Mayo GAA: The Mighty and the Meek, They Shall Inherit the Earth

What I will write here may seem the realm of the fantastic, but bear with me and for a moment merely consider the possibility that it may be true.

Also, keep in mind, there is no existing evidence that it’s not true.

A few days ago, I had the utmost pleasure of sitting with novelist, playwright, radio and television social and political commentator and former public relations director of Sinn Fein, Danny Morrison, in the Upper Cusack Stand at the venerable Croke Park Coloseum to watch what – for me – was one of the most exciting, thrilling sporting spectacles I have every witnessed, either live or recorded.

Granted, my complete and utter support was with Mayo and I was devastated that particular, rather impoverished, mainly rural western county lost – especially in the aching way that it did. Though not half as heart-broken as the throngs of anguished people – hardy grown men, teenagers, young children, mothers and grandmothers – who shuffled past me for the exit gates at the final whistle, tears flowing profusely from their eyes.

For the purpose of this post, for those uninterested in Irish GAA football, Mayo – rank outsiders at 3-to1, considerable odds in view of the fact that there were only two teams on the pitch for this All-Ireland football final and both had 15 skilled, experienced able-bodied men each – lost its ninth final since 1989 and the chance to win its first Sam Maguire Cup in 66 years. Indeed, this was the third time in five years it has lost in the final (including a narrow defeat after a replay to Dublin last September, its rivals again this past Sunday). In sheer contrast, for Dublin Sunday’s victory marked their first three-in-a-row in 94 years.

In terms of probability, the cumulative odds of Mayo losing so many finals are probably calculated in the millions to one (not bad odds if you’re fond of punting a penny or two at the local bookmakers).

So how did this peculiar, bizarre defying-the-odds situation come to pass?

Let’s consider for a moment that it had nothing to do with football.

I know, I know you’re thinking: ‘that’s ridiculous, it’s football, one team wins and one team loses, that’s how the game is played, and the team that wins is the one that scores most goals/points.

But million to one odds of such a thing happening? By reason alone, is that even possible?

My contention is that something else – something strange, something far beyond football –could be at play here.

So, as a committed pantheist, this is my take on last Sunday’s fantastic football final.

It has been reported that there’s a curse on the Mayo football team that has prevented it winning the coveted All-Ireland football final since 1951. That curse, the reports go, was placed upon the team by an angry priest. The reason: the team on its victorious way back home across Ireland by bus with the Cup in safe stow came upon a funeral and failed to pay their rightful respects to the dead.

That story smells of a downright lie.

Why?

Because there are no funerals in Catholic Ireland on the Sabbath, the very day the football final is played. And don’t be telling me the Mayo team, any team, wouldn’t rush back home with the coveted trophy on the very day it won it.

You might then ask: ‘then where did this story originate, and why?

Credit where credit is due.

The Catholic Church, universally, not just in Ireland, has developed a highly-sophisticated propaganda machine over the centuries since it emerged from its ancient Egyptian forbearers (Google details on Isis and Osiris to find out how the Church unashamedly plagiarized and cunningly adapted an already existing mystery cult that also involved baptism in water).

mayo curse, GAA football

Thus, putting word out in the right circles, media and otherwise, that one of their priests had the power to curse a football team and prevent it from ever winning a national trophy after so many attempts is an easy-peasy task for such a rich and powerful institution.

But there’s another version, one that has been quashed quite easily by that same institution, for its own power-hungry, money-making purposes.

It’s not that the fine, upstanding people of Mayo – for which the players on the 1951 winning team are upstanding Ambassadors – are to blame. It’s not that they failed to pay their respects to the dead. As decent, honest people, they would surely have done so, with the same passion, dedication and sincerity that they showed last Sunday afternoon, even when three points down in the first 85 seconds and playing with just 14 men for almost the entire second half.

There is another possibility (remember, I merely asked at the beginning of this post that you humor me and consider a possibility).

That the players, coaches and management of that wonderful 1951 winning team were down-to-earth, honest-to-goodness people I have no doubt. And for this reason, I don’t agree for a second that they would not pay their sincere respects at the death of a fellow Man.

But what if it was not the dead person they didn’t respect (if there ever was one, which is now in grave doubt for the above mentioned reason), but the priest himself?

What if they didn’t believe, in their hearts of hearts, that this priest was neither dignified or decent enough to be a true representative of any God, regardless of its origin? Further, what if, in their heart of hearts, they actually believed they didn’t need Other Gods, that they themselves were Gods, mini-Gods all interlinked, like all of us here across the Earth, indeed throughout the Universe. That they were – to use Biblical terminology – among ‘the Mighty and the Meek, those who Shall Inherit the Earth.’

Mighty? Absolutely. Was there not more than ample evidence of that on the football pitch Sunday afternoon? In the way the Mayo players fought for every ball no matter how remote the chances were they’d catch it; supported each other so valiantly in every situation; placed themselves in considerable physical danger to capture every ball that came their way.

Meek? Absolutely. Was there not more than ample evidence of that on the football pitch Sunday afternoon? In the quiet, dignified way they accepted defeat, all the more admirable considering they were beaten by one single, solitary point scored by Dean Rock with mere seconds to go after six full minutes of extra time just after their own kicker, Cillian O’Connor, hit the woodwork in a grueling, hard-fought match.

You might now say: ‘it hardly makes a difference now anyway, the priest’s curse won the day, didn’t it?’ Maybe, or perhaps, just perhaps, it wasn’t the power of the priest at all. Maybe it was the misplaced power of belief in the priest by a mass of people. Maybe – as seems to be happening right now following multiple cases of horrendous clerical pedophilia resulting in lies and ruined lives – when more people stop believing in this misguided way, justice and righteousness will return to our Fair(y) Land.

