Seamus Duke Media

Seamus Duke Media Roscommon

The Storming of Salthill (2017)

The following is a chapter from my book- Dukie The Game of Life published in November 2021

THE STORMING OF SALTHILL

Memorable 2017 triumph

You would think as a person gets older that they will become calmer and more measured about things. Maybe we do. I think it applies in many aspects of life, but unexpected success – especially involving Roscommon football teams – is something I still get very excited about. That happened (again) in July of 2017 when Roscommon won the Nestor Cup, and as comfortably as any of us had ever seen them win it over the years. It was the first title win in the West for our seniors since 2010 – and was totally unexpected. It was one of the greatest victories I’ve observed in my time going to Roscommon matches. Not alone did Roscommon win Connacht, but they travelled to Pearse Stadium and beat Galway by no less than nine points.

The signs from the National League had not been promising, Roscommonsuffering some unmerciful hammerings. Division One is an unforgiving place if your team is even a little less than at its best. Being well beaten by Dublin and Kerry is no disgrace, but the heavy losses to Mayo and Monaghan were a worry.

Following a ‘winter of discontent’ Kevin McStay was now the sole manager of the team. After a well publicised spat, he and Fergal O’Donnell and a couple of the selectors had gone their separate ways. Now it was down to McStay to steer the county’s fortunes.

McStay decided that after the experience of 2016 when the team performed brilliantly in Division One before flopping spectacularly in the championship, it was time for a new priority.

The Rossies didn’t train too hard for the league and paid the price in that competition.When the 2017 league campaign came down to the last game, Roscommon, who hadn’t even one point on the board, and were already relegated, faced Cavan, who needed a win to give them a chance of escaping the drop. The game was at Dr Hyde Park and it would prove to be the outing that launched Roscommon’s season.

Kevin McStay: “2017 was always going to be a difficult year after what had happened. People would have seen Roscommon as relegation candidates anyway, but the margin of the defeats against Mayo and Dublin in particular was very worrying and as we were going into the championship we had nothing to hold on to.

“We needed something against Cavan so that the crowd going away could say ‘well maybe things might be improving’. It was actually a good game of football and we deserved to win it”.
Roscommon’s 1-13 to1-10 win didn’t create too many ripples nationally, but it was a huge morale-booster for the team. Cavan were trying for their lives as a victory would have meant escaping demotion. It turned out to be a very competitive game. Roscommon put in a good second-half display, with a goal from Cathal Compton the key score.

Kevin McStay: “We knew that we hadn’t a lot of work done so that win was a plus. Earlier in the year we had a lot of sorting out to be done in terms of the panel and I had to appoint a new backroom team. Ger Dowd came in as a selector and he was a key appointment. I got David Joyce in to do strength and conditioning as well and his role was crucial too”.

The Mayo native knew that he was under massive pressure to deliver following the falling out with Fergal O’Donnell.

Kevin McStay: “It was very difficult. I mean the county was split down the middle after what happened with Fergal. The reality was that we were preparing for matches with a lot of the county almost willing you to fail. It was a very difficult environment to be working in, to be honest”.

The Connacht Championship draw had worked out nicely for Roscommon. A win in the semi-final against Leitrim would set up a Connacht final against one of the big guns as Mayo, Galway and Sligo were all on the other side of the draw. There was a nice run-in, so being well prepared was quite realistic, unlike in 2016, when the league and championship took a lot out of Roscommon, with the chaos of a trip to New York also thrown in.

It has to be said that expectations amongst the supporters were fairly low for the championship season given what had happened in 2016. Twelve months previously a number of great wins in Division One were followed by heavy defeats at the hands of Mayo and Kerry. The signs of impending disaster were probably there to be seen in New York when the team were extremely lucky to escape by a point in Gaelic Park after what could only be described as a bizarre championship game.

The cracks were somewhat papered over in 2016 when Roscommon disposed of Leitrim and Sligo with relative ease. Even when a late Donie Smith point gave the Rossies a draw with Galway in the Connacht final in Pearse Stadium, there wasn’t much sign of an implosion. But it came.

Galway ran through Roscommon like a dose of salts in the Connacht final replay at MacHale Park. Six days later in the qualifiers Clare deservedly put the primrose and blue out of their misery on a day to forget at Pearse Stadium. Nothing went right for Roscommon.

Kevin McStay: “The draw worked out nicely for us in 2017. It was unlike 2016, which was ‘bananas’. We had to play in New York two weeks after we played a league semi-final. In fact we played that league semi-final on a Sunday and ten days later we were in New York and we played championship football every two weeks after that. Then we had a replayed Connacht final and we played Clare in the qualifiers six days later. It was chaotic, to be honest”.

The lesson from 2016 was that while it was great that Roscommon were in Division One, the effort required to stay there proved very costly when it came to the championship. At that stage it was felt that Roscommon simply did not have the panel to be competitive for a whole season at such a high level.

Kevin McStay and his selectors made a conscious decision to prioritise the championship. With relegation confirmed, the team began their preparations. Leitrim were very much in focus.
On the 18th of June on a fine day at Dr Hyde Park Roscommon hammered Leitrim by 2-23 to 1-9 to set up a Connacht final meeting with Galway, who had beaten old rivals Mayo in the other semi-final. That game againstLeitrim was unremarkable. Roscommon were in total control and won very easily.

Kevin McStay: “I was delighted with how we played in the Leitrim match. I saw Kevin Walsh (the Galway manager) down at that game and I remember thinking with 10 or 15 minutes to go when it was over as a contest that he will go away in the knowledge that we will score if we get chances. I knew that he would be a little more frightened of our attack after that match and that he would have to take more caution defensively in the final and that would be good from our point of view. We kicked some mighty scores that day”.

For the second year running Galway had beaten Mayo in a major championship match. This time Mayo had Keith Higgins sent off and the home side edged them out by a point, 0-15 to 1-11. It was Galway v Roscommon in the Connacht final for the second year in a row.

Of all the venues that we go to year in year out, Pearse Stadium in Galway is the one that I (and many Roscommon fans) dislike the most. Even before Galway became such a big city with massive traffic problems, it was frequently hard to get in and out of Pearse Stadium. I always preferred going to Tuam for a match against Galway. I know Tuam Stadium hasn’t changed much over the years but there is a charm about the place, even to this day. It’s a real football venue.

Roscommon have had far more bad days than good ones at Pearse Stadium over the years. We don’t win there much, and we certainly don’t relish the journey. The traffic is generally chaotic and a trip that ought to take a little over an hour can last up tothree hours. Parking options are limited, and the fact that Galway city is always so busy – especially during the summer months – adds to stress levels. Essentially Pearse Stadium is a major ground which is situated in the middle of a housing estate close to one of the busiest beaches in the country.

Even though a Connacht final against Mayo in Castlebar is what most Roscommon fans were dreading at that particular time, the fact that the Rossies had to travel to Galway to face the Tribesmen, who had beaten Mayo for the second year in a row, meant that expectations were tempered. Painful memories of a thrashing handed out by Galway in MacHale Park in that replay 12 months earlier were fresh in the mind. Of course Kevin McStay and his players were preparing quietly.There were some excellent players on the Roscommon team. The defence was marshalled by Seanie McDermott, a fantastic servant to Roscommon for well over a decade. David Murray, John McManus and Niall McInerney were super defenders. Sean Mullooly was finally beginning to realise his potential and Conor Devaney was playing the best football of his senior career. He was to have a marvellous game in the Connacht final.

Tadhg O’Rourke and Enda Smith were operating at midfield. O’Rourke was diligent and hard-working and Smith was beginning to show his undoubted class. On his day he is a superb player. Up front there were several notable attacking talents. Ciarán and Diarmuid Murtagh are top class score-getters, and with the experienced Fintan Cregg and the hard-workingNiall Kilroy in the half-forward line, it was a potent mix.

In addition, two young guns, Brian Stack and Cian Connolly, would add sparkle to the attack. Despite a number of players having opted out of the panel that year, Kevin McStay and his selectors still had the likes of Ian Kilbride, Donie Smith, Colin Compton and Shane Killoran to call upon off the bench.

Kevin McStay: “The preparations were going to plan. We knew we were playing well. Although expectations were low, the pressure was on me personally because I knew if we had a bad campaign I would be gone (as manager). Inside the camp we were working very well. We went away for a weekend to Johnstown House (Estate) and we did a lot of great work there. We played Meath in a challenge match and put in a great first half that day. I knew after that game that we were ready.

