This article first appeared in this week’s edition of the Mayo News as the ‘On the Road’ piece in the sports supplement.
Talk of change was in the air all day on Sunday, blown along by a gale force wind that roared in from the west. Storm Ciara’s high winds made Mayo’s League clash with Meath a game of two halves – quite literally – and a contest that never had a settled pattern.
The chat in the car on the way down to Navan whipsawed back and forth from football to the news of the election results. We were fielding a much-changed team from the one that had beaten Meath in last summer’s Super 8s but this change was nothing compared to the emerging picture of the vastly altered political landscape that Saturday’s vote had apparently engendered.
The car was constantly buffeted by the strong winds as we sped along the motorway. The driving conditions may have been a bit tricky but parking was effortless, with loads of space in the official car park adjoining Páirc Tailteann. Mind you, we were parking up at the ground a full hour and a half ahead of throw-in.
Catching the prevailing political mood, ‘A Nation Once Again’ was belting out over the tannoy as we made our way into the stand. We had little trouble finding a decent spot close to half-way, back almost far enough to avoid the inevitable downpour.
When the rain started to fall an hour later, it fairly bucketed down. The sky darkened ominously and the squally rain fell for a while in torrents, whipped down along the resplendent playing surface by the howling tempest.
By the time ref Seán Hurson threw the ball in, though, the skies had cleared again. Indeed, but for the wind, it would have been a reasonable day for football. The wind, though, had decided it was going to be anything but reasonable.
We coped better with the conditions in the first half. But despite Meath only managing to post a single score before the break and getting into all kinds of bother on their restarts, we’d only bagged seven points and so all the talk among Mayo supporters – by far the majority in the stand – at the break was whether or not our six-point lead would prove to be enough.
With fifteen minutes to go, it looked like we’d got our answer. By then the home team had turned the game on its head, the two goals they got in quick succession nudging them a point clear. We were now up against it in this fast-changing contest.
But a further shift in the narrative was in the air and it came in the form of Kevin McLoughlin. Two points from the Knockmore man – the first an improbable free that he rammed over into the teeth of the gale – gave us a lifeline coming down the closing stretch. Then he forced a turnover and was fed by Ryan O’Donoghue before shooting to the net what would prove to be the match-winning goal.
There was talk of curried chips after the game but there was talk to be done too for the podcast, as well as my usual post-match blog duties. There was some neat symmetry in the fact that it was a full ninety minutes after the full-time whistle had sounded by the time I eventually got back to the car for the trip home. The chips had been long eaten by then – sometimes we have to suffer for our art.
It was match reports and election results on the radio for the short drive back to the capital. Kerry’s loss to Tyrone and Galway’s win over Donegal meant that the Division One table is a congested and confused one. A bit like the options for trying to form a government in the much-changed political landscape the country now finds itself in after Saturday’s vote.