There will be Another Day: Brendan Hoban

Nobody died. Apart from a few dreams. But Mayo people are good at resurrecting our dreams, almost at will. We’re used to it. Tread softly, Yeats wrote, for you tread on my dreams. There will be another day. And maybe another again before this particular monkey is removed from Mayo’s back. What harm is that?
In other corners of this paper the experts will have their say on another Mayo defeat in Croke Park. Hopefully the coverage won’t deteriorate into one of those scapegoating and demonising exercises in which we flagellate ourselves periodically, usually in the wake of a Croke Park defeat. Leave that to the hurlers on the ditch or the retired footballers on high stools.
No point in Ifs or Buts or Maybes. We lost and part of sport is dealing graciously with loss. Not easy, I know. Particularly for players who have trained all year (and several years before this) and who gave it everything they had on the day. Everything. They owe no one anything.
Hopefully too that we won’t have any complaining or whingeing about individual players or managers or decisions made in the heat of battle. Even though we might, with some justification, wonder how in a contact sport referees are expected to adjudicate on whether a player is pulled down ‘intentionally’. In a court of law it would take legal eminences at least a month to adjudicate on what constitutes ‘intention’. A hapless referee has to decide on the spot. There has to be a better way than distributing more cards than a Christmas postman.
No matter how much disappointment modifies our judgement, the truth is that character necessitates accepting defeat even when, as the cliche goes, we succeed in snatching it from the jaws of victory. Just one point. The narrowest of margins. But then sport is rarely fair, and that’s part of the romance.
We overdo the importance of winning, of course, because we’ve bought into the success culture that declares unless you win it’s no good. The virus of victory has eaten its way into sport, devouring what makes sport important: enjoyment, distraction and occasionally a sense of wonder at the achievement of extraordinary feats.
What some don’t seem to get, especially when winning seems possible, is that winning is not all that matters. Like many other Mayo supporters I have, over the years, sat dejectedly in an emptying Croke Park lamenting a long series of Mayo defeats and the long drag of a journey home contemplating defeat inevitably exacerbated that disappointment. But, as in other areas of life, we can often miss the wood from the trees.
Mayo, over the years, has played a uniquely attractive brand of football. I often feel that, at its best, it’s a kind of pure football that sources its satisfaction in the actual playing – as distinct from enjoying the celebrations afterwards. Mayo’s version of the skills and thrills of Gaelic football has something celebratory, almost exultant about it, a devil-may-care attitude that’s almost a core belief that regardless of winning or losing, we’re going to enjoy it. And, at its best, it’s a joy to watch.
It’s almost as if, when Mayo take to the field, winning or losing seem, well, peripheral – in comparison to the playing. The Mayo ethos is the very opposite of the blanket defences of the Tyrones who spoil the spectacle Gaelic football should be and grind out dour victories by cageing gifted players and closing down games in an unrelenting pursuit of titles­ – in what Seamus Heaney once described as ‘those lightly clapped, dull-thumping games of football.’
Against all the odds Mayo, to the credit of all involved, have never compromised. So often in Croke Park we’ve had to endure the sad spectacle of Mayo supporters leaving at half-time because they couldn’t face another defeat, and we wondered how we had arrived at the point where what mattered was not how the team played but just whether they won. How is it that, for so many of our supporters, self-respect, generosity and all the other essential and enduring constituents of sport seem less important than actually winning?
On Saturday last Mayo acquitted themselves well. It was a wonderful game, entertaining right to the end, and the best final for many years. (No one leaving in protest at half-time!) A bunch of amateur sportsmen, who gave the best that was within them over a long and demanding campaign, deserve our respect and gratitude. Nothing less.
Inevitably there will be inquests into the might-have-beens, multiple regrets about the bounce of this ball or the implications of this or that decision, and that’s all part of the cut and thrust of football. It’s all part of the ever-moving permutations of possibility and probability, the dreams and sometimes the nightmares that make up the flowing stream of Mayo footballing history. But that shouldn’t blind us to the essence of sport which is fundamentally about participating, not winning.
Why else run under-10 competitions where most of the participants hardly know which way they’re playing? Is it, as some people seem to think, in the hope that out of the bunch one star will emerge who one day will do his club and county proud by being on an All Ireland winning team in Croke Park? Or is it not to allow youngsters to experience not just the sheer joy of winning but how to lose with your respect and dignity intact? And how to experience the bonding, the character-building, the passion for excellence at the heart of sport?
Nobody wants to make a virtue out of losing, even losing well. Or to glory in mere moral victories. But when winning becomes the only template worth pursuing, then we need to stand back a bit and draw a few difficult conclusions.
Meanwhile, let us praise and honour the illustrious Mayo players, our heroes, who represented our county with such exceptional application, dignity and commitment through this Golden Age of Mayo football. We owe them respect, admiration and gratitude. They owe us nothing.