“Our big message in the build-up to that final in our camp was that Galway would not see us coming. We had been relegated to Division Two, they had been promoted to Division One, and the momentum was always with them…and they had also beaten Mayo. It’s human nature after all. But the train you don’t see coming is the most dangerous of all”.

Travelling alone, I left the house in Roscommon Town at 9 am on the morning of the final. I parked in the official car park at about 10.30. There were very few people around at that stage. Aware that I had lots of spare time, I walked down to the seafront in Salthill. There were plenty of signs on the promenade that there was a big game coming up. Several Roscommon cars were on the road and Roscommon jersies abounded in the cafés and restaurants. I went into one café and had a mug of coffee and a sandwich. There was nervous anticipation in the air.

Soon it was time to head to the stadium. Even though it were very early, there were still familiar faces in the press box in Pearse Stadium, including Ian Cooney, Noel Fallon and Michael O’Brien of the Roscommon Herald. There are separate radio and newspaper sections and Willie Hegarty and his Shannonside crew and all the rest of the local and national radio stations were, as usual, in the area ‘next door’. The press box would be packed, with local and national journalists in attendance.

It was a blustery day. Every so often there were light rain showers. Conditions were not ideal and it was a day similar to the previous year when Roscommon drew at the same venue. I have to admit that I had travelled more in hope that confidence. Galway had beaten Roscommon easily in the 2016 replay. Could we really make up that difference in a year?

From the minute referee David Gough threw in the ball it was clear that Roscommon were not in Salthill for the day out. Three quick-fire points from the Murtagh brothers (Ciarán with two, Diarmuid with one), saw the visitors settle in well. McStay’s men were putting huge pressure on the Galway kick-outs, and it was paying rich dividends. Galway were struggling, with only Shane Walsh really showing up in attack. By the 14th minute Roscommon were 0-6 to 0-2 ahead. The rain came down heavy and so did referee Gough –
on any ill-discipline. Yellow cards were flashed around liberally.

Kevin McStay: “We all agreed in the build-up to the final that no Roscommon player would take a step back that day. The previous year we had chances to win the (drawn) final but we were a bit too cautious. We brought the whole team into the Abbey Hotel the night before the match. It was just the players together. The management team were not there overnight but we all had a meeting at about 7pm and we all agreed that if we were to lose, we would go down fighting like dogs. We also agreed that if Galway took their eye off the ball we would not allow them to come back into the match”.

In the 15th minute, Roscommon scored a peach of a goal. Diarmuid Murtagh’s laser-like 40 metre pass reached Cian Connolly inside the Galway cover and the Roscommon Gaels man found the bottom corner with a brilliant shot from the 13 metre line. It was a class score.

Kevin McStay: “I have been around footballa long time and that was one of the really great Connacht final goals. The pass and the finish was as good as you would see in any match”.
While Galway missed a couple of chances before half-time, Roscommon were dominant. The Rossies shot a total of nine wides in the first half and still went in leading by 1-7 to 0-3. It was an assured and confident display to that point. The shock was on.

McStay felt that the match should have been over by the break. His team had scored a fantastic goal but they’d had a few wides, and should have been even further ahead.
Up in the press box the Roscommon contingent were pleasantly surprised about what we had seen, while still remaining cautious. Galway would have the breeze at their backs in the second half.
Surely there was a kick in them? They could hardly be as ineffective as they had been in that torrid opening period. The general consensus was that while Roscommon were in a great position it wasn’t over by a long shot.

Kevin McStay: “The lads solemnly swore at half-time that they would not take one step back in the second half. I was afraid that we might retreat into our shell. Galway had the wind, and our lead, handsome as it was, was not an impossible one to make up. We knew that we had to score a second goal. We knew they were shook, and if we got another goal they would fall asunder”.

It looked like our fears might prove to be justified when Galway scored the first three points of the second half. But just when it looked as though the home side might assume control, Roscommon knocked them back on the canvas. In the 42nd minute young Brian Stack claimed a brilliant mark out at midfield. Instead of stopping to take the freekick, the St Brigid’s man continued his run and planted a super low shot past Ruari Lavelle. It was another great goal. Now we were beginning to believe.

Galway were in trouble, and although they kicked five points in a row to reduce the margin to four, it was Roscommon’s day. A number of inspirational points settled matters. When Shane Killoran kicked the final point of the game in injury-time, the Rossies had claimed their 23rd provincial title, winning by a whopping nine points.

With about a minute to go Kevin McStay left his post on the sideline and ran down the tunnel. Afterwards he revealed he had done it so he could compose himself. It was a huge day for him personally. Having taken over the team on his own, he had now managed Roscommon to one of their best ever Connacht final wins.

Kevin McStay: “It was my greatest day ever in the game from my point of view. It is very seldom in management that you can stand there in the final five minutes of a big game and soak it all in. I was still worried but Liam (McHale) said to me ‘relax, this is over’. It was such a big win for the group of players who had worked so hard. The overriding feeling was one of immense joy. This was a young team and they had performed on the biggest stage”.

The atmosphere on the pitch after the game was unreal. Thousands of Roscommon fans jumped for joy and invaded the pitch for the presentation. Boyle’s finest, Enda and Donie Smith, were lifted shoulder-high. Those images were to appear in national newspapers the following day. Ciarán Murtagh, a brilliant captain, lifted the Nestor Cup high after receiving it from Connacht Council President and Elphin man, Mick Rock. After all the years, and all the disappointments at that venue,it was a great feeling. I will readily admit that I didn’t think we’d conquer Galway that day, but we did.

Kevin McStay says that in a long career in the game he has never experienced an atmosphere like the one in the Roscommon dressing room after that game.
“The sheer joy in our dressing room after that match was incredible. In fact we had a job to get the players in off the field. Of course there was a massive Rossie invasion and there were people everywhere. The provincial title means so much to everyone in the county. To have won a Connacht final by nine points away from home was a massive achievement”.

The long journey home didn’t really matter that evening,now that there was a Connacht title in the bag. Roscommon town was hopping when I got back. I parked up the car and headed for P Kelly’s Bar. It was packed. You could feel the buzz. A crowd of young guys in the corner started to sing and chant. We were Connacht champions for the first time since 2010. It was a mighty win and an ever better feeling.

The phone was beeping non-stop as friends and family texted to share the excitement. Twitter and Facebook were full of compliments for Kevin and the players. A Connacht senior title is always welcome, but when it is unexpected –and claimed in Salthill – then it is particularly special.

Kevin McStay: “That was my greatest day in football. It was way ahead of winning the All-Ireland club final (with St Brigid’s). This was senior inter-county football at the very top level. I had played with Mayo and managed their U-21 team, but this was sheer joy on a different level. When we were in the dressing room afterwards it was really special. If Brink’s-Mat came that evening to take the cup they were not getting it because it was ours.

“The bus journey home was fantastic. We got a great welcome in all the clubs areas – Pearses, Clann, St Brigid’s and in Knockcroghery – but the welcome we got in Roscommon Town was something I will never forget. It was fantastic. The players deserved it. They won the Connacht final in style playing some brilliant football. Even though we would eventually lose to Mayo in a quarter-final it was a fantastic Connacht Championship win”.

While there was no official homecoming, thousands of people were in Roscommon Town to meet the players when they disembarked from the Club Rossie bus in Main Street. We headed for Down The Hatch later that night. People were in great form. The only silence came when The Sunday Game showed the highlights and the analysis followed. Every Roscommon score was cheered to the echo. Kevin McStay was there himself and so were many great Roscommon GAA people. It was a very special win and a very special night.

The Roscommon team who beat Galway by 2-15 to 0-12 on that famous occasion was: Colm Lavin; David Murray, John McManus, Niall McInerney; Seanie McDermott, Sean Mullooly, Conor Devaney (0-3); Tadhg O’Rourke, Enda Smith; Fintan Cregg, Niall Kilroy, Brian Stack (1-0); Cian Connolly (1-1), Diarmuid Murtagh (0-5, 3 frees), Ciarain Murtagh (0-3, 2 frees). Subs: Ian Kilbride for Fintan Cregg, Donie Smith (0-2, 1 free) for Diarmuid Murtagh, Colin Compton for Ciarain Murtagh, Shane Killoran (0-1) for Brian Stack.

