The loudspeaker crackled and spluttered for a good 10 seconds or more until finally a voice announced the train from Ballina to Dublin would be running 30 minutes late. The news was greeted with cheers and whistles by us Mayo supporters packed together on the platform. We had come from all around the area, men, women and children all wearing the county colours and all determined that nothing was going to spoil our trip to ‘Headquarters’ to see Mayo play Kerry in the All Ireland final.
Somewhere in the crowd a voice began to sing "Take Me Home To Mayo", the song was soon taken up by a few more people and before long we were all singing. I crossed my fingers and hoped we would still be in such good voice on the journey home.
When we finally got on the train I found myself sitting opposite an old man who, at a guess, must have been in his early eighties and had what you might call a comical lived-in face. On his head was perched a checked flat cap and beside him on the seat was a shiny brown walking stick.
I introduced myself to the man and soon we struck up a conversation. He told me his name was James but that people called him Jimmy Thatcher because thatching had been his trade, he also told me he was paying a visit to his sister in Dublin, but had forgotten the day that was in it or he’d have picked a quieter time to travel. The train had left the station by now, moving slowly at first and then bit by bit gathering momentum until the houses and fields we passed were nothing more than a blur.
"Have you any interest in the football?" I asked.
Jimmy removed the cap and began to scratch his head.
"To tell you the truth, young fella, I lost interest when they brought in all these new rules. In my opinion today’s bunch are far too soft, if you looked sideways at them they’d be rolling on the ground in agony. Sure you only have to look at the colour boots they wear yellow, orange, red and God forgive them pink! If you didn’t know better you’d swear someone had mixed a couple of pots of paint and thrown it at them. You wouldn’t have caught any of the 1951 Mayo team wearing yellow or pink boots."
The mention of the victorious 1951 team led us on to another topic talked about in homes all over the county. I refer of course to the infamous curse which has dogged Mayo teams through the years. I was interested to hear what Jimmy thought about it. He was only too happy to offer his opinion. The cap came off, the head was scratched, and he was away.
"All this blathering about curses and the like has robbed the good people of Mayo of their common sense. Sure, why in the name of heaven would God be bothered listening to some aul priest ranting and raving." As it happened I couldn’t have agreed more. This so-called curse had sprouted and grown like the fairytale beanstalk and it was high time to chop it down.
"Curse or no curse, Jimmy, I think if we can stop the Gooch the day will be ours, what do you reckon?"
"Arra, will you whist man," he said dismissively. "Sure no man who calls himself Gooch can be taken seriously. But if you don’t mind taking advice from an old man, you’ll enjoy the day in Croke Park regardless of the result and always remember there are more important things in life. But having said all that you can mark my words that Mayo will win the Sam McGuire if not today then very soon."
The cap was put back on his head and I sensed our conversation was at an end. Looking at my watch I estimated we were about an hour from Dublin. I closed my eyes and thought what a great travelling companion Jimmy Thatcher had turned out to be and what words of wisdom he had spoken.
The next thing I knew the train was pulling into Heuston Station but there was no sign of Jimmy. I called over the conductor and asked where he was. The poor man appeared confused until I gave him a description.
"Oh, that Jimmy," he said. "A grand old fella, wasn’t he?"
Now it was my turn to be confused because he was using the past tense. Seeing my expression, he said, "You mustn’t have heard that poor old Jimmy passed away a couple of weeks ago."
I didn’t bother to reply, there was no need.
As I made my way out of the station I couldn’t help but smile. I was going to enjoy the day what ever the outcome, because I knew in my heart that one day the cup would be ours.
Sure, hadn’t Jimmy Thatcher told me so?