Things stay on track – in some ways at least!

Our family has always had a close connection to the local railway line. In both its’ incarnations. Indeed, the occasion of the re-opening of the line, in what I think was 2010, was recently recalled when all those whose property the track ran adjacent to were brought on the first trip of the second coming. Now read on…

It would appear that the special link to matters train will always be there. Not only in a personal sense, but throughout the locality. Much of the land where housing estates have gone up in the last quarter century or so was formerly tillage land. Mercifully, however, there are still pockets thereof which remain alongside the sprawling urbanisation. To me, and others of more senior vintage, these have always, and will always, be known as the Railway Fields. Nearly all the fields had their own names too, but that’s a story for another day.

Anyway, without doubt, personally speaking, the greatest boon gained from the return of the rail is that it makes conveyance to Croke Park incalculably more palatable. Or it should, in theory at last. Granted, it hasn’t been an issue for far too long for Meath GAA folk, but, gut feeling is that may be about to alter.

However, if the most recent expedition undertaken is anything to go by, the advantageous nature of rail travel championed to this point feels somewhat disingenuous given the utter chaos which befell my trip to see Meath take on Donegal in the National League Div. 2 Final. What was always going to be a special and highly emotional occasion for very personal reasons ended up being somewhat ruined by what can only be described as ineptitude and incompetence within Irish Rail. With one wonderful exception.

So as not to send either the blood pressure or the depression into overdrive, let’s focus on the positive and personal part of the occasion. Maybe the latter bit first as these next few lines come to you with rather large lump in throat. You see, once it was known that it was going to be Meath against Donegal – and even more poignantly once it became apparent that Leitrim were going to be on the undercard – tears hovered as thoughts were dominated by memories of special people from the other green and gold counties who would now only sadly be with us in spirit.

What a kick they would’ve got from the days the proceedings. The marked improvement Leitrim have made under Terry Hyland was very obvious and were it not for their profligacy in front of goal they may well have made off with the silverware. Either way, talk of a return to the big field may not be solely aspirational. As the first game concluded though, thoughts were dominated by what the late Sean Nealon would’ve made of Meath and Leitrim being in there together. It’s quite probable players from both teams would have ended up in Brady’s too.

As for Act II on the evening, in the first half, Meath produced the best football seen by a team from the Royal County since the day Dublin were defeated in 2010. Right, so thereafter things didn’t go according to plan (in either case!) but, most recently at least, there were mitigating factors at play.

For one thing, the loss of Bryan McMahon was incalculable. The Ratoath forward had been very industrious in the early stages – as he has been in Croke Park previously. Furthermore, his departure necessitated the introduction of Graham Reilly much earlier than I imagine would have been intended.

Then, you look at the calibre of player our opponents were able to introduce at a time in the game when Meath’s dominance was at its zenith. That is not in any way to denigrate the replacements we did introduce, rather, an acknowledgement that Declan Bonner being able to summon the likes of Neil McGee and Michael Langan from the bench gives you an indication of why Donegal remain one of the most potent teams in the game.

Now, it was said to me a few times in the aftermath of the result that the main difference between the sides was that we don’t have anyone of the status of Michael Murphy. There’s no shame in that because, to my mind, with Diarmuid Connolly’s intercounty future unknown, the Glenswilly clubman is the most naturally talented forward in the game.

However, for me, the biggest advantage the eventual victors possessed was knowing how to close out big games. That comes from experience of being in them. Andy McEntee’s inclination that Murphy was looked on favourably was wholly understandable – particularly with the referee in question as it’s not the first time he’s given the Donegal captain a plethora of handy frees. Not even the first time against Meath. I can only imagine the debate myself and Paddy Gallagher would have about that point!

That said, from the viewpoint of the outcome of the game, the strongest feeling was one of regret at one that got away. This is only my own opinion, but, I wonder did the lads panic a bit? Again, that comes down to knowhow. There were a few shots perhaps rushed which, had the extra second been taken may have made the difference.

And yet, it can and must be seen as a very positive league campaign for Meath. If you’d told me at its outset that promotion would be attained and that they would do so playing some wonderful football and I’d have given you my one working arm!

The manager said afterwards they needed to see could the go to GAA HQ and compete. They certainly did that and while it would be foolhardy and unwise to let expectations jump too far ahead, so much can be taken from the Spring campaign in a positive sense. Things remain very much on track.

Unfortunately, the same could not be said for my attempts to get home from the game. Before even talking about the homeward leg, mind you, surely it’s worth pointing out that Irish Rail should deem it necessary to give them three days’ notice of one’s intention to travel with them if one happens to be in a wheelchair is nothing short of degrading in 2019.And the requirement is something which a most excellent member of their own staff at Clonsilla station opined was complete bovine excrement!

Anyway, shambolic disgrace doesn’t go far enough in describing the ineptitude and incompetence encountered in trying to return from what was my first trip to Croke Park in five years. Having got the ridiculous three days’ notice, staff at one station couldn’t even inform their own colleagues at another that there were disabled passengers (plural) aboard.

Bad as that was, on arrival at Clonsilla came the alarming – but sadly unsurprising – discovery that the lifts were out of order. Step forward Paul, the wonderful attendant at the station. Not only did he guide myself and Eoghan Lynch from one side of the tracks to the other – by getting us across the road, but he stayed with us all the way out to Dunboyne. Where we discovered…yes…you’ve guessed it, the lifts were out of order! Consider that the station is only a good puck-out from my house and you can imagine my utter frustration at having to wait around, get back on the train, go out to the M3 Parkway and come back into the local station on the opposite side of the tracks in order to disembark.

Thus, a 20 minute journey ended up taking over two hours. In the immediate aftermath of the (mis)adventure, the point was made to a few people that it would put a body off making another sojourn into the Big Smoke. But then, such a stance would let a setback – and the inability of others to have things as they should be – win. That has never been the way in this seat.

On the contrary, instinct is to feel that trips into the great stadium may be a pleasurable problem to have to try and deal with going forward.

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