Two years later, in 2019, and under our new manager Anthony Cunningham, Roscommon won the Connacht title again. The highlight of that win came in the semi-final when a never-say-die Roscommon beat Mayo by a point in MacHale Park (2-12 to 0-17) in what was a thrilling match. Fintan Cregg scored the winning point in injury-time. It was the first time since 1986 that Roscommon had beaten Mayo in the championship in Castlebar. It was another really special win for the Roscommon seniors. For those who were there, seeing Roscommon defeat Mayo in Castlebar was something we will always cherish. In the final, Roscommon once again went to Pearse Stadium and beat Galway, this time by 1-13 to 0-12. While the 2020 and 2021 seasons were ultimately extremely disappointing, the Roscommon senior team has been making good progress in recent years. Hopefully they can now kick on and become competitive at All-Ireland level, especially with the emergence of several talented U-20 players in 2021.

We keep believing, and we certainly keep following.

DUKIE The Game of Life can be purchased in various shops in Roscommon Town- or contact Seamus Duke – and it’s also on sale on buythebook.ie

Tony Conboy Book Review on ‘Real Boyle’

Tony Conboy

Dukie …The Game of Life

The above title was launched recently in Roscommon by Seamus Duke who has had a career in local Journalism and especially from his time as a political and sporting commentator with Shannonside Radio.
Seamus is one of the core group of those who go by the moniker true blue Rossies. I was not at the launch but as might he said, all the usual suspects were there in force. Seamus is a colourful character and has a very visible presence in Roscommon town and well beyond it. He has a zest for life and living it and that is displayed in this account of ‘The Game of Life’. The centrality of Roscommon town has been a help in all that and the book name-checks a myriad of sporting, political and social personalities. He developed a large circle of friends and colleagues with whom he associated and shared many memorable occasions. All these get the full and effective treatment in this enjoyable book.
His primary sporting reference is with Gaelic football. He begins with an account of the passage of the 2006 minor team to an All-Ireland final replay v Kerry in Ennis. While he describes several sporting highlights this was probably THE top of the list. As someone who was also there, I can say that he really does the victory that day justice.
He has always been a great supporter of Roscommon Gaels Club and devotes a number of chapters to their great days especially during the seventies when they had a fine team.
By association with Brian Keenan and Ollie Hannon, he shared great days and wins when their horses Montelado and Sir OJ were performing at top venues like Cheltenham. He also covers Leitrim’s memorable win in the Hyde when they won the Connacht title in ’94 for the second time the last being in 1927. He describes his interaction with many politicians and details the excitement of memorable election counts. Another highlight was his being, with friends, always with friends, when Padraig Harrington won the British Open golf title at Birkdale.
From page 104 he relays to story of a great young Roscommon golfer Ken Kearney. He was an outstanding amateur golfer. He then joined the professional circuit but reverted to the amateurs soon again. It was the era when Harrington, McGinley and Clarke and others were his contemporaries and went on to do great things. I had been aware of Ken at the time and wondered what he did then and this is the first time that I have read a brief account of his career.
Another phase in life was Dukie’s support of Manchester Utd. and his visits to matches there, with friends. A highlight was interviewing George Best who was always an idol of his from boyhood days.
He obviously loved doing radio and could multi-task to a dizzying degree. After a long run with Shannonside the station was taken over by another group and the choice presented to Seamus was not palatable and he decided to leave. His account of this fracture is personal and emotive. He was leaving something he obviously loved doing. He was going to an uncertain future and he with a young family.
Seamus is the son of Seamus Duke senior from Elphin who died a young man leaving his mother with a young family. He pays tributes all around to his mother, wife and family.
His very full life was a series of improvisations and he jumped many fences. It is all described in this very enjoyable book with great zest as he ticks off his bucket list of exciting sporting events, with friends and ‘banter’. The book is available in Boyle at Supervalu beside the wee entrance gate and costs €15.

Mary O’Rourke Book Review of ‘DUKIE The Game of Life’

Book Review by Mary O’Rourke

I have reviewed many books in my life, and this one I found most difficult. Why? Because it is packed with people and events including political, GAA and world events – it’s all included in these pages, so it’s very hard to know where to begin.

I think I’ll begin at Shannonside FM which started broadcasting on November 11, 1989, at its studios in Castle Street in Roscommon, and of course Seamus Duke was part of it.

But he was part also of so many other events, all of which are vividly delineated in this book. I loved in particular his account of the interview he did with George Best. Seamus was late coming to the interview because of traffic. Everyone had cleared away and the interviews were all over, and he thought he was finished. But not so. Seamus stayed the pace, and his reward was a wonderful one-to-one interview with such a famous footballer.

That’s only one incident but it serves to show, I think, how open Seamus Duke was and how open those he sought to interview were with him.

There are marvellous pages dealing with Albert Reynolds when he became the elected leader of the Fiana Fáil party and later on, of course, the Taoiseach.

Albert made a point of always dealing with Shannonside questioners first; even though the world’s media was around him, he still stuck to the old way he had of dealing with local media. No wonder he was immensely popular with them.

Seamus deals vividly with the Roscommon Hospital Action Group. So many people were seeking to have their voices heard, and the end result was not what anyone wanted, but it is told here vividly in each detail, and all of the dramatis personae who played their role in it.

In this autobiography, Seamus Duke is never nasty. He just gets involved in the issues of the day. I think of all the episodes which I enjoyed so much. I loved his whole involvement in Roscommon Gaels. He was a footballer through-and-through and an admirer of Roscommon, and he writes so vividly of the emergence of Roscommon to become a celebrity team in which he was so interested and played a very full role.

Seamus rollicks his way though all of his encounters with the media – Shannonside, Midlands 103 and then a stint in RTÉ in which he really excelled – and constantly going back to his GAA days.

All the familiar Roscommon names come jumping out of the pages – Sean Doherty, Terry Leyden, Liam Naughten, John Connor and all of the others. No matter what escapades they were all involved in, Seamus Duke never lost his cool, never fell out with any of them, and always appeared to give them a very fair hearing on his radio programme.

I myself was often on that programme and I always found him knowledgeable, full of the issues as they were, and determined that he would put the truth before the listeners. He worked hard and gave value wherever he worked, and that is a huge testimony to the book The Game of Life.

Football is definitely his first and lasting love, and he gives countless accounts of the excitement of the matches as they approached their pinnacle.

I love reading of his encounters with local newspapers, the Roscommon Champion, which was the local paper that everyone bought and adhered to, and the Roscommon Herald which was an all-county paper. He did great work with them, but always shining through in this autobiography is Seamus’ adaptability. Whether it’s radio or a GAA match, or an encounter with RTÉ or with local papers, Seamus Duke will be there and he’ll be well able to carry off the day.

It’s very difficult to actually pinpoint any one attraction because there are so many, and so varied. I can imagine many a person, weary after their Christmas dinner with loads of relatives and looking around on Stephen’s Day and saying ‘What will I do with myself? The TV is boring, all the company of these people is boring, but I know what I’ll do, I’ll read Dukie!’ And if you do, you’ll be enlivened with all of the many encounters, all of the many tussles he had with authority, but above all you’ll be enlivened by the sheer exuberant joy of this book. I cannot praise it enough. It is truly a one-off and they are very rare.

The pages are peopled with encounters with what might be vaguely called ‘important people’ but that’s not the point; the really important point is how Seamus Duke in The Game of Life interacts with every organisation he meets, with every group and with every person.

Dukie is to be read and enjoyed: get dug into it and reminisce about all that has been and of course all that remains yet to be done.

So I wholeheartedly applaud The Game of Life by Seamus Duke, which he has entitled Dukie. I think it is an important milestone on life in the Midlands and the greater outer regions of Roscommon, Galway and Mayo.

In my mind’s eye, Seamus Duke has many a tale yet to tell, but for the moment, indulge yourself and read this vivid exciting book.

