Mayo lost another All-Ireland final to Dublin last night. Since defeating Pat Gilroy's Dublin in 2012 All-Ireland semifinal, Mayo have lost to the Dubs six different times at the 'business end' of the Championship, including All-Ireland final defeats in 2013, 2016, 2017 and now 2020. Mayo have found many ways to lose to Dublin over the last decade, and last night's result was unique in that it played out as pundits predicted it would. The match was in the balance up until the second water break, but Dublin proved just too good and ended up winning by five points. For the players and supporters of the county, the agonising wait to lift Sam Maguire goes on.
Mayo present us all with a conundrum. Other than Kerry, they seem to be the only team with the chutzpah and courage to square up to Dublin. All of the 'break Dublin in two' commentary was made redundant after five minutes of last night's match. But in the end, Mayo lost Dublin, as they always do in the end.
— Mayo GAA (@MayoGAA) December 19, 2020
Many theories have been floated about why Mayo haven't won an All-Ireland over the last decade. Supernatural curses have been blamed. Mayo's county board has come in for scrutiny. Dublin's vast commercial clout and superior population advantages have been suggested as a reason. Joe Brolly however has long contended that celebrity culture and the cult of the individual has been at the heart of Mayo's inability to reach the mountaintop. After Mayo lost the 2016 All-Ireland final replay, Brolly famously called the team 'celebrity losers'. He wrote at the time:
How many chances do they need? Players would give their right arm to have the opportunity once. They are not prepared to give anything.
Brolly has gone back to the well in his review of last night's match in today's Sindo, and has again blamed Mayo's culture for the loss. There are many takes in this column that will have Mayo supporters shredding their newspaper, but this one in particular stood out:
'They are a team that does not operate in the real world. They do not face the truth and deal with it. Instead they are happy with the instant gratification that comes from awards and a victory here and there,' he writes.
It's a unique opinion, but since it comes from one of the game's foremost pundits, it's worth scrutinising. Outside of Cillian O'Connor and Aidan O'Shea, no one in the current Mayo team has a national media profile. Mark Moran had a Tik Tok video go viral before he broke into the Mayo side. Other than that, this current team keeps a pretty low profile. Meanwhile, this Dublin team have proved that players can leverage their fame to open public houses, run kicking classes and launch PR companies without compromising the team's collective bond.
The culture theory was interesting four years ago, as the economy of influencers was taking shape. What stood out last night was how unknown this Mayo team is. The likes of Ryan O'Donoghue, Eoghan McLoughlin, Tommy Conroy and Oisin Mullen - hardly recognisable outside the county borders - were facing the sternest test in the careers. Dublin meanwhile had the luxury of starting the likes of Howard, Mannion, McAuley and McManamon on the bench.
Yet Brolly believes the cult of the individual impedes Mayo from reaching their goal, and points the finger at Mayo manager James Horan as enabler of this culture of failure.
'This group is doomed and will not win an All-Ireland until the celebrity culture is banished by a manager who is not himself himself part of a celebrity culture,' he writes.
The defining image of last's night match was Mayo captain (and frequent Brolly target) Aidan O'Shea looking up at Colm Basquel hoisting Sam Maguire while carrying a plastic container back to the dressing room.
— Balls.ie (@ballsdotie) December 20, 2020
The hurt of so many All-Ireland final defeats is painted across his face. The Dublin player is lifting silverware. The Mayo player is carrying plastic. It's fair to criticise O'Shea's performance last night (the Sindo's player rating gave him a 6/10 while Brolly said 'a serious footballer he is not'). He's clearly a man who's given everything for his county.
In the end, it is Mayo's job to prove Brolly wrong and until this group wins an All-Ireland, all theories about their failures maintain credibility. How could Mayo allow a goal after thirteen seconds? Even if Dublin have only lost one Championship game since that 2012 semifinal, mental mistakes like allowing that goal pose serious questions to Horan and his managerial team.
However we think there's a simpler explanation for last night's result. Mayo, relegated from Division One back in October, enjoyed a fortuitous path to yesterday's All-Ireland. They got over the the line against Galway and were lucky that Mark Keane broke Kerry's hearts. We doubt James Horan considered his team to be true All-Ireland contenders when Mayo's Championship journey began in Carrick-on-Shannon back in November. This is a team in serious transition.
Or perhaps the point of the column is just to annoy people. When he writes in his penultimate paragraph that 'Dublin, meanwhile, are all the things that are good about life and sport - it's clear Brolly is not just trolling Mayo, but in fact all of us. Like Mayo, you have to take it on the chin.