Thursday 19 April 2018

Rossies shoulder hopes of the West

Eamonn Sweeney

OKAY, we may begin. Make sure you're sitting or lying in the most uncomfortable position possible. Put on a Joy Division album. Turn a garden hose on yourself till you're wet through.

Eat the cold, congealed remnants of a three-day old snack box. Watch Brian Cowen speaking in the Dáil. Sky Plus that. Watch it again. And again. And again. By now you should have some idea of the mood which held sway in the west of Ireland in the 1980s.

Back then, there seemed to be general agreement that to have been born in Connacht was to have won the booby prize in the lottery of life. Dire predictions that this forgotten land would soon be populated only by pensioners and children were general throughout the province. The West was the provincial backwater other provincial backwaters tipped their hat to. It inhabited a Moldova of the mind.

One thing which added fuel to this notion of decline was the parlous state of the Connacht championship. When Mayo defeated Kerry in the 1996 All-Ireland semi-final, it was the first time since 1973, when Galway beat Offaly, that a Connacht team had defeated a Munster or Leinster team in the championship. When Galway won the 1998 All-Ireland final against Kildare, they bridged a 32-year gap all the way back to their legendary three-in-a-row team. To be a follower of Connacht football in the decades before that was to be convinced that sporting life was elsewhere.

There were some horrendous milestones along this trail of tears. Mayo failing to score in the second half as they lost 2-19 to 1-6 against Kerry in 1981, Galway failing to beat 12-man Dublin two years later and getting whaled 2-17 to 0-11 by Kerry the following year, Cork's 1987 demolition of Galway by 0-18 to 1-4 and their 1993 evisceration of Mayo by 5-14 to 0-7. The Connacht championship seemed to have about as much connection with the eventual destination of Sam Maguire as the Albanian soccer championship did.

And then came the revolution, plotted by the two Johns, Maughan and O'Mahony. Mayo's final appearances in 1996 and 1997 suggested the dog days were over. Galway's victory in 1998 confirmed it. Another pair of final appearances for Mayo in 2004 and 2006 and a final victory (2001) and defeat for Galway (2000) seemed to show that Connacht's time as a footballing disaster area was, like double-digit unemployment, forever consigned to the dustbin of history.

O us of too much faith. After an utterly disastrous campaign, the notion that O'Mahony and Joe Kernan would bring Mayo and Galway the extra step to All-Ireland victory now looks as ill-founded as the one which suggested eternal prosperity could be achieved by building tens of thousands of shit houses no one will ever live in.

Mayo were vanquished by Longford, Galway humiliated by Wexford and last Saturday Sligo were trounced by Down. Which leaves us with Roscommon. The feeling in Cork seems to be that the Rebels will inflict upon Fergal O'Donnell's team the kind of beating which makes the Slaughter of the Innocents look like a fair fight.

Should this happen, Connacht, without even a semi-finalist in the past four years, will be back in footballing recession. Things might even get bad enough to produce a 21st century Sawdoctors. There's a lot riding on these young Rossies.

Sunday Independent

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