Chapter 1……. from…………… DUKIE – The Game Of Life

Chapter 1 from DUKIE…..The Game of Life

Published on 11th November 2020

Just as the open-top bus turned right at the junction of Athlone Road and Goff Street, the heavens opened. Up ahead in Main Street and The Square, there were at least 10,000 people gathered, maybe as many as 15,000. The thunder roared and lightning lit up the sky, embracing the town. The rain fell in stair rods from the night sky. Nobody cared!
As the bus inched its way into the centre of Roscommon Town, the primrose and blue flags fluttered, the crowd shouting, chanting and singing in jubilation. Sheer joy. Roscommon had won the All-Ireland minor football title. Adding to the sense of almost indescribable satis faction was the fact that they had beaten Kerry. They had done so in a memorable, magical replay in Ennis. On this night, the little matter of a thunderstorm wasn’t going to interfere with the homecoming as the young Rossie heroes returned in triumph. Returned to their people. The Tom Markham Cup stood gleaming at the front of the bus.
For years Roscommon people had returned home from All-Ireland finals in Croke Park and other venues, heads bowed, hearts heavy. Envious, as others savoured All-Ireland glory. Roscommon is a great GAA county. We’ve had some success, but so often we’ve been the gallant losers.
There was always next year. Every year, there is next year.
Not this time. Not next year. Now. This year. This day. This night. Nothing that rain or thunder could change. This was a night of nights, the perfect wrap to a day of days.
Nobody saw it coming. Nobody knew such beauty lay ahead. When Kevin Higgins’ attempt for a point looped over the Galway goalkeeper and ended up in the back of the net midway through the second half in the Connacht minor football semi-final on Saturday evening, the 24th of June 2006 (at Dr Hyde Park), even the most optimistic Roscommon fan could not have predicted what would unfold during that remarkable summer.
Fergal O’Donnell had taken over as team manager. Roscommon had been unlucky not to win the 2005 Connacht title, so maybe the base was there. Fergal recognised the growing potential. Wouldn’t have taken the job otherwise. But it’s doubtful that he saw the scale of the greatness that would reveal itself.
O’Donnell, then in charge of Boyle U-21s, was approached about the county manager’s role by Roscommon minor board chairperson Brendan Cregg. The former county star was interested. He knew the minors had been unlucky in 2005. When he later accepted the offer, he drafted in a backroom team that included Stephen Bohan (who had been working with him in Boyle) and Decie Hoare (manager of Roscommon Gaels in 2005).
O’Donnell had come across Mark Dowd of Strokestown during a few great battles between that club and Boyle. James O’Boyle, a neighbour of Fergal’s, joined on stats. James Bracken, described by O’Donnell as a great organiser, was brought on board too. Charlie Ward was a great help as secretary, as was Brendan Cregg. Ollie Kelly was also there with support, as were Fergal’s good friends Ross Shannon and Liam McNeill. Good foundations.
In early 2006, expectations were modest. In three ominous challenge games, Roscommon were hammered by Armagh, and well beaten by Westmeath and Fermanagh. The Connacht Minor League campaign didn’t offer much hope either, no sense that an open-top bus would be required. That league campaign saw defeats to Mayo, Galway and Leitrim, and a narrow win against Sligo. At least the performances began to improve as the provincial championship neared.
Fergal and his backroom team brought an impressive professionalism in terms of preparation. Analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of opposing teams was now on a level not previously seen in Roscommon. Things were being done right. Fergal knew the team was improving. He knew, because every detail was being covered, every effort made. Still, the champion ship performance against Galway in June, on the night of Kevin Higgins’ goal, was little more than mediocre.
Fergal O’Donnell: “Galway were strong up front. They had a number of good forwards but they shot a lot of wides that night. They had Gary O’Donnell and Paul Conroy out in the middle of the field…an abiding memory of that game is that David Flynn gave a great performance and Mark McLoughlin was also excellent. The goal from Kevin Higgins was vital. We won in the end by four. I remember meeting Eamon McManus Junior after that match and he said to me ‘any day Roscommon beats Galway or Mayo in the championship is a good day’. He was right”.
Prior to the final against Mayo, Roscommon lost Niall Carty, injured in a challenge against Dublin in Kinnegad. He would return later in the year.
Mayo were favourites to win, but Roscommon were a revelation in MacHale Park, showing great intensity, organisation and skill. The Roscommon defence was magnificent, while Donie Shine was deadly accurate from the placed ball. Suddenly, guys like Peter Domican, Stephen Ormsby, Paul Gleeson, David Keenan, David O’Gara, Keith Waldron, Conor Devaney, Paul and Colm Garvey and Fintan Cregg were coming to the fore. Before summer was out, they would be household names – and heroes.
Roscommon’s 0-12 to 0-9 win in that final was a tremendous boost, beating Galway and Mayo en route to a Connacht title a wonderful achievement. It was also a signal of intent, a subtle declaration of ambition. I remember interviewing Fergal O’Donnell at the full-time whistle. He wouldn’t admit it at the time, but I knew that he knew that he had a great team in his care.
As a few hundred Roscommon fans swarmed on to the pitch to celebrate with management and fans, stewards soon discovered the day would be a bit more physically demanding than anticipated. Midst good humour and joy, the stewards had a busy few minutes, running left, right and centre as they tried to round up ecstatic Rossie fans. The urgency was down to the fact that the senior final was due to start. As far as many of the Roscommon fans were concerned, the day’s main business was actually over.
Fergal O’Donnell: “James O’Boyle’s dad had passed away that morning. James still came to the match with us which was a huge boost for the group. Pearce Hanley was Mayo’s main player. But they had some other fine players like Tom Parsons, Donal Vaughan and Kevin McLoughlin. Hanley was outstanding. We were under pressure in defence that day but I remember Paul Gleeson having a stormer of a game after we switched him. Cian Smith came on as a sub and played well. David Flynn actually had a great game on Hanley. All the players on the team were beginning to come to the fore and develop. Conor (Devaney), Fintan (Cregg) and Donie (Shine) were super too, and we were managing to cope without Niall Carty. It was an unexpected win because Mayo had been in the All-Ireland final the previous year. To win in MacHale Park was a great achievement”.
The journey continued. Tipperary were up next. The All-Ireland quarter-final was played in O’Connor Park in Tullamore. Roscommon encountered very few problems in a 1-12 to 0-6 win. Conor Devaney put a penalty away before half-time. It gave Roscommon some breathing space. Keith Waldron and Alan O’Hara both did well when introduced, evidence that the panel was getting stronger. The win was a comfortable one. There was a sense of real momentum. Now, crowds were travelling to support the team. Of the 2,000 or so present in Tullamore, the vast majority were from West of the Shannon.
Meath would be Roscommon’s opposition in the All-Ireland semi-final at Croke Park, curtain-raiser on a programme that included Leitrim playing Louth in the final of the much-maligned Tommy Murphy Cup, and Mayo facing Dublin in the All-Ireland SFC semi-final. Croke Park would be packed to the rafters for this triple-header.
That minor semi-final was tense. Another Conor Devaney penalty was the key score, Roscommon prevailing by 1-10 to 0-9. Fergal O’Donnell: “We had several players who could have been man of the match that day. Paul and Colm Garvey, Conor Devaney, Fintan Cregg and Stephen Ormsby were superb. We got our match-ups right. Colm Garvey was marking Graham Reilly and had a great game. Our defence was excellent. Stephen Ormsby, Paul Gleeson and Niall Carty could all switch positions easily. David Flynn was always marking the best player in the opposition attack. Against Meath he was on Shane O’Rourke and he was super again. Not alone did he mark him but he was great driving forward too. Then we had Donie on the frees. He was nailing them all, and a lot of the 45s too. It was so important to have such a good free-taker”.
Now the county had a team in a major All-Ireland final at headquarters on the third Sunday in September. It had been a long wait since the senior final in 1980. For that semi-final win, I was in the Hogan Stand. The press box was full to capacity because there were six different teams in action. Willie Hegarty and Donie Shine were on duty for Shannonside, and there were no extra seats for ‘analysts’. When the minor match was over, hundreds of Roscommon fans gathered at the bar under the Hogan Stand. People were giddy with excitement. A final – 6 – – 7 – showdown with Kerry awaited. The realisation was beginning to hit home. It was some feeling.
The senior semi-final that day was probably one of the greatest games ever seen at the famous old stadium, Mayo coming back from the dead against Dublin, the mercurial Ciarán McDonald kicking a wonder score in injury-time to give them a sensational one-point win. What a day!
