MEETING HER HEROES Meabh Middleton from Claremorris is pictured with former Mayo footballers Chris Barrett and Seamie O'Shea outside Croke Park on Saturday evening.
THE streetlights reflected off the damp pavement of an eerily silent Jones Road. A lone garda scurried by on his way to a drier location and one could almost hear the rest of the city echoing to western voices lauding tall, majestic hills and soft, craggy boglands. The only souls left on the famous road were scribes slipping out of the deserted stadium and two Mayo fans clutching green and red flags as they waited patiently for the Dublin team bus to depart the stage.
Méabh Middleton has been following Mayo to Croke Park since she was five months-old. The Claremorris teenager adores the green and red. She travels the length and breadth of Ireland dreaming the Mayo dream with her adoring family and on Saturday night she could be found outside Croke Park arm-in-arm with her mother Maura.
The fans had long departed back into the city or the opposite direction towards the western sea, but Méabh’s day wouldn’t be complete until she knew all the players had left the stunning stadium.
“She loves to see the players arrive for the game and leave again afterwards. Méabh truly loves Mayo. Like everyone, Méabh has her own challenges in life, but you’ll never find a more passionate Mayo supporter,” Maura told The Mayo News before turning towards the stadium as the hum of a big red bus cut through the silence. The Dublin team were being driven away from the stage they had decorated so colourfully for seven seasons and the Middleton duo were there to witness their departure. The 17-year-old waved her Mayo flag passionately at the men in blue sitting behind the windows and to their credit, one or two acknowledged Méabh’s presence.
Moments later, the Dubs were gone down Clonliffe Road – gone into the night after what seemed like a liftime in the spotlight.
Méabh and Maura watched their departure from the shadow of the Hogan Stand, happy in the knowledge that Mayo had ended the dream of seven All Irelands in a row.
“We can go home happy now,” Maura told The Mayo News. “We got worried in there at times today,” she added, pointing at the great stadium. “Méabh got a bit upset when Eoghan McLaughlin got injured.
“She loves Paddy Durcan and we weren’t sure who was down because we could only see his boots. She got a bit worried, so we left and got settled again, but now everything is brilliant.”
Later, when the Middletons were on their way out of the stadium, they encountered Chris Barrett and Seamie O’Shea.
The two former Mayo footballers were honoured to stand in for a picture and Méabh said she’d catch up with them again at the All-Ireland Final.
The Claremorris teen has a soft spot for all the Mayo team. Paddy Durcan might have been her favourite on Saturday’s Croke Park sod, but Lee Keegan is also very special to her while Cillian O’Connor and Jason Doherty are arguably the closest to her heart.
As the famous supporter and her parents, Craig and Maura, happily headed west on Saturday night they were travelling back to celebrate at home and be greeted by Méabh’s young pup, Leroy, named after the famous man from Westport.
It had been a very special evening in Croke Park and Méabh Middleton was already looking forward to her next big day out.
She loves Mayo, Mayo loves her, that’s just the way it is.