Go easy on those ‘Get Well’ cards this time and desist from the maudlin elegies, some heartbreaks you can’t romanticise.
hese Mayo men don’t need your sympathy anyway. Don’t want it. On Saturday, they ran into a team that was quintessential Tyrone, a team – in other words – programmed to begrudge you the time of day.
And so the All-Ireland final amounted to a cold kill in Croke Park. An execution.
Where Mayo go from here is their business, but James Horan knows where it can’t be. Because pity is corrosive, even dangerous in these circumstances.
And pity just isn’t what the modern Mayo is about. Actually, they resent it, consider it patronising.
So be clear on one thing. Mayo don’t see themselves as tragic people.
There’s a punkishness to this group, an easy sense of self that seeks nobody’s validation but their own. You see it in the O’Hora and Mullin ponytails; in the latter’s pink boots; in big Aidan’s nonchalant authority at throw-ins; even in Ryan O’Donoghue’s (albeit in vain) soccer-style shimmy for the penalty.
Mayo’s modern stamp has been their resilience, an indifference to the very idea of a people cursed or hunted by history. And they’ll need that indifference more than ever now.
Horan spoke afterwards of them not summoning their customary energy, but the deficit was something deeper here. No question, they were up for this. Watching O’Shea lead them out, zig-zagging as he ran like a Grand Prix driver trying to get heat into his tyres on the formation lap, you could see they had come for war.
And within 15 seconds of the throw-in, the Mayo captain had set up Tommy Conroy for a Hill end point greeted by a western thunderclap. When Niall Morgan’s subsequent kick-out didn’t clear his own ’21, only one team looked spooked by the occasion.
Morgan went long with his next kick only for Mattie Donnelly to be devoured by Mayo bodies and, soon, Brian Kennedy picked up a yellow. We thought we knew whose pulses were jumpy.
But what we were seeing was a lie.
Tyrone had gambled on going man-for-man, recognising within that strategy the danger that – at some point – a Mayo player would materialise on the edge of their ‘square’ with a chamber full of bullets.
It happened twice in that first half yet, each time, the Hill net failed to ripple.
Conor Loftus’ 14th-minute miss was, maybe, the most glaring after Morgan managed a point-blank save on Bryan Walsh. Twelve minutes later, Ronan McNamee got back to make a wonderful block on O’Shea, Tyrone having been sliced open by a marvellous O’Donoghue pass.
Within four minutes of that intervention, the Ulster champions had tagged on three Canal End points, the third a Morgan ’45 after Rob Hennelly’s brilliant foot-save from Darren McCurry.
Tyrone, in other words, led 0-8 to 0-5 half an hour into a contest they were still acclimatising to.
And they would lead from there to the end through what became an essay in composure and tactical clarity, in clinical use of their bench and Morgan’s willingness to keep going long even when the match stats clearly discouraged it.
True, O’Donoghue’s 40th-minute penalty miss felt a momentous point of intersection, but maybe not much more profound than Conroy’s glorious gallop inside the Tyrone cover a minute earlier culminating in a Junior ‘B’ level pull of the trigger.
Every time they got to glimpse the whites of Tyrone eyes, Mayo equivocated.
And when punishment fell, it proved cold-eyed, pitiless. Mullin is a wonderful young defender but the moment Conor Meyler’s high, 46th-minute delivery went arcing towards the Mayo ‘square’, he maybe needed Hennelly to take control.
When the goalkeeper didn’t, Mullin might as well have been chasing an alligator in waders as Cathal McShane stole that vital yard on him before getting a glancing fist to the ball.
The goal would be Tyrone’s only score of that third quarter.
But it was all they needed.
Just before the second water-break, Walsh blazed another Mayo goal chance wide and, on some profound level, you could sense an old story just digging its feet down into the evening here.
McCurry’s 59th-minute goal confirmed it, Conn Kilpatrick’s mighty fetch from Morgan’s kick-out setting in train the move for a score resonating with the very cold execution that Horan’s men just could not summon.
Slowly then the panicked wides accumulated, Mayo’s mood darkening with their circumstance, Matthew Ruane seeing red in the end.
Horan, to be fair, isn’t someone inclined to index excuses and he wasn’t starting now.
Yes, the loss for the season of Cillian O’Connor left a wretched hole. No, the four-week gap from their defeat of Dublin wasn’t, in retrospect ideal.
But they’d been conclusively beaten here. The rest, he knew, was small-print.
“We didn’t play to our capabilities at all, we’re very disappointed with our performance,” he accepted when it was over.
“But they are an amazing bunch and there are a lot of young guys who are really serious dudes.
“It’s very, very disappointing but as we have said in every game, you can’t get too up or too down from an outcome. Try and learn from every single game and do the same now.
“Overall, we’re very proud of the guys, there was a lot of development this year.
“The penalty was a big turning point, we could have gone one up. But, overall, we started to snatch at shots then.
“Just lost our composure a little bit.”
No doubt, that last line will seem hauntingly familiar as another winter closes in.
But tired of living with the sediment of regret, Mayo must simply dust themselves down and prepare to go again.
Whatever the sorrow and rage now needling away at them, they know the hard road is the only road.