In the local media business, there is nothing that beats the build-up to an All-Ireland final, the biggest day in Irish sport. There was such excitement. Tickets were at a premium, although it was quite unbelievable how many Roscommon fans were able to source some.
In Roscommon, while many different sports are participated in and enjoyed, it’s our county football teams that come closest to rep resenting our identity, who we are. Now everyone in the county, and Roscommon people worldwide, had so much to look forward to.
Of course we were outsiders. The pre-match narrative was predictable, and probably not unreasonable. Kerry don’t lose finals. Especially against counties such as Roscommon. The Kingdom were hot favourites. Had our young heroes gone as far as they realistically could go?
***
On Sunday, 17th of September, 2006, Roscommon and Kerry lined up in the All-Ireland minor football final. On a beautiful day at HQ, the teams provided the capacity crowd with a fantastic spectacle. Kerry, graced with magnificent players like Tommy Walsh, Johnny Buckley and Paddy Curran, soared into a 0-7 to 0-2 lead early on. Kerry swagger and all that. Ominous. Thankfully, O’Donnell and his selectors made a few changes, and they worked. Resilient and determined, the young Rossies grew into the game.
Fergal O’Donnell: “I’ll always remember we were five points down…David Flynn won a free through pure bravery and it gave everyone a lift. The second half was a superb contest. We played some mighty stuff in that second period and you know we had a few bad wides too. Once we settled we were well in it.
“We took off Mark McLoughlin and Kevin Higgins…bringing on Niall Carty and Keith Waldron was not weakening the team as most of the players were of a similar high standard at that stage. The panel was strong.
“I can remember towards the end of the game…Mark (Miley) went short with a kick-out…he gave it to Paddy Curran and he put it over the bar. If it was a goal at that stage we were in big trouble. But Mark Miley had a magnificent championship and never conceded a goal all year, which was some achievement”.
It was close, very close. Ecstasy or agony? When Kerry corner-forward Curran kicked a point in injury-time to put the Kingdom into the lead, high up in the press box, my heart was pounding. Was it going to be another heartbreaking day in Croke Park for Roscommon?
Then Donie Shine faced a ’45. If he converted it, the teams would be level, and extra-time would follow. Hearts in mouths time. Despair as the ball fell short. Roscommon a point down. Tension then as the ball broke to a Rossie. Suddenly it was in the hands of David O’Gara, just to the left of the goals at the Davin Stand end of the ground. Time seemed to stop still as the cool Roscommon Gaels man cleverly poked it over from a narrow angle. Scores level, 0-15 apiece. A dramatic end to a tremendous game of football. Replay. The Rossies were still alive.
Fergal O’Donnell: “I think it was David Keenan who won the ball when it broke from the ’45 and he kept it alive. What a swivel and shot from David O’Gara to get the score. It was class.
“There was a strange kind of a feeling after the game. I remember my father (Derry) saying to me sure wasn’t it great to draw with Kerry in an All-Ireland final. We were still in it and now we knew that we could be competitive with them”.
This time I was in the press box in the Hogan Stand, reunited with a breathless duo, Willie Hegarty and Donie Shine. The press box is on the 7th floor in Croke Park. When the game is over the media are brought in a special lift down to the dressing room area for the post-match interviews. The minors tog out under the Cusack Stand and the media have to walk in the service tunnel under the vast stadium which surrounds the pitch to get to the dressing room area.
It took a while to get everything done and dusted over at the Cusack Stand side of the ground. As the senior game between Kerry and Mayo had started, I could hear the cheers of the crowd. But from where I was, I couldn’t see any of the actual play. Could Mayo break their duck against the mighty Kerry?
I got into the lift in the Hogan and went back to the 7th floor. There were 12 minutes gone in the senior game. When I glanced at the scoreboard, it read Kerry 2-4 Mayo 0-0. I looked at Donie Shine.
“Jesus, is there something wrong with the scoreboard?”
“No nothing at all. It’s dead right, this game is over”.
It was too. Kerry, led by the majestic Colm Cooper, ran through Mayo with ease. It was another desperately disappointing day for Mayo in an All-Ireland senior final.
The GAA authorities had chosen Ennis for our minor replay, just six days after the draw. Roscommon fans who couldn’t get tickets for Croke Park could now breathe more easily. The capacity of Cusack Park was about 18,000, and expectations were that five or six thousand people would be the maximum attendance. Little did any of us know what was about to happen.
The game, fixed for 3 pm on the Saturday, was being shown live on TG4. That meant little to Roscommon people. They had taken this team to their hearts. They wanted to be there. In the flesh. One of Roscommon’s greatest GAA men, Fergal O’Donnell, was the inspirational manager, and the will to win and never-say-die attitude of the players had endeared all involved to the supporters. Roscommon is a small county and not many people outside its borders realise just how passionate we are about Gaelic football. The following for the game in the county is massive.
This was now a communal odyssey.
The Saturday morning of the replay was dark and murky. The entire Duke family left Roscommon Town at about a quarter to ten. Many thousands of Roscommon people were beginning the same trek. The game was well down the weekend’s national sporting agenda as the Ryder Cup was taking place at The K Club in Kildare, in front of the world’s sporting media. Never mind. We had our own date with destiny.
It was clear, early into our journey, that something very special was happening. This was a pilgrimage. A constant line of cars was making its way southwards. In Gort the traffic was bumper to bumper, and it wasn’t even noon!
We got a parking spot in Ennis shortly before 1 o’clock. The scene there was simply amazing. There were Roscommon people everywhere…walking, in the pubs, in shops, chatting on street corners. Rossies here, Rossies there, Rossies everywhere. It was the closest thing to a spiritual experience outside of a religious setting. Like Moses leading his people to the promised land, Fergie O’Donnell and his team had brought an entire county (almost) to Ennis.
My wife Teresa and I and our four young daughters were very fortunate to get seated in the corner of a pub/restaurant. It was chaotic, in a positive feelgood way. Ennis was certainly not prepared for the friendly invasion it was experiencing. The sense of occasion was special.
At about 1.30 pm I left to go down to the pitch. Teresa and the kids were heading for the terrace opposite the stand. I joined Donie Shine and Willie Hegarty for the Shannonside commentary in the radio box, a cramped little room situated on top of the main stand. Brian Carthy was covering the game for RTE Radio and was accompanied by the then Tyrone manager Mickey Harte.
As the throw-in time neared, the scenes were remarkable. Roscommon fans piled into the stadium, a meandering primrose and blue human chain. If the capacity of the ground was 18,000 then there were surely up to 16,000 Roscommon people there.
Reports started to emerge via overworked mobile phones that thousands of Roscommon people were stuck in traffic jams on their way into Ennis. There were some great tales told afterwards of people abandoning their cars at 3 o’clock to get to the nearest pub to watch the match on TV.
Eventually the throw-in came, and with it mounting tension. No hiding place now. Roscommon started on the front foot. They dominated the play but struggled to put Kerry away. David O’Gara scrambled in a goal just before half-time. Roscommon’s dominance finally told in the last ten minutes with a string of unanswered points. Donie Shine was fantastic, but every player on the field that day played a part.
Fergal O’Donnell: “It was a nervy, edgy game all through. I was only happy when the final whistle went, to be honest. We got a lucky break for the goal but they came back again after that and got a few scores. We finished the game well. Donie Shine and Niall Carty were great and Alan O’Hara and Cathal McHugh came on to clinch the win. The defence in particular did well that day too. Every player in that group was a fantastic footballer. We didn’t know that at the start of the year but as it went on they all developed. They were superb. Almost every one of those lads went on to play at a very high level for years after and many are still playing”.
It was only with a few minutes to go that it began to dawn on me that we were actually going to win this All-Ireland title. I thought about my late father and how much he loved going to Roscommon matches. I thought about my brothers, Frank and Declan, both of whom had played for Roscommon at all levels. I thought of all the great Roscommon players, many of them personal friends of mine, who had never won an All-Ireland title despite years of trying. I became emotional and felt the tears welling up. It was probably unprofessional to be heard in that state on the radio, but would we ever have a day like this again?
The final whistle saw the raw emotion of so many years of disappointment manifest itself as Roscommon people raced onto the pitch to acclaim these young heroes. Soon the entire playing area was covered with Rossies, young and old. Many a tear was shed as the reality of the achievement dawned.
