Let me tell you the story of a poor county

What I am about to relate is a tale so personal that not even my wife knows about it. Fasten your seatbelts.

The location was Galway, the date Monday 12 June 2000. I know this with such precision because college life had finished the previous Friday and I was starting my first proper job – ah, halcyon days when a young graduate could walk into a job like that. While waiting to be shown around the office a woman sat down beside me. We got to chatting about the weather and whatnot when she mentioned she was from Sligo. “Good result yesterday”, I said, for Sligo had beaten Mayo the previous day. It was more for something to say rather than any expectation of a reaction. And yes, that lack of expectation was because she was a woman.

Well. Cue a stream of delighted babbling, the kind that someone who had in the previous couple of years experienced that joy that only a rare win produces could well appreciate.  Sligo had not beaten Mayo since the 1975 Connacht final and she had been there (at the win the day before, not the 1975 final) so it was a pretty big deal. It also gave me an opportunity to express a sense of solidarity. When I said I knew what she was feeling, she knew I meant it.

Thinking about the exchange later during some downtime – there was lots of downtime in that job; again, happier times – it struck me that this was a splendid opportunity to break the ice in terms of getting-to-know-you. Sligo were playing Galway in the Connacht semi-final a few weeks later. Should they win, head over to her desk and congratulate her on their success. Should they lose, head over to her desk and tell her that hey, once again I know how you feel (we had lost to Tipperary a few weeks earlier).

A truly cunning plan, but one that didn’t survive contact with the enemy. Imagine my consternation on the day of the match when Galway romped into a 0-13 to 0-0 half time lead. What was I going to say now? Well done on managing four points in the second half (final score: Galway 0-22 Sligo 0-4)? The moment was gone. I never did have the courage to approach her after that.

Not really that scandalous a story, is it? Apologies to anyone expecting a tale of John Terry-style salaciousness.

The moral of the story is not to put your eggs in one basket. But the abiding legacy is to think of her whenever Sligo are playing. Beating Mayo then Galway after a replay. No doubt she’s smiling this week. People routinely declare the provincial championships dead and dismiss Waterford’s recent efforts because the McCarthy Cup remains resolutely on the wrong side of the Suir. Try telling that to Sligo Woman as they prepare to try and win what would only be their fourth provincial title, or Louth fans preparing for their first senior final of any description in fifty years. The provincial championships shouldn’t be sacrosanct, but beware alternatives promising a revitalised GAA.