My club – Coolera-Strandhill – won the Sligo Senior Football Championship in 2005, our first in 98 years. It was the culmination of 6 seasons of that particular team getting close every year – we lost semi-finals, finals, even final replays, but eventually that year got over the line.
Two years later, my county team – Sligo – won the Connacht Senior Football Championship – our first in 32 years. Again, there was a huge outpouring of emotion, having come close and lost many finals in that time.
And the thing is, in both cases, it was never quite the same after. Both teams had a couple of poor years after their respective wins, but even when we recovered and started playing well and getting close to winning trophies again it never felt quite the same. Because there is always something about the first time. The hunt, the emotional highs and lows you experience in the chase of that elusive trophy are hard to replicate once you get your hands on it.
I wrote a blog last year about the Mayo football team entitled Failing better. They have been on a quest to win the All-Ireland Football Championship since 1951, but specifically the current team since 2011. In the last 9 seasons they have reached the semi-finals 8 times, and have lost 4 finals, including 1 replay, every year bar one losing to the eventual winner. They have gained respect and admiration from all over the country because of the character they show in coming back time after time despite the agonising losses they suffer each year.
Last night they defied the odds once more to reach another semi-final and GAA fans are once again wondering if this could be their year. And maybe it will. And if it is, and they do finally win a final, there will be an outpouring of emotion never seen before in the GAA. The county will go absolutely berserk. Really – it will.
But in subsequent years – win, lose or draw – it will never feel the same again, and people will hark back to these years, and the athletic feats, the friendships made, and the good times spent in good company while chasing this common cause. And so despite the heartbreak, the anguish, when you are involved in something meaningful and challenging you need to be able enjoy where you are and what you are doing. You are living. Pushing yourselves and each other to the limit. You’re part of something.
There is only one winner of the All-Ireland or county championship each year. Only a tiny percentage of musicians ever ‘make it’. At each election more politicians don’t get elected than do.
Success and failure are two big words, laced with huge importance for many people. And so we need to be careful about how it is that we define them for ourselves, because if it’s not more nuanced than achieving one sometimes very unlikely goal, we may view as insufficient or inadequate what in fact are remarkable achievements.
And that would be wrong.