In the midst of the mayhem, Fergal O’Donnell tried to do an interview with RTE’s Jim Carney. Usually reserved and cautious, Fergal wore the grin of a man who understood the enormity of this. As a joyous chaos unfolded around him, Fergal spoke about his pride and sense of achievement.
When I got to the dressing room, I was one of a couple of hundred people present in an area designed for maybe 30 or 40. Bedlam. The players were mobbed, people hugging one another and screaming with joy. Dermot Earley had a grin as broad as the River Shannon on his face. This legend of Roscommon football was overcome with emotion.
“What a great day” he said to me as we embraced. I don’t think I had ever seen him as excited. One of the finest GAA men we ever had was in tears on this memorable day in the Banner County. He was not alone.
Barry Molloy was there too. Barry captained Roscommon when they won their last All-Ireland minor title, way back in 1951. Former players from every era who represented the county with distinction over the years joined in the celebrations. Officials, team managers and selectors milled around. No one was in any hurry to go home. Roscommon had beaten Kerry in an All-Ireland final. Were we dreaming or was it real?
Fergal recalls the madness that unfolded after the final whistle. “The scene out on the pitch was unbelievable. To look out on a sea of Roscommon people was savage. There were just so many people there to share in it all. It was brilliant.
“Any of us would have said at some stage it would be great to win an All-Ireland when we are young – and of course you are hoping it’s going to happen – but deep down you have doubts.
“Then when we got back to the dressing room Dermot Earley was there and that was a huge thing for us and for the players as he had been a great help to us during the year. He was such an inspirational figure.
“Then when we came out afterwards I remember that Gay Sheerin’s mother (a mighty Rossie fan) was there and my own family and mother and father were there and Niall (his son) wanted to come with us on the bus! It was a great feeling of contentment”.
An hour after the final whistle had blown, there were still hundreds of Roscommon people out on the field, anxious to savour every minute of an historic day.
We left Ennis at about 6.30 that evening. Teresa and the kids were so excited. I was thrilled that they had been part of one of our greatest days. On the way home the traffic was still crazy. It was long before the advent of satellite navigation, and I took what I thought was a short cut. To this day I still can’t remember what way we came home, but even though it seemed like we were driving for hours it just didn’t matter. Nothing would dampen our spirits that evening.
Seamus Maher’s name flashed up on my phone. The County Board Secretary asked would I act as MC at the homecoming for the team in The Square in Roscommon town later that night. I could barely get the words “of course I will” out of my mouth! What an honour it was to be asked. I been there to see this wonderful Roscommon victory, now I would be the one to welcome the team back into the county town, the cup in their embrace.
When we got back to Roscommon at about 9 pm, the town was already buzzing. In the Church Street Station pub, which I was co-leasing at that time, a huge crowd had gathered. The atmosphere was sensational. Replays of the match were on a loop on the TV, the fans cheering every score. Des Whyte, a mighty Oran man, a great friend of mine and sponsor of the Roscommon team, was in the bar with friends. I had never seen Des as excited or emotional.
The team had been to Padraig Pearses, then to Clann na nGael in Johnstown, then in Kiltoom. In Knockcroghery, they called into Roscommon’s finest, Jimmy Murray. It was an emotional call too as the great Jimmy held the cup aloft in his famous bar. More tears were shed. Fergal O’Donnell: “We travelled around the country to get home that night to try to avoid the traffic. Our bus driver was a guy called Sean from Mayo and he was great craic. He was with us for most of the year and the lads liked him. We stopped at Pearses and then at Johnstown, in Kiltoom and then in Knockcroghery. We were listening to Shannonside on the bus and there were requests coming in from all over the county, which was great. But little did we know what was waiting for us when we got to Roscommon Town”.
The open-top bus was ready at Dr Hyde Park to bring its young VIPs to The Square. When news came through that the heroes were in town, the cheering started, and the heavens opened. Tears of joy.
I was incredibly proud to introduce Fergal, his selectors and the players. The huge crowd roared. The captain, David Flynn, spoke brilliantly. Roscommon people had travelled in their thousands to Ennis. They had seen this great Roscommon team lift the Tom Markham Cup. Now they were home.
Fergal O’Donnell: “We were totally taken aback at the size of the crowds. We were kind of worried, because these were minors after all, and we had a responsibility to look after them as a management team. The speeches went off great and we saw what it meant to people.
“We went down to the Royal Hotel after that and the players could meet their families. There was actually a strange sense of emptiness when we got into the hotel, because that was it. It was a rollercoaster year of training, matches and meetings – and we were always looking ahead – but we had won it and now it was all over. Still, it was a fantastic night.
“We were together for the presentation and we had a great 10th anniversary reunion but the feeling out on the pitch in Ennis and in the dressing room afterwards and the reaction in Roscommon town that night, words just can’t describe it”.
When the formal homecoming was over, I went back to the ‘Church Street Station’ pub. It was still packed. Des Whyte and several friends were still there, holding court in the front bar. As the night went on, we relived every minute of the action. I have never seen so many happy people in the same place. Songs were sung and stories were told. A truly magical night.
Much later (early morning) the Guards called to the front door. It was Seargent Charlie McDonnell, himself a great GAA man. “Come on lads it’s time to stop serving” he said – and he was right. The day was over. Except, not quite. I rang Larry O’Gara in Rockford’s Nightclub, to see if there was ‘anything happening’. Larry said to come down, but not to bring anyone with us.
Des Whyte had an obliging driver at that stage. There were still thousands of people on the streets as our car inched along, its occupants refusing to let this night escape.
Entering Rockford’s via the back door, we quickly met up with Fergal O’Donnell and some of the backroom team. The hours passed quickly. Soon it was morning. I didn’t want that day to end. What’s seldom is wonderful.
Fergal O’Donnell is a very modest man who has always paid tribute to his fellow selectors and the players when that epic year of 2006 is recalled. I will leave the final word to one of his star players, Conor Devaney.
Looking back on that famous win and the meticulous preparation that Fergal introduced into their training regime, Conor, speaking in 2019, said: “He was great. He was going into things in far more detail in terms of opposition analysis and our own analysis than a lot of other managers would have been at that level at that time. I think that’s something that stood to us, even when it came to the two All-Ireland finals against Kerry.
“We had done a lot of work on opposition kick-outs, all of the stuff that is nearly second nature to teams now, but which I don’t think would have been common back then, certainly in the minor grade. It was the first time I ever came across it. The players really bought into it. He was a great man to have in charge”.
Fergal played a massive part in a day and a campaign that we will never forget.
Meanwhile, back in Roscommon, that day and night finally ended. But they live on in our hearts, and will do so forever.
The Roscommon team that lined out in the drawn game against Kerry was: Mark Miley; Paul Gleeson, Mark McLoughlin, Stephen Ormsby; Peter Domican, David Flynn (captain), Colm Garvey; David Keenan, Kevin Higgins; Conor Devaney (0-5, 1 free), James McKeague, Donie Shine (0-6, 4 frees); Paul Garvey, Fintan Cregg (0-1), David O’Gara (0-2). Subs: Niall Carty for McLoughlin, Keith Waldron (0-1) for Higgins, Alan O’Hara for Garvey, Cian Smith for McKeague. The Roscommon team that lined out in the replay in Ennis was: Mark Miley; Peter Domican, Paul Gleeson, Stephen Ormsby; Niall Carty, David Flynn (captain), Colm Garvey; David Keenan, Donie Shine (0-6, 4 frees); Conor Devaney (0-1), James McKeague, Keith Waldron; Paul Garvey, Fintan Cregg (0-1), David O’Gara (1-1). Subs used: Cathal McHugh for McKeague, Alan O’Hara (0-1) for Garvey.
Just over a year after Roscommon won that thrilling All-Ireland title, Cian Smith from Boyle was diagnosed with throat cancer. He was treated at St. Vincent’s Hospital. There was a huge outpouring of concern and goodwill for Cian as he battled for his life. Large crowds attended masses in Boyle and throughout the county to pray for the young man. Thankfully he made a full recovery. The bond that that minor team had established with the people of Roscommon was clearly evident during that dark time. Cian has since got married (to Michelle). As I write, he is manager of the Boyle senior football team. He comes from a fantastic GAA family. His father Mike, or ‘Junior’ as he is probably better known, a great friend of mine, was a prominent player for Boyle and Roscommon. His brothers Enda and Donie have been Roscommon stars for most of the past decade and nicer lads you could not meet.

