Colm Boyle and Mayo's survival instinct
Mickey Conroy tells a great story about living with Colm Boyle.
A few weeks before Mayo headed off on a pre-season training camp some years ago, Boyle had the pair of them out doing extra work, just so they were ready for it. His thinking was that he didn't want to get fit at camp, he wanted to get fitter.
"He was mad for it," Conroy would say. "Never wanted to stop."
A couple of days out from the trip and there was no sign of Boyle slowing up either. Sessions continued to stack up and Conroy could never tell him no. He wasn't the sort of person that excuses washed with too easily and, even with just under 36 hours to go until their flight, there was still time for another push.
That same night, Conroy had an offer to go for a few pints and what a f**king perfect way to let off some steam before the torture commenced. As an inter-county footballer preparing for another tilt at the All-Ireland, how many more chances would he realistically get for the rest of the year?
So the idea was floated to Boyle and the two of them reached a compromise: they'd go training.
During the day though, whatever prayers were being offered up looked to be answered for at least one of the Davitts men as the heavens opened and an almighty downpour descended on the west of Ireland.
"Brilliant," Conroy thought.
He played along anyway even as the rain got heavier and carried on into the evening - he didn't feel the need this time to go asking for a cancellation. It would look good for him if he agreed to train but what can you do about the weather, like?
So he said nothing but gave the others a nod that he'd meet them for pints alright. Who on earth would go for runs on a night like that after all, especially when they're going on a training camp in two days time as it is?
Conroy was laughing. He's back at the house pulling on his best shirt, gelling his air, whistling a merry tune at the prospect of one last blow off when Colm Boyle comes walking in.
Boyle's in his shorts. Football socks. Tracksuit top on.
He's looking at Conroy wondering what he's missed.
"What are you doing?" he asks him, puzzled.
"What are you doing?" Conroy's world is caving in around him.
"Training? Colm, have you looked outside? You wouldn't put a fucking dog out in that. You wouldn't even put the milk out on the bloody door step."
So they discussed it and, after a while, they reached a compromise: they went training.
Colm Boyle is the personification of Mayo and, when you look at him, it's very easy to understand why and how they keep getting back to their feet every time they're knocked flat on their arses.
As a footballer, sure, he's quality. Pacy. Exciting. Clever. Physical.
But there's something deeper with Colm Boyle. There's something in his core that shapes the mindset of the entire county.
There's a relentlessness there. You see it with every tackle. You see it in the afters, the coming-togethers after every tackle. This hunger that gives him an animal-like instinct on the pitch, a primal understanding that it's kill or be killed and that every man who isn't wearing green and red is a threat to his survival.
He's beyond tough. At this stage, his body is merely used as a sacrifice for his county. It's used as a weapon, a hammer for self-defence but, a lot of the time, it's used for the thrill of it all, mercilessly beating attackers into submission for even having the audacity to threaten them in the first place. He's the sort of man you instantly picture licking his lips and smirking at the thought of someone hitting him a shoulder. He's the sort that enjoys the punishment, giving and receiving, and he's comfortable with the uncomfortable - mostly why he's deployed like a sling shot to punch holes at the other side of the pitch but, in doing so, seems to draw in more around-the-neck tackles than any player on the island.
And he has a fearlessness, mentally too. Colm Boyle isn't afraid of failure and that's why, for the most part, he succeeds. That's why Mayo are so at ease with everything on the line because they have a survival instinct far superior and far more lethal to everyone else.
Mayo are better when there's a threat to their lives. They're better in dangerous situations because suddenly, nothing else matters but survival.
When teams like Derry or Cork or Roscommon have them to the pin of their collars in knockout football, talk of All-Irelands doesn't come into it because finding a way of staying alive by whatever means takes complete priority.
The pain of the past or thoughts of what might be don't exist in those moments and they're not contemplating how many miles they have on the clock either because there's no time for any of that. With the prospect of being killed, Mayo flick to survival mode and, there, it's just about conserving the fundamental mechanics of the only necessities they really need.
There, at the very core, they have that relentlessness, they have that toughness and they have that fearlessness. When you strip it all back - all the talent and the tactics and the elements - they have those immovable pillars underlining everything they do. They have all the basic characteristics of Colm Boyle and that's all they really need to survive in the end.
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) September 10, 2017
The best advice I was ever given were nine simple words bestowed on me by Down man, Hugh McGrath.
"The only thing you can control is your effort," he used to say. He'd say it over and over, in the build-up to games, at training, in the changing rooms. He'd say it and say it again until the penny dropped that you and you alone were the only person who could maximise your potential.
You weren't suddenly going to become a faster player, a more skilful one. You weren't going to develop an ability to kick scores you never did before in your life but, if you looked after your effort, you'd get the best out of yourself every day and the rest of the cards would fall where they may, along with the luck and the opposition and everything else you could simply do nothing about. But you could always control your effort.
When it comes down it, when Mayo's very existence in the football championship is on the line like it is once again in the qualifiers, everything else ceases to matter outside of how much they want it.
So you can analyse their performances all you want and you can dissect how much, once again, they look like they've come to the end of the road but the only thing Mayo will be judging themselves on is their survival. It didn't matter last year how they played through the qualifiers, it didn't matter the year before, they survived, they moved on.
Survive and advance, that's the game and that's when Mayo are at their best.
When pushed to the limit, a man is capable of so much more than scientific boundaries could calculate and that's why Mayo operate outside of logical analysis because you can't allow for and you certainly can't measure some of the good stuff inside that has them chasing that dream.
At this time of year, on proper championship days with everything at stake, trying to study the habits of a team purely in survival mode is pointless.
It's like trying to ask Colm Boyle not to go training for one bloody day.
It's like trying to compromise with the uncompromising.
You see, now, Mayo know it's kill or be killed, by whatever means necessary. And that's when they always find the means.