playing with a gale force breeze and ought to have been ten or twelve points further ahead. We could have been dicing with relegation due to results elsewhere. We could have been heading for the knock-out rounds. All that was irrelevant. Mayo were up and that was all that mattered. In-depth analysis wasn’t really called for. His enjoyment was in the game itself, not in the wider distractions. For a man that was 20 when Mayo won their first All-Ireland and 35 when they won their last, he could see the bigger picture and the futility of over-analysing the immediate.
I’ve thought of him a few times over the past couple of days as the build-up to the semi-final clash gathers pace. The column inches and airwaves already devoted to the game is extraordinary, verging on the bizarre. Whether it’s the unprecedented demand for tickets, Kevin Keane’s disciplinary hearing, Jim Gavin’s nudge and a wink to the referee, various fitness updates or the myriad number of opinion pieces on the key individual battles; the level of media coverage has been more akin to a final. This is all the more astounding considering it is the latter of the two semis, almost as if this weekend’s clash is an afterthought. A Kerry team barely considered at the penultimate stage of the tournament. I’m sure they’re distraught in the Kingdom.
Living in London, I wrote previously that all this coverage is meat and drink. A regular dose of championship hype to keep connected with the mood at home. But there’s a problem – I’m struggling to find a regular outlet for this overload of information. Processing such an intake requires two-way communication on a near-daily basis to generate a real championship buzz. And working in a large multinational company, I find myself in a minority of one with an interest in Gaelic games.
Water cooler conversations are dominated at the moment by England’s recapture of the Ashes, the start of the premier league campaign, or the approaching rugby world cup. Trying to get views on the merits of Lee Keegan man-marking Diarmuid Connolly is difficult. But nonetheless, I persevere. Allied to the Mayo crest tacked to my desk, I now have an image of Aidan O’Shea barrelling past the Donegal defence as the wallpaper on my desktop. It tends to draw attention whenever a colleague walks past.
“Oh it’s gaelic football. That was my home team winning the quarter final a few weeks ago.”
“Gaelic football. Is that a bit like rugby?”
“Well sort of, but it would have similarities with soccer as well.”
“You mean football?”
“Erm, well yes…just a different football. Think more like Australian rules.”
“Australian rules what?”
Know your audience I guess. And so for my own sanity, I’ve decided to take a lead from a wise man and not get too caught up in the analysis or the occasion this time. It’s a losing battle. No doubt I’ll still read everything, and I’ll still obviously be elated if they win, devastated if they lose. But on the whole, my focus will be on taking enjoyment from the day and appreciating what Mayo football means. A unifying factor for local communities, being based abroad it means even more. It’s now a connection with home and a source of community in London instead.
And I’m fortunately still close enough to Ireland that these marquee games offer a chance to meet up with friends and family. The morning of the game, the routines of the breakfast, the (proper) pints of Guinness and the chance to yet again visit the hallowed arena of Croke Park. Coaches often speak about players needing to enjoy the big occasions to be able to play to their potential. Maybe there’s a lesson in there somewhere for supporters also. This Mayo side have given us plenty of great days out in the past. I hope they enjoy the next one as much as I intend to.