Further details on 086-8335380 or from PKSupplies.ie

Pre Christmas Gathering in Dublin for book sales.

On Tuedsay night 14th December I will be at O’Reilly’s The Roselawn Inn in Blanchardstown between 7.30pm and closing time with copies of the book to meet all our Roscommon friends in Dublin.
There is plenty of free parking outside and people can come and go as they please.

If you are in Dublin come along and say hello on the night.

Thanks a million

The book is available locally at for sale at The Roscommon People offices, John Corcoran Menswear, Eight Til’ Late, Casey’s Roscommon, Supervalu Main Street Roscommon, Newsround Roscommon and Longford, Mulvey’s Carrick on Shannon, Timothy’s Londis Roscommon, O’Brien’s Corner House Lanesboro, Dawn Till Dusk Strokestown, Cahill’s Supervalu Castlerea. Kelly’s Supervalu Boyle, Cooney Motors Boyle, Londis Boyle, Killorans Ballyfarnon, Newsround Ballaghaderreen, Duffy’s Supervalu Ballaghandereen, Burgess Bookshop Athlone, Naughten’s Ballydangan, Supervalu Monksland and Sammons Ballinasloe.

Nationwide the distribution is being handled by Padraig Kelly PKSupplies.ie

Or contact Seamus Duke on 086-8335380

50 years of Dr Hyde Park

On the 20th of June 1971 a further chapter began in Roscommon GAA when a new county ground was opened in Roscommon Town. It was called Dr Hyde Park. The first Connacht SFC game played at the new venue was between Roscommon and Sligo and it was a game that didn’t live long in the memory as a Mickey Kearins-led Sligo beat Roscommon by 0-10 to 1-5.

In fact the first ever competitive game played in Dr Hyde Park 50 years ago was the curtain-raiser that day which was an U-14 county final between Roscommon Gaels and St Michael’s. The player to have the honour of being the first to score at the new venue was Roscommon Gaels player Greg McCrann who scored a point early in that final. In fact Greg went on to win an All Ireland U-21 medal with Roscommon when they beat Kerry also at Dr Hyde Park in some years later 1978.

The land where Dr Hyde Park now stands was known as ‘Raftery’s Field’. It was owned by a man called Brodie Raftery from Glenamaddy. The field had seen some GAA action in the past and the 1943 county final was played there between St Patrick’s and Strokestown.

The Roscommon county GAA grounds had been located at St Coman’s Park in Roscommon town. However that pitch flooded during the winter time and after it was determined that it could not be drained, a group of local GAA people got together to buy land in the town area to develop it as a county ground. Raftery’s Field was purchased in 1969 for a sum in the region of 3,000 pounds. A local committee had been set up to raise the funding required for the purchase of the field and to develop a county ground.

I can vividly recall that as school children attending Roscommon CBS, Brother Dwyer and Brother Coffey both of whom were heavily involved in the GAA, brought us all out to Dr Hyde Park on a regular basis to pick stones from the new pitch. I remember Dick Hughes and Ned Casey driving the tractors as the pitch was prepared to become a major county GAA ground.

The surrounds consisted of three grass banks and a bank of concrete seats- which are still there. The dressing rooms were situated in the Hyde Community Centre and the players had to walk a couple of hundred yards through the crowds to get to the pitch on the day of a big game. The present dressing rooms were only built in the early 1990’s

Many people who were around at the time will find it hard to believe that Dr Hyde Park is in existence for 50 years. There has been plenty of drama and excitement there over the years both at club and county level.

In terms of the county scene my own personal highlights were the 1977 SFC final win against Galway which was Roscommon’s first senior Connacht win at the venue.
Winning the 1978 All Ireland U-21 title at Dr Hyde Park was a day that no one who was present will ever forget as Roscommon overturned a highly fancied Kerry team in front of a huge crowd.
The Connacht SFC wins in 1990 and 1991 (replay) were very special days too. In 1990 (v Galway) it was Roscommon’s first senior title in 10 years while the following year, to beat Mayo in Hyde Park in a replay was especially sweet.

The replayed Connacht final against Galway in 1998 was also a very special day. The atmosphere that Saturday evening was something I shall never forget as both teams went hammer and tongs in a very high quality game. A goal from Michael Donnellan in extra time settled the issue, but it was some occasion.

However, the win for Roscommon against Mayo in the 2001 final was probably the most dramatic and exciting day that I recall at Dr Hyde Park. A beautiful day, a massive crowd, and a last minute goal from Gerry Lohan to win by a single point. It doesn’t get any better than that. It’s hard to believe but that’s the last Connacht senior title that Roscommon have won in ‘The Hyde’.

The facilities at Dr Hyde Park have been upgraded over the years but most people would agree that a further major overhaul is well past time at the moment. Terracing on three sides was added in the 1990’s while in the early 00’s a 3,500 seater stand was built. In addition a new pitch was laid in 2017 and after years of problems with the surface it is now recognized as one of the best in the country.

But with strict ‘Health and Safety’ guidelines in place the capacity of Dr Hyde Park has been reduced from 30,000 to 18,500 in the past five years hence the urgent need to upgrade the facilities at the stadium. The ease of access and it’s ideal central location makes it a fantastic venue for big games all year around.

The responsibility for the upkeep and the running of Dr Hyde Park now rests with Roscommon county board following an agreement drawn up with the Roscommon Gaels club. I spent over 20 years on the Hyde Park Committee at one stage and I know about the huge efforts that have been made over the years by many people to keep the stadium running.

There have been so many memorable moments at Dr Hyde Park over the years,at club level it would take many articles to cover even some of them.

Dr Hyde Park has been part and parcel of the fabric of Roscommon life for 50 years now and with the Connacht semi-final coming up between Roscommon and Galway on July the 4th that legacy is set to continue for many decades more. It is the earnest hope of everyone that the crowds will soon be back at ‘The Hyde’.

We have seen the greatest players in gaelic football over the past 50 years play at Dr Hyde Park and some great hurlers too. The park has brought great excitement and drama to Roscommon Town in that time not to mention badly needed business on the weekends of big games. Sadly the pandemic has put a temporary stop to all that but hopefully things will be back to normal on that score very soon.

The people involved in the Hyde Park Committee from 1969 to 1972 and who were responsible for the purchase and development of Dr Hyde Park were: Barry Molloy, Dr Donal Keenan, John Joe Fahey, Frank Lannon, Michael Mulry, Michael Cassidy, Paddy O’Connor, Paddy O’Donovan, T.S. O Dolain, Seamus Hunt, Willie Gilmartin, Seamus Duke, Jimmy Costello, Brother Coffey, Brother Dwyer, Gabriel Keating, Mick Hoare, Michael Stephens, Tony Robinson, Jackie Brennan, PJ Oates, Paddy Walshe, Bernie Hoare.

(from The Roscommon People)

FRANKIE DOLAN – A GREAT PLAYER FOR CLUB AND COUNTY

OUTSIDE OF THE RIGHT- FRANKIE DOLAN TELLS HIS STORY

In any conversation about the best Roscommon footballers over the past 25 years Frankie Dolan would have to be near the top or indeed at the top of those rankings. The St Brigid’s and Roscommon forward was a brilliant player for club and county and he had a wonderful playing career.
But it is only when reading his autobiography ‘Outside of the Right’ (written with the assistance of our own Dan Dooner) that one remembers just how colourful a career it has been both on and off the field. But in the end it was his talent as a footballer that shone through and there are many great stories from Frankie about some of the biggest days in Roscommon and St Brigid’s football history over the past quarter of a century and some off the field incidents too which makes it a very memorable memoir.
Even Frankie himself will admit that over the years he fell foul of officialdom both on and off the field. Yes, there were some people whom he felt let him down over his career but his passion for the game always shines through.
Having played mostly Soccer for various clubs, including Athlone Town and Bohemians until he was 17 he settled for Gaelic Football with St Brigid’s and Roscommon.

The breakthrough for St Brigid’s to win the senior championship in 1997 evokes fond memories for Frankie in his first year playing senior. “We won the minor in 1996 and myself and John Tiernan and a couple of others were brought into the senior squad.”
“ The club got in John O’Mahony as manager and it was a great appointment. He trained us very hard and we ended up winning the championship. We beat Clann na nGael in the final by a point. We were lucky enough in the end. Paul McManus was inured for Clann and it was probably fitness that got us through that day. But it was a huge win for the club.” It was a first senior title for Brigid’s in 28 years.

Another very interesting assertion in Frankie’s book is his admiration for Gay Sheerin who he says was the best and most passionate Roscommon senior team manager he played for during his career. “I was so sorry for Gay the way his tenure finished up (defeat to Leitrim in the Connacht Championship in Dr Hyde Park in 2000). We should have been 12 to 15 points up at half-time that day and we collapsed in the second half. That loss was certainly not Gay Sheerin’s fault. It was down to us players on the field. We let him down. He took the blame for that defeat and it was very unfair.”
“All Gay Sheerin wanted was the best for Roscommon football and that was unlike some of the other people that managed Roscommon over the years, who probably wanted the best for themselves. I know that you always have a soft spot for the manager who brings you in to the county set up, but Gay was a great Roscommon man. I have great time for him “he said.

