Here at Grannykiller Towers, we’ve been gorging ourselves on the ‘Eastbound and Down’ boxset. The bar owner, Clegg’s finest line was, ‘I’m one of the few people I know who has no clue where they were on 9/11.’
Well, I heard today that Conor Mortimer quit the Mayo panel, and I’ll always remember where I was. I was sitting in one of Dublin’s cheapest barbers (Maxbarbers… I’m not sure if it’s owned by a guy called Max or is it more of a mission statement… ‘We take hairdressing to the max’. Either way, it’s a €6 haircut) when I heard it on the sports news. I decided then and there to forget about my tonsorial issues and instead, went on Twitter, the one place where Mort will live on forever.
There was the usual guff, pretty much split down the middle. Half the Mayo fans seemed to think it was a disaster, and the other half thought it was about time that he got his comeuppance.
So what is it that makes Mortimer such a figure of division in Mayo? The facts seem to speak for themselves. He is Mayo’s all-time leading scorer. The previous man who held that record, Joe Corcoran, played for 17 years and never even missed a natch through injury – Mortimer achieved his feat after 11 seasons, the last two of which were spent in and out of the team.
In Mayo’s run to the 2006 All-Ireland, Mortimer was already in a pretty-much unassailable position as the leading scorer for that year’s championship. Myself and my uncle went into Paddy Powers to check the odds ahead of the final with Kerry. Among the myriad bets on offer were odds for ‘Footballer of the Year’ and jointly-placed at the top of the market at 2/1 the pair, were Conor Mortimer and Colm Cooper.
Obviously, the final didn’t go to plan for Mortimer, or Mayo, and he would probably never again be even mentioned in the same breath as the Kerryman, but he still received an All-Star and, with a total of 1-32, was the top scorer in the championship that year.
He is as dangerous a finisher as there is the game outside of Cooper though, and it’s no insult to say that a footballer isn’t as good as the Gooch. His lack of size and strength possibly went against him, but there isn’t a whole pile he could do about that. As Phil Jackson, the legendary LA Lakers coach said, ‘the one thing you can’t coach into a player is height’.
Maybe that great year in 2006 was the start of Mortimer’s downfall. He played with a swagger all year, teaming up with Ciaran McDonald as the two blonde bombshells. We all identified with them, they were the outsiders, the rebels, the renegades all of us Mayomen secretly consider ourselves to be. We’d been beaten before, but this time, maybe, just maybe, we could finally get there.
There were the white boots and whiter hair, the Michael Jackson tributes and the taking frees from his hands
In the end Mayo were beaten out the barn door, and Mortimer, like all the Mayo forwards, didn’t get a sniff. But it wasn’t that which was the disappointment, it was the fact that he had allowed us to believe, even for a short while.
Mort was also hindered by the fact that his brothers, Kenneth and Trevor were both as tough as nails. Small men, but hardy. Conor didn’t look much different as a minor than as a senior, it was just the way he was. But he wasn’t happy subjecting himself to a life of quiet anonymity as another small corner forward just happy to be there.
Instead there were the white boots and whiter hair, the Michael Jackson tributes and the taking frees from his hands. Mortimer never hid, for good or for bad, he loved the spotlight and never shirked the responsibility that went with it.
That, more than anything else, was the reason for Mortimer’s downfall. I’ve heard from numerous sources over the years that he is a dedicated trainer, always kicking extra balls. Indeed a former Mayo player told me that ‘Mort would drive you mad, he is always tipping about with a football. You would be trying to talk to him and he would be there soloing and tipping it around you. He just eats, sleeps and drinks football’.
But he set himself up to be shot at. I can understand Mortimer’s frustration. He has, for some reason, found himself behind Enda Varley and Jason Doherty in the pecking order in James Horan’s eyes. Neither man has ever scored more than three points in championship football and neither have really looked like it either (except against cannon-fodder like New York or Leitrim, and Mort was no slouch there himself, once scoring 1-12 against New York).
His critics say that Mortimer is a shoot-first sort of forward and that Varley and Doherty bring others into the game more. That’s maybe a fair criticism, but how much passing should a corner-forward be doing? Surely they are there to finish off moves, a crucial role, especially now when teams are playing with converted wing-backs as half-forwards in the ever-escalating battle for possession.
And Varley and Doherty might well involve their teammates a bit more than Mort. But that’s because they have to… they don’t have the ability he has to finish on his own, so they are left to shovel it off to other forwards and make it look like they are being unselfish.
Mortimer was never concerned about how things looked. He played his own way, and that made him Mayo’s most prolific scorer. He’s not the type of player we can afford to discard.