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Willie McHugh’s American tale



My very own American tale

IT’S still my one chewy bone with John Maughan from his days as custodian of Mayo football. Truth is, I didn’t envisage him marching Mayo back into the inner sanctum as quickly as he did when he took the reins at the back end of 1995. Even the infamous January day in Scotstown, when only a handful of us togged to cast an eye on progress, did nothing to alert us to the widening road ahead.
But July when Mayo beat Galway in the Connacht final placed me in the clasps of a right pucker entirely. I’d be out of the country for the upcoming All-Ireland semi-final against Kerry on a long-promised trip to visit my late uncle John McHugh in Boston.
If “our Johneen” (as Dad affectionately called his brother) didn’t sail to Boston with the Pilgrim Fathers then he arrived there only a few dockings later. He was consecrated with a sharp turn of phrase. He lived the American Dream but never forsook his Kilconly-honed characteristics. “Aaragh! We should have left it to the Indian” was his appraisal of the direction America was headed.
As Maughan readied Mayo for a joust with Kerry, I whiled away the most enjoyable of hours with John, Kay and the American branch of the McHugh kinship on their Dedham decking.
They were the most welcoming of hosts, catering for my every need. John delegated Mattie Glynn, a Caherlistrane exile, to take us to the Four Courts Bar in Dedham to see the Mayo-Kerry game on Sunday morning. “But remember we have to bring him to Mass first, Mattie” was John’s echoing rider.
As Maughan, Connelly, Mortimer and Mayo headed to Croker, I was in a Boston temple. It was not where I wanted to worship. “You might give us a hand taking up the basket collection because we’re a man down,” was Mattie Glynn’s pleading. Thinking the chore only entailed a ‘pick them in your stride’ (as perfected by Martin Mulroe and Ger Heneghan in Shrule church) I reluctantly agreed.
Mattie arrived with baskets at the end of six-foot poles, informing me I was doing the centre aisle. It was showtime in Boston and I imagine my efforts still merit the odd mention some Sundays. I was a disaster. No bother at all shoving the basket to the end of the row, but I completely forgot about the manoeuvre the retraction necessitated.
I removed one man’s spectacles. I knocked a soother from a baby’s mouth, waking him.
It got worse when a young buck decided I was going to have to work for his (well, his mother’s) offering. He insisted I plant the basket on his lap. I did and afforded him a good clip on his chin for his effrontery as I retrieved it. He probably went on afterwards to major in political science at Boston University. I wish him well.
My colleagues were in hysterics at the back pews as they watched me make a pure hames of the job. Unfortunately it was before camera phones or otherwise I’d have become an overnight YouTube sensation. I’d be big in America now. Mayo beat Kerry later that day. And like most other Mayo folk in Massachusetts, I was home for the final. And I’ve forgiven John Maughan too.
Well more or less.

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