'There's no chance I'll play for Mayo again' -- Mortimer
Published 17/05/2013 | 05:00
Ask any Galway or Mayo supporter what they remember from the 2009 Connacht final and they are likely recall that this was the year that Michael Jackson died.
Forget Peadar Gardiner's last-minute winner and forget Michael Meehan's late score moments earlier to draw the Tribesmen level – it was Conor Mortimer's unique way of celebrating the key goal in the provincial decider that produced one of the iconic GAA images from that summer.
Like it or not, his 'RIP Micheal Jackson' T-shirt is the lasting memory from an epic final at Pearse Stadium. But it is disingenuous to forget the impact he made after his half-time introduction by letting the jokes mask the talent.
The Shrule-Glencorrib man was always a good bet to provide the talking point. The dyed hair and white boots caught the eye, but he was able to back up it all with three Connacht titles, two All-Ireland final appearances in 2004 and 2006, an All Star award and by taking over the mantle of the county's all-time top scorer from Joe Corcoran.
After his half-time introduction in 2009, he finished as Mayo's top scorer and set Gardiner up for the winner with a quickly taken free that caught Galway napping.
Last year he again caught the headlines after walking out on the Mayo squad the week of their Connacht final with Sligo.
This year he has to be satisfied to shoot the lights out for his adopted club, Parnell's, in the Dublin championship.
The club game continues to put a smile on his face, but reliving Mayo's last trip to Salthill and the attention his tribute to Jackson received, he fears any bit of fun that was there is now gone from the inter-county scene.
"It was just a bit of craic really, just something for a bit of a laugh. I came on as a sub in that game, I had missed all of the Connacht championship before that after I dislocated my shoulder in the last league game," said Mortimer.
"I was back fit for the semi-final, but we had hammered Roscommon in the first game, so I had no chance of starting. So, to come on and score a goal was a great feeling, but people looked too much into the celebration.
"There is not a lot of craic in the GAA any more. Anything different is considered to be a bit mad or stupid. We have to remember this is a game that we play to have some fun. What's the point in playing if the fun is gone out of it?" added Mortimer, who has scored a total of 1-27 in his six Connacht final appearances.
While Mortimer was never likely to play as deep into his thirties as Eamonn O'Hara or Anthony Rainbow, many feel he should still be filling a role in the Mayo full-forward line.
But the decision to walk away from the county scene was his own, and with the benefit of hindsight and watching Mayo's latest All-Ireland defeat from a distance, he would still do the same.
"I have no regrets about the way last year panned out. I missed out on playing in another All-Ireland final alright, but you have to get on with things and forget about it.
"There is no point in crying about it at this stage; it is old news. All you can do is live your life whatever way things fall.
"It was very simple – the manager didn't fancy me, so I wasn't willing to hang around for that. But it is no big thing, it happens in every walk of life and in every sport. It is time to forget about it.
"I don't think there is any chance I'll play for Mayo again. I am still playing ball and not playing too badly, but James (Horan) has his 30 or so lads there that he wants to look at.
"You always think you might have something to offer, but once you get older you lose a bit of pace and your chance is gone. It's not something I'm too worried about," he said.
It is debatable if Mortimer could have edged last year's All-Ireland in Mayo's direction. He is far from a mirror image of his manager: it always appeared he liked to play his own game, free of tactical constraints. But you'd still have to imagine he would have managed to kick a point or two from play, something which four Mayo forwards failed to do in September. With Mortimer, it was a case of weighing the good with the bad.
But, despite watching them fall at the last once again, he thinks the taste of defeat can drive this Mayo team on to greater things, starting with a win in Pearse Stadium this Sunday.
"Playing in the 2004 final probably brought me on a good bit for 2005 and 2006, so last year should stand to the younger lads especially. They got a good run through the championship and got well tested along the way.
"But the only way to see if the whole team has learned from the experience is if they get back to an All-Ireland final in Croke Park again. That's when you'll see if losing to Donegal has done them any good.
"After last year and all they went through, Mayo will definitely have no fear of facing Galway in Pearse Stadium. There will be a huge Mayo crowd travelling down for the game. It is the first big game since the disappointment of September and hopes will be high for sure.
"But every year Mayo fans have high hopes – some days that confidence is not justified, but I think they have every right to be confident ahead of this game. To be honest, I can't see anything but a Mayo win," he said.
A week after Mortimer walked out of the Mayo squad, on the back of their Connacht final win, their manager proclaimed: "I have never seen the players happier."
However, last week the two Mayo players put forward to meet the media ahead of their Connacht championship opener both beamed as they recalled Mortimer's last day in Salthill.
"I actually came on with Conor that day," said Donal Vaughan. "But I think Conor stole the limelight."
"We'll have to make sure there are no markers on the bus this time," said Barry Moran – who also hit the net for Mayo in 2009.
The joker in the pack may be gone, but can Mayo replace him with a trump card that can drive them to victory? Time will tell.