THE RACE FOR Sam is over.

The winners have been anointed and the rest of us can just go home and whistle. To be clear, that’s not this year’s All-Ireland final I’m talking about. It’s next year’s.

According to the bookies, as well as pretty much all of Monday’s newspapers, Jim Gavin’s Dublin side are now a lock to clinch five-in-a-row in 2019.

A banner at Monday’s reception in Smithfield.

Dublin were worthy winners of last Sunday’s final. But a football supporter, I have to hope they don’t continue to rule the roost indefinitely. Kilkenny dominated hurling for over a decade and it didn’t do that code any harm. But that was different. Hurling is a religion in Kilkenny. Football barely registers as a passing fad in Dublin.

I live in the capital and it’s galling to see how blasé the natives have become about winning All-Irelands. I watched the game with a good friend of mine who’s about the biggest Dublin fan I know (which, granted, isn’t saying much.) He barely cracked a smile at the full-time whistle and he took off fifteen minutes later when he’d finished his pint.

Granted, he and his partner have a small baby at home. But if Mayo won the All-Ireland, and I had a baby at home, it might be a month before that poor kid got as much as a postcard from me.

Also, not to talk out of school or anything, but when Kieran McGeary was dismissed in the 49th minute, for mowing into Brian Fenton, my supposedly football-loving Dublin supporter friend had to ask me what the difference is between a black card and a yellow.

(He’ll deny this, but it’s true.)  

So no, no, no… All-Ireland success is wasted on these fair weather hobbyists and Sunday drivers.

As a Gaelic football supporter, I need to believe the Jackeens will be knocked off their perch next year. And as a Mayoman, I damn well have to convince myself we’re the county who’ll do it.

Yes, I’m well aware that Mayo crashed and burned so dismally in the 2018  championship, with an aging squad, it seems utterly deranged for me to reckon we’ll do any better in 2019. Well, duh…

Groundless, delusional optimism is pretty much the basic entry requirement for being a Mayo supporter. When it comes to rationalising the irrational, I’m an old hand. I was a kid when Mayo lost the 1989 final narrowly to Cork. Not worry, I told myself. We’ll be back next year and victory will taste all the sweeter at the second crack.

I was a teenager when we lost to Meath in a reply by a point in 1996. Third time’s a charm, I consoled myself.

The following year, Kerry’s Maurice Fitz defeated us almost single-handedly. But the year after that, in 1998, Galway brought home Sam. This would open the floodgates for Connacht football, I said, the same way Down’s victory in 1991 had done for Ulster.

Well, things didn’t quite work out that way.  

After heavy defeats to Kerry in 2004 and 2006, I still figured our day would soon come. We just needed to make sure Kerry weren’t also there when it did. By the lead-in to our 2012 clash with Donegal, I had to get a little more creative in my thinking process.

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This would be my seventh time going to see Mayo contest an All-Ireland final in Croke Park. I remembered a story I learned in school about Robert the Bruce and the spider who fails to jump from one beam to the next six times, but succeeds on the seventh attempt. (The spider’s example inspired Robert to return to Scotland and defeat the English at his seventh attempt.)

Seventh time’s the charm, I told myself. Except it wasn’t. In 2013, I redid my calculations slightly. Excluding replays, this year finally would be the seventh time that was the charm. This would be the year we broke the curse. Events, inevitably, proved otherwise.

As things currently stand, I’ve been to eleven All-Ireland finals without tasting victory. I’ve scoured the annals of Scottish, Lithuanian and Outer Mongolian folklore. Nowhere, but nowhere, unfortunately, does there exist a proverb which claims that the twelfth time’s the charm.

Outgoing Mayo boss Stephen Rochford.

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Stephen Rochford’s resignation as Mayo manager last week came as a surprise. If he’d gone after the Kildare defeat, that would have been one thing. But to wait two months suggested turmoil behind the scenes. I listened to his interview with Miriam O’Callaghan on Sunday and it seemed to confirm the widely held view of Rochford as an extremely decent and modest man.

At face value, you’d have to think our county board have screwed us over once again, ousting one of our most successful ever managers with no backup plan for who is to replace him. But maybe, just maybe, there is method to their madness. At least, that’s what I have to convince myself.

Maybe’s Rochford’s decency and modesty were part of the problem. Maybe we need a manager with a little more guile. Or maybe even, we just needed a change just for its own sake.

Again, I’ll cite a precedent from military history. During the American Civil War, the Union side possessed all the advantages they needed for victory over the South. They had the men. They had the guns. They had the will. All they lacked was a commander who could get them over the line.

So what did Abraham Lincoln do? He had no idea know who was the right man for the job. So he just kept firing commanders until he found the right guy. He chose Winfield Scott. When that didn’t work out, he took personal charge of the army. When that didn’t work out he chose McKellan.

When that didn’t work out, he chose Halleck. When that didn’t work out he chose Ulysses S. Grant. And Grant succeeded.

What did Ulysses S. Grant have that those other men lacked? Who the hell knows, Lincoln certainly didn’t. The point is Grant won him the war. It’s the same with Mayo.

Our veteran players seem to be hanging in for another year. We still have the 2016 All-Ireland U21 winning players, as well as the 2018 All-Ireland U20 finalists, yet to be integrated into the senior team. All we’re missing now is our Ulysses S. Grant.

In the words of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, mine eyes have seen the glory…

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