By Aidan Elder | Chief sports writer
It’s one of the enduring myths of the GAA. Like it’s OK to borderline maim someone as long as it’s done with a shoulder. Or the belief that wearing shorts just long enough to cover the genitals is acceptable in decent society. For better or worse, it’s here to stay and it’ll take a lot of concussions or inopportune flashes of testicle before things start to change.
‘Mayo don’t show up at Croke Park’ is one of the GAA notions that seems set in stone. Like it’s one of the fundamental principles Messrs Cusak, Davin et al agreed when they convened for the founding of their organisation in Hayes’ Hotel all those years ago.
You can almost picture it:
‘Motion six – we all agree that Mayo will be horribly crap when they play in Croke Park. All in favour…
‘Passed. Now on to motion seven – the maximum length of shorts shall not extend to more than one inch below the scrotum … ‘
Clearly that’s not how it happened, but put 15 Mayo men in the under the glare of the Croke Park’s towering stands and they have tended to under-perform. They’ve become synonymous with flopping on the big occasion, but is it a reputation they deserve? The Paddy Power Blog has delved into the recent past to analyse the myth.
In short, it’s not true, but like all good myths, its essence has some basis in fact.
Mayo don’t win as often as they should reasonably be expected to when they make the trip up to headquarters. By and large, you make it to Croke Park because you have won a few games of some description. Sometimes you’ll travel to headquarters as the underdog and on other times you’ll be the favourites. All in all, winning about half the time is a reasonable expectation for a team of Mayo’s stature and they’ve fallen well short of that over the years. Since 2001, they’ve played in Croke Park 24 times (the total of their Championship and various league games), winning 42 per cent of the time.
Still, the more mathematically minded among us will have noticed that 42 is a lot better than zero. Clearly Mayo are capable of winning at Croke Park and the theory of their no-shows at Croker also doesn’t hold much weight in the longer term.
In a time so long ago Jimmy Magee might even struggle to recall it, Mayo’s return when they came up to Croke Park for an All-Ireland Final was perfectly acceptable. They contested six between 1916 and 1951, winning three. That’s were the problems begin.
Fast becoming a choke
Since the halcyon days of back to back titles at the start of the fifties, it’s been heart-break heaped upon laborious cross-country treks thanks to five defeats on the bounce. There was of course a draw in 1996, but all the hang sandwiches and TK red lemonade in the world won’t turn that into a moment of any real glory.
Mayo’s win rate at Croker isn’t disastrous, but it’s the big ones that stick in the memory and make the ‘Croker chokers’ label hard to shake of in the public consciousness. For example the pummelling they took at the hands of Kerry in the All-Ireland Final of 2006 made put the victories over Laois and Dublin in Croker further to the back of the mind than they probably deserve. Obviously the final is when they want to turn it on, but it’s clear it’s not merely the spotlight of Croke Park that’s causing mass ‘deer in the headlights’ syndrome for the Green and Reds. They haven’t got it together at the crucial, generation-defining moments against quality teams and the reputation as flops has stuck.
It’s something that is slowly beginning to change. Thanks to James Horan master-minding the victory over the heavily-fancied All-Ireland champions, Cork in his first season in charge, the idea of a Croker collapse isn’t nailed on as may think. He has franked the form by coming up to the capital this summer and beating Down and then Dublin. The gradual shaking of the monkey off the back has continued and the Mayo manager is fully aware of the changing perception:
This team is plotting its own course, and over the last two years we have changed some of the opinions that there are about Mayo football
Far from Done’ and dusted
So to this attempt at redemption. The odds have Mayo as the 2/1 underdogs to lift Sam, but they were a bigger price to beat Dublin and that worked out pretty well for the Westerners. If Croke Park ever caused concern in Mayo minds, it’s increasingly becoming a thing of the past. Donegal have impressed throughout the summer and they are worthy favourites. Jim McGuinness has brought the right ethos to a talented panel and the Herring Gutters are now hard-working, adaptable and generally look like champions-elect.
But the team that have impressed all the way through the Championship haven’t always gone on to claim the honours. The last 61 years of Mayo football tell us that.