Rafterys was busy with lunchtime diners as Tom carried his tray towards a table.
‘How do, Tom?’ said Chops Egan, who was easing himself into his customary spot nearby.
‘Not bad,’ said Tom. ‘I brought the fine weather with me.’
‘Fair play,’ agreed Chops. ‘Did you get to the match?’
‘No. Sat in front of the TV. We never looked like winning on the day, I thought. I expected better.’
Chops nodded glumly. His downcast look was accentuated by his posture. He ate with his forearms resting on he table edge on either side of his plate as if he was protecting his food from some potential predator. Because of his crouched position, he was obliged to lower his head towards his fork each time he wanted to take a mouth-full.
‘Even after a poor first half, I thought that we might come out fighting after the break,’ said Chops. ‘But we only done worse in the second half.’
His face brightened.
‘Here’s himself. He’ll be as contrary as a bag of weasels ‘.
‘Call them home, Chops,’ said Patsy nodding towards his companion’s feet as he sat at the opposite side of the table.
‘Jasus! I thought you’d be over the match by by now,’ muttered Chops. ‘It’s not as if getting pasted in Croke Park is new to us.’
There was a lull in the conversation as they concentrated on their food.
‘Well, Patsy,’ said an elderly man seated nearby. ‘Out with it. Where did Mayo go wrong on Sunday? You were cock sure that we were going to win.’
Tom noticed that all eyes were on Patsy as they expected some witticism regarding the latest underperformance by the county team. Patsy waited for a few seconds, probably for impact, and then laid down his knife.
‘I’ve come to the conclusion that Mayo will never win an All Ireland and, what’s more, we don’t deserve to. The problem is that football doesn’t mean enough to Mayo people and that’s bound to reflect in the lack of achievement among the players.’
‘Ah, hold your horses there, Patsy,’ said Chops. ‘Mayo people are mad for their football. When we get to Croke Park, it brings the whole county to a standstill. Flags and banners on every pole and car and there’s hardly a person left at home to milk the cows on the day of the big match.’
‘He has a point,’ agreed the man who posed the question.
‘I agree that we’ll go in droves to the matches and we’ll cover the county in red and green. But I’m not talking about that. What about after we lose? I’ll tell you what we do. We shrug our shoulders and get on with things or have a chat and a joke.’
‘Surely that’s the way it should be. It’s not a matter of life and death. It’s only sport when all is said and done.’
Patsy triumphantly slammed his palm down on the table.
‘Isn’t that what I’m saying! But did you ever try to talk to a Meath person after they are knocked out of the championship? Or someone from Kerry or Tyrone or Armagh? They will be so sick that they won’t even talk to you about football. You see, it IS a matter of life and death to them. They hate losing and will not hesitate to blame all and sundry including the players. If Mayo lose a Connaught Final, we are disappointed but we shrug our shoulders and then we wish the best of luck to the team that beat us. But if Galway lose, they want the team that beat them to get hammered. Am I right, Tom? You have lived most of your life outside this godforsaken county.’
‘You might have a point. If you drive through Meath on the morning of a big match, the towns and villages are festooned with flags. But, if Meath lose, almost all the flags will be gone by the evening. It’s as if they can’t bear to be reminded that they lost. In Mayo, the flags would still be waving two or three months later.’
‘As I said, it just doesn’t mean enough to us,’ said Patsy. ‘Ask people from other parts of Ireland what they think of Mayo people and they’ll tell you we’re grand, generous, kind people. But the real truth is that Mayo people are too soft. You have to be ruthless in order to win an All Ireland nowadays and we are far too nice.’
Patsy had the attention of all in the room now.
‘Come on now, Patsy,’ said a man from another table. ‘That’s just an excuse. Why should Mayo people be softer than Galway or Kerry people? Them counties won plenty All Irelands.’
‘Emigration, possibly,’ said Patsy. ‘We’ve exported our best people for centuries.’
‘Mayo people have been very successful in England and America. There’s no sign of any softness or lack of ambition there.’
Patsy was not for turning.
‘We exported our best people but the mothers of Mayo kept the soft lads and mammy’s boys at home. As a result, we have bred a county full of grand, kind, generous people who couldn’t kick snow off a rope. Mayo people can talk their way out of anything but, at the whipping away of crutches, they wouldn’t fight their way out of a paper bag.’
‘I still can’t see why you think Mayo people are softer than Galway or Kerry people, for example.’
‘Look at history,’ said Patsy who was ignoring his food and was warming to his subject. ‘Every other county can point to a battle site or to some evidence of violence or rebellion but Mayo people seem to have kept the heads down or taken to their beds at the first sign of trouble. Name an incident of note in Mayo during the War of Independence or the Civil War. Apart from a few half-arsed attacks on barracks – which were probably carried out by people from outside the county anyway – nothing happened. Kerry was a hotbed of activity and there were executions up the road in Tuam during the Civil War but nothing in Mayo.’
Tom was enjoying the repartee and stoked the fire.
‘What about 1798? The Year of the French. Mayo people rose up then and took up arms,’ Tom said.
‘Aye. The West Awake.’
‘Not true,’ said Patsy. ‘The French landed and some Mayo people joined them. At Castlebar, the English ran away without fighting. Then, after a few days on the booze, the Irish and French headed east to follow them. The first time they met some proper resistance, they were defeated. Like all Mayo football teams over the past sixty years, they did well in Connaught but they folded as soon as they left the province and met some real opposition. Any other suggestions of notable Mayo achievements?’
‘According to you, Mayo people never done nothing,’ said Chops glumly.
‘Not the case. Mayo features honourably in Irish history books but not for fighting. The Land League was born here and you could argue that it resulted in the abolition of slavery in this country but it was a nonviolent movement. Call a meeting in a field somewhere and we’ll turn up in our thousands but don’t ask us to fight anyone. Mayo gave a new word to the English language when we sorted out Captain Boycott but again, that was a nonviolent campaign.’
‘If there was an All Ireland title for talking, we might be in with a chance,’ said Chops glumly. ‘We could enter you as our representative. Now, eat up your dinner and give us a bit of peace.’
Patsy winked at Tom.
‘You see, Tom. They yearn for enlightenment but refuse to accept wisdom when they hear it. They’d tax a saint. The Blessed Virgin was right. You’ll notice that she made multiple appearances in places like Lourdes and Fatima. But when she appeared in Knock, she took a quick look around, grabbed her coat and handbag and left Mayo and there wasn’t sight nor light from her since. Is it any wonder?’
Tom enjoyed the conversation which continued unabated. After having a coffee, he glanced at his watch and pushed back his chair.
‘I’d better get back to work,’ he said, rising from the table.
As he was about to reach the door, his name was called.
‘If you’ve been affected by the events covered in today’s discussion, our helpline is open. Please contact us at the telephone number listed at the bottom of the screen.’
The laughter followed Tom as he left the pub with a lighter step.