So here we are again. This time it is is different. The lights are on. It is a darkening Dublin evening. Feel yourself, feel the sheer bulk of you. Look around and hear the power of what lies around you. The terraces and seats normally heaving with passion lie empty...but look to the sky and you know that it is not.
That back in Mayo, in every home, in every living room, on screens and radios around there world, there is a massive swell willing you on. So you imagine that it is up there, aimed at you. This sea of green and red, a chorus of voices, a symphony of souls, an army of knights behind you, all shielded in armour. Their lungs will be your second lungs and your third lungs.
But today in this echoing stadium, you will not hear them. Today, you must feel them. The roar of hundreds of thousands around the world.
This virtual support will breathe oxygen into you when you have expended yours, they will take the pain that you will feel when you have those hits, they will double the pain you inflict when you crash into the enemy, when you enter the challenges that you will win. They will add elasticity to your hamstrings, extension to your arms. They will add spring to your step as you bounce off those attempts to derail you.
Even standing here beforehand, you feel yourself getting pumped with the fresh blood of tens of thousands of Mayo people who have gone before you, and battled for your patch of land since they sculpted those Ceide Fields. And now, on an empty patch of land in our capital's northside, you face the best that they can throw against you. Knowing that you are the toughest warriors they have faced as well. They fear you, be in no doubt, they fear you. They would not be where they are if they did not fear their greatest rivals. And that is you.
However, this is your time, this is your time.
And in the back of your mind, you see yourself back on sunny summer Sundays in Mayo where the crackly summer sounds of Micheal O’Hehir and Willie The Shoe beat out across quiet afternoons when post-Mass and dinners of pork and spuds and marrowfat peas, they sit and let the noise of sport break the quietness of Achill, the hills of Tourmakeady, the streets of Ballinrobe and Foxford.
And you see aged hands place old earphones from a transistor into hairy ears across small dark uncaring flats of Kilburn and Cricklewood where the sounds of home generate a tear; where the listeners are transported for an hour or two into a dreamland far removed from their reality. And you inhale again this desire, you pick up on the longing they have in their hearts, because it is a longing that you share with them. But the difference is that now, you are here, you can make that difference, you can sate this want. You can change history by living in the present and dominating those men in blue who want to deny you this moment.
And you look around at your teammates, and you see in their eyes that they have the same thing in their hearts. They have vowed that today they will all win their duel. Win every 30-second match; win every minute match, every quarter, every half...
You see those posts at either end, their white lines under the brilliant lights branded into your retinas, so that as a target they are set into your brain. You feel the wide expanse of the greenness that your colleagues will fill, space they will run into to grasp the ball you splay in with the outside of your boot, its curve swerving it away from your opponent. It is softer now than normal, so you arc your legs for the give. You come here representing not only your county, but all of Ireland, and all the little towns and villages that want you to win because you deserve to.
But you know today that deserving counts for nothing, and wanting counts for everything.
Here is what you have trained for across muddy pitches of winter in dressingrooms smelling of sweat, spit and wintercream; here is what you have travelled thousands of miles to be fit for; nights spent on buses to and from the capital, victims of your coincidence of geography, nights sharing a camaraderie that today will face its biggest test, and you know that these guys here will die for you, just as you would die for them. Nights when you stretched your aching legs through routine after routine. And you fell the pull of those colours on your swelling chest, your heart beating out a drumbeat that syncs with each wallop that the missing Artane drumsticks ring out around this hallowed arena, but which today come from speakers high in the stands.
And then you see the challengers. You look at them, you’ve seen them before, but you see in their eyes that they don’t have the same hunger as you, they don’t want it as much as you do.
They say they do, but they don’t.
The second serving and the third serving is never as satisfying as the first morsel that passes the mouth.
They have been sated at the table. Five times, they have had their fill. They want a sixth.
But now is your time.
And as you face the flag and hear the whistle blow, you meet them head on, you pit your bulk against them; You feel each collision resonate with approval from the millions watching.
For 80 minutes or so, you will bear the pain, you will run the run, you will stand up to everything and inflict yourself upon them. Forget history, forget curses, forget that rubbish.
Today you create your own story.
Because you are men of Mayo, and therefore men of steel.
Now, bring it home lads, bring it home.