KING Midas was asked to judge a musical competition between two Gods: Pan (pipes) and Apollo (harp).
He agreed, which turned out to be the worst decision since Paddy Russell blew up God for picking the ball off the ground in the ’95 final. The two musical Gods insisted Midas choose a winner.
Balance was not considered a virtue, so a draw was out of the question. Midas gave the nod to Apollo, and Pan was so incensed he cursed him by giving him gigantic donkey ears. Thankfully for Paddy Russell, Peter the Great was more understanding.
Midas covered up those enormous lugs with a large turban and perched his crown on the top. No one knew about the ears.
The problem was, he had lush hair which grew quickly and needed a barber to cut it once a month.
His soldiers would bring a barber to the palace, he would be ushered into the King’s private chambers, he would remove the turban and the dumbstruck barber would cut the hair.
Midas knew the barber wouldn’t be able to resist spreading the news of his donkey ears. He was a vain man who enjoyed the mirror. So, when the hair cutting was done, the poor chap would be marched out to the courtyard and his head cut off.
A young barber was summoned for the next hair cut. The King was immediately taken by his beauty and easy charm.
When he was done, the King hadn’t the heart to execute him. Also, the King was a pragmatist who could see he was running out of barbers.
Instead, he made him swear that he would never mention what he had seen, otherwise it would be off with his head. The young man swore fervently and so, for the first time, a barber left the palace with his head attached.
He kept the secret, but it drove him crazy. He got to the stage where he couldn’t think about anything else. His girlfriend wondered what was wrong. She plagued him until he thought he would burst.
Each time he returned from the palace, the pressure grew. Eventually, he could take it no more. He went into the wilderness, dug a hole in a forest of reeds, and whispered into the hole, “King Midas has donkey ears. King Midas has donkey ears.”
It lifted a huge weight off him, and for the first time in months, he went about his life carefree and easy. Unfortunately, his whisper had echoed through the reeds.
Eventually it had spread through the entire kingdom and King Midas became an overnight laughing stock. The barber was duly ripped from his salon and beheaded at the palace.
Mayo people have a secret. Like the young barber, they are living in excitement and dread.
They are carrying the words with them. They want to say them out loud but they cannot, for fear of the curse that might come upon their team.
Their team is looking good. Very good. They are being picked on merit. The best players in the county, playing in their best positions. I have been watching Mayo club football for some years now, going to almost every championship game and it is hard to criticise the selection. Under Kevin, a culture of equality and merit has been established. Boys are not being picked because of friendship or loyalty or who their club is.
This is a manager who is ruthless in pursuit of Sam, as he must be. Favouritism is the antidote to winning, a poison that quickly infects the squad. When the team see that there are favourites, disenchantment sets in and the essential quality of unity disappears.
A team like that cannot win big, no matter how many good individual players they have. We have seen the ruthlessness of Jim Gavin and Brian Cody and the results of that ruthlessness.
The word ruthless is often confused with cruelty. It is nothing of the sort. Ruthless simply means fairness. The real cruelty is inflicting favouritism on the team and the people of the county. This is a cancer that spreads quickly, a cancer whose symptoms are countless runners up medals.
David McBrien at full-back typifies McStay’s approach. The kid has the stuff. Nothing else matters. Reputation is past tense. On Sunday, as Ryan O’Donoghue scored his goal, McBrien had sprinted the length of the field and was at the far post waiting to palm the ball to the net should the need arise. When he went onto Clifford in the Kerry game, it was no big deal. The kid is good enough. Skilled enough. Fast enough. Strong willed.
Enda Hessian is the prototypical modern corner-back, sprinting 100 metres to join the attack. His goal against Tyrone was a thing of beauty, dazzling Niall Morgan with a splendid solo dummy before planting the ball in the empty net. Crucially, he did not look for acclaim, instead turning and flying back to his position to resume the battle. Loftus has been converted to number 6 and so far this has been an inspired decision. He lacks confidence as a forward. At number 6, his skills, pace and vision have tied everything together. Has he the stuff? We will find out soon.
Midfield is big, strong and very hard working. Jordan Flynn at no.12 is a ballsy workaholic with all the fundamentals, including superb kicking skills. Beside him, Jack Carney is the same. Two midfielders in the half forward-line is an excellent idea, something Pete McGrath was always keen on. The full-forward line is extremely dangerous. Ryan O’Donoghue is a bad man. He gets his confidence from his mother, a spiky Down woman who says what she thinks. He is an indispensable part of the team. A cold eyed killer who knows nice guys win nothing and who exudes a “Are you looking at me” attitude. I imagine he would be a great partner in a bar fight.
In the other corner, Tommy ‘Goals’ is almost ready to play a full game. Here, again, Kevin has been logical and fair. James Carr has done very well so there is no guarantee of a starting spot. Each man must fight for it in training.
But it is with Aidan O’Shea that McStay has really shown his strength. Big Aidan used to wander out to irrelevant areas of the field wherever he was picked, getting easy ball in no man’s land and giving it back to someone in no man’s land. Looks great in the stats but is nothing more than cowardice. Now, he must play at number 14 or the bench beckons. On Sunday, he was excellent again, scoring four points and causing mayhem.
He has been a wrecking ball in the league so far, unmarkable and unselfish. So far, so very, very good. But, does he have the stuff on the biggest days? Can he finally, finally, finally summon the strength?
I am going to go out on a limb and whisper what Mayo folk dare not. Mayo can win the All-Ireland.