Football is so much of how we see ourselves

By Declan Varley (Group Editor)

'Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armour yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you' — It is not every week that I reach into Game of Thrones to find what I want to say, but the above line does just that.

Are there any of us Mayos who have ever gone through a week without a thought or a comment being thrown our way about where we come from and how it relates to the football?

When that video promoting Mayo was made a few years ago, showing the lads from the team walking along the North Mayo clifftop, striding it out among the heathers, it was a juxtaposition of their physical manifestation with the landscape that shaped them. When from my childhood bedroom windows, I looked across Lough Mask to Mount Gable; when I cross the border at Glencorrib and see the pyramid shape ou our famous mountain; when I throw my bag onto the check-in belt at Ireland West Airport, there comes a pride from within that is allied to an innate knowklge of my origin.

We are what we came from, and from birth to death, it defines us. We are of Mayo, and so we take a greater than normal interest in those things that bind and define us.

And so to our football teams — which play such a key role in how the country perceives us. This unique county so wrapped up in one sport, one dream that unites us in a way other affiliations cannot.

The events of the past few weeks have been unfortunate in the nature of how they were handled. For the rest of the country, it was like neighbours listening in from next door while you had a blazing row.

How we move on from this will determine just how strongly we protect the brand that unites us.

In Ireland, there are probably a dozen elite teams sports squads. Top of these lists would be the national rugby team, the provincial rugby sides, the elite GAA squads such as Dublin, Kerry, Galway hurling.

Mayo are in this hallowed company — and can be immediately restored to the level we expect from them. Mayo matter, and we have to ensure that they continue to matter.

The importance of Mayo to the All-Ireland championship was underlined by the underwhelming nature of the last dozen games in this year's title. I always felt that the suspense was gone the evening we ran out of road and fell foul of the NewbridgeOrNowhere hysteria.

The inability of other sides to even live with Dublin has been highlighted by the fare on offer in the latter stages of the Championship. Far from being disillusioned with our lot, the events on the pitch last week have shown the enormity of what has been achieved by this Mayo squad. And what can be achieved in the future.

What those who are in charge of Mayo GAA have to realise now is that the product they have responsibility for plays a key role in Brand Mayo and in how the county sees itself. The manner of their next move and their reasoning for their appointment will be key in strengthening the Mayo brand.

Let it all be sure-footed.

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