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One strange Sunday in Salthill


MEMORABLE DAY Mayo captain Aidan O’Shea lifts the Nestor Cup back in November. Pic: Sportsfile

My moment
Edwin McGreal

AS long as we live, we will remember 2020.
Mostly because it is a year we would love to forget but we know we won’t.
We forget trivial, inconsequential matters. The year just gone was anything but.
People suffered in a myriad of different ways. Many of us, this writer included, were fortunate that 2020 was a year of merely considerable inconvenience, not one of tragedy, heartbreak or loss.
Confined to barracks for longer than we could have imagined, we found ourselves longing for things we had taken for granted. A trip to the shop became an adventure in March.
As the spring rolled into summer, restrictions eased but the sound of our summers was absent. The electricity that comes with inter-county and club football championships are the outlet many people’s weeks pivot on.
Sport as a means of escape is great. When we needed it this spring it, quite rightly, wasn’t there.
It looked for months like we’d see no football in 2020 so a return to club football in July was a major breakthrough for many. The first game I got to see in the flesh in over four months was a Mayo junior championship group match where Achill hosted Kilmaine.
Truth be told, it was a poor game with Kilmaine running out comfortable winners.
Didn’t matter, this was an escape from the Covid grind. The quality of the fare was borderline irrelevant.
We were talking football again and not in the abstract. Were Kilmaine going to do it this year at last? Was there another kick in Achill? Isn’t Pat Kelly some man for one man?
Once the inter-county scene returned, those chats became more and more frequent wherever people could meet safely or, more often, via phone calls and messages.
It may have been the strangest inter-county season we’ve ever seen, but we took it gratefully. A slice of normality is great in a year when the whole pie just won’t be on offer.
People couldn’t go but they could watch it, look forward to it, build the day around it.
We were the lucky ones in the press, able to attend the games.
We all know how it ended, but Mayo’s unexpected run to the All-Ireland Final put a pep in many people’s steps in this harshest of years.
So after the year that was, this writer cannot but think back to Salthill and Mayo’s Connacht Final win.
The fact that it was Mayo’s first provincial title victory in five years was special enough, but as a Breaffy clubman it was very satisfying to see Aidan O’Shea become the first player from the club to lift the Nestor Cup.
A lot of hours by a lot of people go into every inter-county player, not least the player himself.  So for all of those who put time into developing young players like Aidan in Breaffy, it was a fulfilling day.
That I was merely ten feet away from him when he lifted the trophy on a day when no fans were there, it felt at once both a privilege and a robbery.
What right did we have to be there before his parents and siblings, forced to watch from home in Breaffy? I could add countless club people who would have been more deserving to be there too.
Aidan O’Shea himself wasn’t able to bring the cup home either – it went back to the Connacht GAA Council offices in Bekan that night.
But that was the reality of 2020; we took what allowances we could and enjoyed the meagre rations.
We can reflect in some detail on Mayo’s defeat to Dublin – and we must – but for now, as 2020 rolls into 2021, we can reflect with thanks on a surprising and never more important journey this group brought us on.
In one of the most challenging winters Irish society will ever wish to endure, the Mayo footballers gave us a perfectly timed tonic and made things feel a bit more normal.
Never did we need it more.

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