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  1. Brendan Hoban SSC says:

    As one of those almost recovered after the disappointment but prepared to wait at least one more year, I liked and agree with your positivity to get our heads straight on the real values. It puts things in place and yes, thanks to all the team and backroom people.

  2. “Nobody wants to make a virtue out of losing, even losing well. Or to glory in mere moral victories. ”
    “We lost and part of sport is dealing graciously with loss.”
    If losing can’t ever be a virtue, how can graciousness (derived obviously from the word ‘grace’) ever be feasible in sport?
    Surely an hour’s reflection on the current predicament of sport globally will suggest that all fiercely competitive sport is based on precisely the same human mistake as all-out violence: the belief that self-esteem is impossible if an opponent wins. The corollary is, of necessity, that my opponent must lose.
    And surely for the Christian, Jesus was history’s greatest loser if the defeat of his opponents had been necessary for Jesus himself to retain his self-esteem? Wasn’t that precisely what Peter was telling him by insisting he mustn’t suffer the worst fate that Rome delivered to ‘losers’?
    I remember the coming of the veritable Sam Maguire cup to my own school in Derry (it was on some kind of tour, like a relic). I honestly could not discern what made this particular piece of battered metal so hotly desirable. I now understand that its supreme symbolic value rests solely on the fact that it is the arbitrary object of a public contest – i.e. of mimetic desire (AKA covetousness).
    As a Dubliner I can state now quite honestly that I would have far more respect for the Dublin team if – knowing Dublin’s far greater resources and Mayo’s long ‘drought’- it had kicked two own-goals in the second half of the first final to match those of a Mayo team that had completely outplayed it in the first half.
    It is no accident whatsoever that all talk of grace in a religious context has halted, while the GAA now owns Irish Sundays – if clergy cannot see what is staring them plainly in the face. Jesus’s claim was to have overcome the world – i.e. the fear that one’s value is socially determined. That fear is exactly what all fiercely competitive sport, and all junk TV, depends upon – while a plague of addiction and depression ravages those who cannot compete in any of these ‘games’.
    Wake up, please, ACP. If so much depends upon a televised Sunday game how can we be sure that Gaelic football also is not already tainted by e.g. scheduled ‘therapeutic use exemptions’ for prohibited substances?
    The strategic TUE is moral violence against the self. In the profound words of a famous and highly effective US prison psychiatrist, James Gilligan, “all violence is an attempt to replace shame with self-esteem”. If Mayo’s self-esteem depends more on a Gaelic match than on freely available divine grace, do we need to look further for the church’s virtually total loss of relevance among young people today?
    “Nobody wants to glory in ‘mere’ moral victories???” What then are we ‘celebrating’ in presiding over, or attending, Mass?

  3. Eddie Finnegan says:

    “The Mayo ethos is the very opposite of the blanket defences of the Tyrones who spoil the spectacle Gaelic football should be and grind out dour victories by cageing gifted players and closing down games in an unrelenting pursuit of titles­ –”
    Mickey Harte, pace the two Brendan Hobans, time to order all Tyrone members to hang up their birettas and quit the association – ACP, that is, not the GAA – if indeed the former has any Tyrone (or Armagh)members. It seems to be easier to recall the ‘dourness’ of 2003, 2005, 2008 than the alleged golden age chivalry of 1936, 1950, 1951 and all those National League victories. We merely dour Northerners must eke out by blanket defence, or even blanket protest, what we so obviously lack in “uniquely attractive” Western traditional ethos.

  4. Eddie Finnegan says:

    I had intended my Comment @2 to conclude as follows but time ran out on me:
    Inclusion of this reflection on the ups and down of Mayo football on the ACP forum seems to back up Tom Inglis’s findings in his “Meaning of Life in Contemporary Ireland” (as excerpted in the current issue of The Furrow, p.534):
    “While both sport and politics dominate the media – with religion being increasingly confined to the personal and private sphere – for many of the participants it was the webs of meaning woven around sport that had more significance than either religion or politics. Sport can be seen as the new religion in terms of providing a sense of identity, bonding and belonging, of collective effervescence and, in some respects, of models that interpret life in terms of effort, performance and chance, of winning and losing and, generally, models for how people should live healthy and fit lives.”
    Of course this dour, if displaced, Northerner would have to admit that what Inglis calls “collective effervescence” dominates life, not only in Mayo or Tyrone, but also is his home parish of Upper Creggan where, despite the dominance of Crossmaglen Rangers at All-Ireland GAA Club level for many years, the local webs of meaning are just as likely to be woven from the ups and downs of ManU, Liverpool, Arsenal or Chelsea in what we once thought was a foreign code. Now riddle me that!

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