One of Roscommon’s most memorable wins in the past 25 years was the dramatic last minute victory against Mayo in the Connacht final in Dr Hyde Park in 2001 and while the details of that match are well known, one thing that I was just made aware of in the book was that the Roscommon players actually walked out to Dr Hyde Park that day from the Abbey Hotel. “It was great craic to be honest. We walked out the Golf Links Road. There was great banter from the supporters and I think it made the players more relaxed. I think it was a great idea but you wouldn’t see it happening today.”

Even though Frankie had so much success on the field for club and county the book would not be complete without a reference to the infamous ‘naked pool’ incident in Derry which made national news at the time and which led to the disbandment of the senior football panel. Frankie says that the whole saga was handled very badly by the county board. “The county board and the team management could have tried to sort something out at the time. Look, it is something that should not have happened, but having said that I have seen things a hundred times worse over the years. What we did was probably stupid but it was harmless. But the full blame was heaped on just two players (Frankie and Nigel Dineen) and we didn’t get any support at all.”
“I didn’t go to the meeting when they disbanded the team but I knew what was coming. It was an easy way out for the county board to blame the players. That whole thing really annoyed me.”
“I was injured then after that and had an operation (shoulder) and was really down in the dumps. I was unemployed and I went off to Australia for six months in 2002 and it was the best thing I ever did. I cleared my head, I did a bit of training and I was ready for action when I came back for 2003 and I had the hunger back.”
That year was Frankie’s best in a Roscommon county jersey. Roscommon under Tommy Carr went on a run in the qualifiers and Frankie weighed in with some sensational performances scoring 12 points against Offaly in Mullingar and he followed that up with an even better performance scoring 0-13 against Kildare the following week. Many people saw Frankie as a shoo-in for an All Star but it didn’t happen. Frankie was disappointed but is philosophical about it. “We had a good year as a team and I played well but it was just one of those things.”

On winning the club All Ireland in 2013 Frankie says that the team were building every year in terms of experience and the All Ireland semi-final win against Crossmaglen in Mullingar that year was one of the most intense championship games he was ever involved in. “That was the day when we really won that All Ireland. They (Cross) were such a great team. That was some game. There was everything in it. There was great play, rows, hard hits, great scores, a huge crowd and incredible intensity. It was brilliant stuff and probably the best big game that I ever played in. To beat Crossmaglen and then beat the Dublin champions in the final to win an All Ireland was some achievement and one that I am very proud of.”

Frankie says that mental health is a huge issue for players and he maintains that thankfully there is help for players out there now but that was not the case when he was involved and especially when there was any controversy. “In 2002 there was absolutely no help out there at all (after the pool incident). If that happened now it would be a totally different situation and there would be plenty of people there to help. But at that time myself and Nigel really suffered and it was very unfair. There was no one there to give us advice or to chat to us about it at all. We were totally hung out to dry. I mean I left the country as a result of what happened because I couldn’t put up with the hassle. I never realised what I was going through until I spoke to someone about it. I went to a counsellor and it really helped me I have to say and I was able to move on afterwards. People’s mental health is a very important issue.”

Needless to say that Frankie is not content to slip into the backround over the next few years. He is involved in the development of a revolutionary new sports aid called the ‘Ball Hive Pro Rebounder’ which can be used as a training aid by teams playing any kinds of ball sports. He has teamed up with Fergal Kelly for this new venture. “There has been huge interest in the rebounder and we have had interest from a couple of Premier League clubs in the UK and we are hoping to develop the product for use in the UK and USA as well as in Ireland. The covid situation has held us up but we are hoping to get back on track soon.”
Frankie has enlisted the help of well known Ballyforan man Padraig Kelly help distribute his book. “Padraig is a great guy, an Aidan’s man who is now living in Kiltoom and he has loads of connections and contacts throughout the country and he will be a great asset to me to get the book out there. “

Frankie continues to ply his trade as a very popular postman and lives in Roscommon Town with his wife Caroline and sons Ryen and Jack. He says he decided to write the book to give people an insight into what the real Frankie Dolan is like. “It’s not something that I was ever interested in but several people were asking me to do it and when the lockdown came I thought it might be a good way of passing the time. A lot of people have a perception of what kind of a person Frankie Dolan is but people that know me know what I’m like and that this tries to set the record straight.” He concluded.

What’s included in this interview barely skims the surface of what is a cracking good read. If you have been a follower of Roscommon club and county football and want a different perspective told with striking honesty and clarity then I recommend this highly and I wish him the best of luck with it.
‘Outside of the Right’ the Frankie Dolan Biography by Frankie Dolan and Dan Dooner is on sale now at all good book shops and online and is priced at 17.99 Euro.

(From The Roscommon People)

DARKNESS INTO LIGHT FUNDRAISER

The focus on mental health was never as important.

This weekend the annual ‘Darkness Into Light’ fund-raiser will take place. Every year it assists Pieta House in the vital work they do to assist people who are in suicidal distress and who engage in self-harm. But after what society has experienced with the pandemic over the past 14 months the whole area of mental health has now assumed a much higher level of importance.
Speaking to many people over the past few months like postmen and women, GP’s, sports team managers, priests, public representatives and other community leaders, we now have a massive problem on our hands that will only be revealed fully as our society returns to normal.
The amount of isolation and loneliness was a problem in our society before covid but now it’s on a whole new level.
There are hundreds of thousands of people, many of them elderly, who are living on their own and many of them have had little or no inter action with any other human beings for over 12 months. Even if these people were willing to return to some kind of social inter-action in the next few months they will find it very difficult to do so.
In addition have the hundreds of thousands of people who have lost their jobs and their businesses. Some of those jobs and businesses will probably be gone forever. People have mortgages, bills to pay and children to educate. Despite the good news about the vaccination roll-out the future is very bleak for many people.
A job gives a person self-worth and status regardless of what it is. Unemployment is a scourge, and people who have too music time on their hands are prime candidates to suffer mental health problems.
Our young people have been seriously affected too. Third level students have been stuck at home with no social inter-action, no part time jobs, and no fun. Life should not be like this for them.
There are so many aspects to the triggers for mental health problems. Losing loved ones and not being able to grieve properly, no family celebrations like weddings, birthday parties, anniversaries, holidays, shopping trips, sporting events, dances, night clubs, theatres and cinemas. The list goes on and on.
There are three cohorts of people in our society who have been affected in vastly different ways by what has happened over the past 14 months. One section of society has prospered, people who have kept their jobs and who have saved lots of money because they have not been able to spend it. There are businesses who have prospered too and good luck to them all.
There is another section who have not been affected one way or the other by the pandemic. Their lives are much the same as before.
But then there is a huge number of people who have been devastated by covid 19 and one of the by-products of it all will be a massive upsurge in mental health problems and that will include isolation, strange behaviour, self-harm and suicide.

The Darkness Into Light fund-raiser was never more important.

Support it if you can.

Snooker Classic

FANS RETURN MAKES CRUCIBLE FINAL A TREAT

Another week of lockdown but it has to be admitted there is certainly light beginning to appear at the end of the tunnel. On Monday night last, as the biting cold wind and torrential rain raged outside (a great night for outdoor dining and drinking!) I sat beside the fire and watched the final of the World Snooker Championship unfold at the Crucible Theatre.
It was a magnificent spectacle in so many ways.
Mark Selby was the deserved winner against Shaun Murphy who actually lives in Dublin but it was a tremendous match with Murphy refusing to lie down until the very end.
The players were interviewed after the final frame was played and both men came across as really nice people, humble and down to earth which was a welcome change from listening to some of the sporting superstars who are as far from the real world as it is possible to be.
It was the first sporting event played before a capacity crowd anywhere in these islands for 14 months and it made for a magnificent occasion as the supporters of each player roared their favourites on.
It proves that sport at any level thrives on the enthusiasm and passion of those who follow that sport. The quicker we can have the crowds back at GAA, Soccer and Rugby matches the better not just for those sporting organisations but for the players themselves.
It was said more than once on the BBC last night-‘Sport is nothing without the fans’

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