All I ask, dear reader, is for you merely to consider the possibility that what I write here might just be true.

Then we can bang our drums for Mayo again in next year’s final –and hopefully cheer them on as they return Home to their Rightful place as Gods once again.

‘GAA Jersey’ should be modern-era anthem for Irish native sport

If versatility is a sign of artistic talent – painters turning their skills to oils, watercolors and acrylics, landscapes as well as portraits; writers penning cross-genre, including poetry, short stories and novels – then musician-singer-songwriter Pat Gallagher can rightly claim membership of this rare cadre of gifted people.

As amply displayed this weekend at the Balor Arts Center in Donegal, Gallagher – supported by his outstanding group, ‘Goats Don’t Shave’ – can soften the hardest of hearts with poignant songs of lost lives and lost loves as in ‘The Volunteer’ about the 1916 Irish Revolution with its sad but uplifting refrain, ‘Close your eyes my little darling, may the angels keep you safe tonight, tomorrow in the new light you will rise,’ while also setting hands clapping and feet tapping boisterously with the dynamic ‘Crooked Jack,’ about an Irish gigolo, enlivened by mesmerizing fiddle and banjo playing by Stephen Campbell and Gallagher respectively.

As for musical genres: west Donegal-based Gallagher seems to have mastered them all (bar, perhaps, early 17th century flute-based Baroque sonatas, though he’ll probably achieve that too soon). Gospel, listen to ‘Strange Star, Middle Earth’ and ‘Dance For The Crowd.’ Blues, the homespun tune reminiscent of his home county, ‘Turf Man Blues.’ Country, ‘When I Grow Up.’ Traditional, ‘Evictions.’ Folk, ‘God Takes Visa.’ Rock, ‘Let It Go.’ Romantic, ‘She Looked My Way.” Celtic rock, ‘Arranmore.’

To cap it all, Gallagher and his multi-faceted band have just been traipsing the hallowed ground around Dublin’s Montrose House playing on one of Irish TV’s most popular entertainment programmes, ‘The Late, Late Show,’ with yet another creative musical invention – a lively, winning number combining hip-hop and Celtic rock performed with Letterkenny-based group, Phat Kiidz, entitled ‘GAA Jersey.’ So popular is the song it went viral, notching up around hundred thousand views on YouTube and media outlets nationwide and had the Balor audience rocking in the aisles as the hip-hop group emerged side-stage in psychedelic lime green jersey and fur-rimmed hoodie.

If the often less visionary elites of Ireland’s native national sport don’t play this song – repeatedly – during pre-match entertainment at Croke Park before this Saturday’s much-awaited football final replay between Dublin and Mayo, they deserve to be garroted with nylon guitar strings.

One catchy lyrical phrase alone ‘skinny jeans with the GAA, with the GAA jersey’ may set an enduring fashion trend, as well as return to the fold many young players whom some executives of the Gaelic Athletic Association complain have drifted off to ‘foreign’ soccer fields. And if anything is to put an end to the enduring curse that plagues the Mayo team, it could well be this inspiring song.

Who knows, maybe one day, a Platinum album will hang proudly on the wall of the ‘GAA Museum’ reflecting the song’s soaring sales. With lucrative proceeds from two 80,000-plus capacity crowds for the football final and replay (an estimated 8.5 million euro from ticket sales alone), the GAA could easily afford to buy enough copies of the record to move sales beyond platinum into the realm of diamond.

Can anyone think of a better, more timely musical gift for friends and supporters of the nation’s largest sporting organization both in Ireland and abroad? After listening to the rousing rendition at the Balor Arts Center concert last night, it had better hurry and place its order – they could all be sold out soon.

Dressed down-home in white T-shirt and dark waistcoat, his red hair flecked with gray or gray flecked with red, or whatever, with a baldheaded drummer, guitarist in ‘pink pyjamas,’ bass player in check shirt, fiddler intriguingly discreet in the shadow of a felt hat and mandolinist under a flickering crimson light, Gallagher and the Goats featured powerful voice backed by powerful musical prowess.

Such was the evening’s musical feast, even Conor Malone, manager of the Balor, joined in, the sweet notes of his saxophone wrapping themselves naturally around Campbell’s fiddle tones like a loving couple lingering late in bed on a Sunday morning – specially on the song ‘The Killer,’ about a Scottish boxing champion.

Then there was ‘Mary, Mary,’ an amusing tongue-in-cheek take on one of Ireland’s oldest talent contests and the swaying rhythms of ‘Drinking My Money,’ ‘The Glasgow Bus’ and, of course, the rousing standing ovation from the hand-clapping, merry swaying throng that greeted the ageless ‘Holy of Holy Hymns From The Goats’ – the pulsating ‘Las Vegas In the Hills of Donegal.’

The band were joined on-stage for a grand reunion by Malone, the lovely Donegal-based singer, Jacqui Sharkey, accomplished harmonica player, Dermot Donohue, singer-guitarist, Dean Maywood, who was the support act for the Goats, and the Phat Kiidz.

Kudos then for a riveting musical evening to Gallagher (vocal, guitar, banjo), Mickey Gallagher (drums), Patsy Gallagher (lead guitar, mandolin, vocal), Odhran Cummings (bass), Shaun Doherty (guitar, vocal) and Stephen Campbell (fiddle), as well as guests, Malone, Donohue, Maywood, Sharkey, and the Phat Kiidz comprising Jay Kay, DoDa and Hapz.