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Mayo are just picture perfect

By Declan Bogue

On an October night, many stood on the Healy Park pitch watching Killyclogher players make their victory speeches after defeating Coalisland in the Tyrone county final replay.

Up in the stand, Red Hands duo Matthew and Richie Donnelly were being mobbed by teenagers and kids, all with the arm-extension of a smart phone in their paws. The children even formed an orderly queue on the steps.

At that moment, you realise that in places like Tyrone and, say, Mayo for example, Lionel Messi could walk through the crowd largely ignored. These kids are more interested in their heroes from Trillick and Breaffy.

This past week has witnessed the re-introduction of that great summer sport: Mayo-bashing.

For those short on imagination and big on bombast, it's a favoured tactic. For those that have come out the right side of a bouncing ball or the fine margins, they feel that they have the right to slander the character of those that don't.

Last week, former Meath player Bernard Flynn said Mayo would not win an All-Ireland because Aidan O'Shea was talking with, signing autographs for and posing for pictures with - gasp - children while some of the rest of his team-mates were in a huddle after a challenge match.

The judgment Flynn made on O'Shea's character, and the role he has within his team, was the ultimate example of how some pundits around the fringes of the action construct an entire philosophy through 'blink of the eye' incidents.

It doesn't really matter what you have to say, as long as you say it with enough conviction you can take any fool along for the ride.

Seeing O'Shea out there spending time with children and making a call on Mayo's chances of winning an All-Ireland is like riding past the Eiffel Tower on a motorbike and estimating how many bolts there are in the structure.

Being mobbed by kids wasn't really an issue for Flynn as a player.

The games are so much more visible now. When you go out for a drink in Dublin after big Championship matches in Croke Park, images of O'Shea and Bernard Brogan are lit up on shop fronts. Practically all the games are on television and radio, while previews and reaction are in newspapers, not to mention social media and online, which has exploded in the last 15 years.

Add to that the curse of the smart phone, and players now have virtually no privacy.

In light of that, it is remarkable how they still retain the connection they have with their fans. On Saturday night, two children from Truagh stood waiting in the rain to see their Monaghan heroes emerge from the dressing room.

One of them was a Conor McManus man all the way, the other held Jack McCarron as his favourite. Their father revealed that they wait behind to meet the players after every game.

The following day saw the same sort of scene outside the Donegal dressing room. Players mingled among their fans, bashful teenage girls getting pictures with Patrick McBrearty and others.

One lad asked Martin Reilly for his gloves and Reilly apologised profusely that he had already given them away to another child. Then he thought again, and went back towards the dressing room to see if he could rustle up another pair.

Jim McGuinness once wrote in his column how Michael Murphy was flooded with fan mail. After asking him how many he replied to, McGuinness was struck by his response: "Every single one".

The historian Paul Rouse once said during a radio discussion that Mayo are his favourite Gaelic football team of the modern era. Leaving aside your own tribe, it would be the same for many.

The heart they have shown, the entertainment they have delivered and their overall grace deserves our complete admiration.

Not the pig-ignorant commentary that has prevailed.

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