Former Cork City midfielder Gavan Holohan enjoyed his moment in the limelight as he scored for Hartlepool United in one of the only football matches not to be postponed over the weekend, but admits the experience was a weird one.
Holohan, who spent two seasons in Cork between 2015 and 2017 as well as playing for Watford, Drogheda United and Galway United, celebrated signing a new two-year contract at the National League club by scoring his ninth goal of the season in a 1-1 draw at Sutton United.
It’s a match which would have flown under the radar on any normal weekend, even though Hartlepool still have play-off ambitions, but which was suddenly thrust into the spotlight following a controversial decision by the National League (formerly the Conference) to play matches when the rest of the world was announcing postponements and cancellations because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Holohan, 28, is not a man afraid to speak his mind and summed up many people’s feelings on the eve of the match when he Tweeted: “So, can we turn our bus around now or are National league players going to be used as guinea pigs until end of season to see how bad we deteriorate?”
In the end, the game - which attracted a crowd of more than 2,000 - went off without problems but many players admitted afterwards it didn’t feel quite right to be on the field.
“It felt strange to be playing a game under the circumstances,” admitted Holohan. “Even the home team players were saying the feeling in and around the game was a bit weird.”
That might explain Hartlepool’s poor start to the match, in which goalkeeper Ben Killip’s attempted clearance was charged down by Isaac Olaofe to put the home side ahead. But Holohan equalised in the 53rd minute, sweeping home an excellent finish - and, in typically cheeky fashion, celebrating with a ‘hand over the mouth’ coronavius face-mask celebration.
“It had to be done,” he said. “It was a great ball, it was laid on a plate for me I just had to steer it into the far corner. That’s nine for the season, which is not a bad return.
Hopefully depending on what happens with the next games, I can get a few more before the end of the season.
That, of course, is the big question. The National League is coming under huge pressure to follow the lead of the Premier League and Football League by postponing all matches, and has been described as irresponsible by some critics for allowing last weekend’s matches to go ahead.
It’s pretty clear where Holohan stands on the debate judging by his social media account, but other high profile characters in the fifth tier of English were football were even more forthright in their views.
“We don't need to put ourselves in that position, yet we have. It's stupid," said Chesterfield boss John Pemberton, whose side drew with Dover Athletic, whilst West Ham legend Alan Devonshire, now manager at Maidenhead United, added: “It's about people's lives. How we're still playing, I do not know. It's wrong."
For Holohan, at least, it ended well - his goal coming just 24 hours after signing a new contract at Hartlepool, where he has become a fans’ favourite.
“The fans were unreal in the way they turned out to support us,” he said. “No coronavirus is going to stop them!”
That, of course, is part of the problem. The passion and obsession football fans have for their club means they may well put common sense aside and continue to attend games and drink in crowded pubs, against health advice, unless the matter is taken out of their hands.
Holohan decided to stop short of calling on the National League to take action - there are plenty of people in power already doing so - but it would also be a major shame for the former Cork man if he was denied an opportunity to provide a happy ending to a season in which has performed so well.
“We still have an eye on the play-offs, but we’re running out of time,”he said. “We need wins and that’s why we’re disappointed to draw.
As for me, I want to really kick on after signing a new contract. The way my career has gone, I have been looking for somewhere I can call home and I feel like I have found that here.
“I feel like I have come a long way in a year and this shows the faith the club has in me so I really appreciate it. I hope to repay it over the next couple of years. I know where I’m going to be now and I can really look forward to the future.”
That’s something everyone in football is hoping to for, too. But at the minute it all looks a long way away.