Seamus Duke Media Roscommon

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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

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’

2020 – The Year From Hell

For a lot of people the past year has been the year from hell. Little did we know when we were coming home in the car from the Connacht U-20 final in Tuam in March that in the space of a week everything would have changed.

The advent of the virus was not the fault of anyone here in this country but the way we have dealt with it will have the most serious of implications for a lot of people people for many years to some and it is not being talked about hardly at all.

Firstly is has to be said that the bottom line is that the advent of the virus has not affected a large cohort of the population at all. In fact there are people, particularly those in the public sector, and there are many others in the private sector too who have actually benefitted financially from the arrival of the pandemic. And by the way, I say good luck to them too.

These are people whose pay checks are guaranteed every month or who are working in industries which have not been affected at all. They have not been able to spend their salaries on things like holidays, restaurants and other non essentials and so many are far better off financially.

However there are hundreds of thousands of others (and I am in that category) who have been mostly out of work since. There are many businesses which have closed since March and they will not be opening again too.

I am not ignoring the severity of this disease or indeed the people who have lost loved ones as a result of it’s arrival. It is a horrible, infectious and dangerous virus but there are many consequences of this pandemic that are not being spoken about at all. All we are interested in is case numbers and lockdown details.

The amount of mental health problems rife in the community is a huge and growing problem and we have seen a spike in suicides in recent months and people withdrawing from society altogether.

Personally I am aware of many people who are living alone and who are in despair as this situation drags on. I am also aware of people who have businesses who are convinced that they will never open them again and they are at their wits end. As I write this we are expecting another Level 5 lockdown for at least two months. There will be a tsunami of mental health problems when this is over unfortunately.

The doctors and the people in the HSE have a very difficult job to do and in the past nine months there is a cohort of medics who are now household names because of their influential roles in the way we deal with this virus.

They have a major and very important role to play, but putting these people up on a pedestal and suggesting they should be named ‘people of the year’ is ridiculous. A lot of these same people have presided over some of the biggest medical disasters in the history of the state in the past decade, which is conveniently forgotten about by many. They are paid huge money for what they do and their decisions have profound implications for every member of society. Their input is vital but at the end of the day they are advisors only.

The real heroes are the frontline staff like the nurses and doctors, who are dealing with sick people every day of the week. They deserve the praise and not the celebrity doctors.

I am certainly no follower of any political party but I have a lot of sympathy for the position of the authorities at the moment. The Government has to have public health and safety as a priority but they have also to consider the economic implications of every decision they take. They are in a no-win situation whatever they do. Make no mistake when all this is over there will be an economic mess the likes of which we have never seen in our lifetime. It will take generations to sort it out.

The vaccines are the biggest hope for all ordinary members of society and I sincerely hope that we can get this roll-out right. Past experience of the HSE running very important public health initiatives is not very encouraging. But let’s not criticise before the campaign is up and running.

My heart goes out to young people in all this. People in the older age groups are well able to look after themselves and have had their fun over the years but the younger people’s lives have been ruined over the past 10 months. For that group alone I hope we can return to normal as soon as possible they have missed out on so much.

To all the people who lost loved ones this year, it has been a terrible ordeal that no one could say goodbye properly. There is a lot of pent-up grief among the population as a result of this.

Apart from family, sport and music have kept me sane this year. Out walking every day, to be able to listen to some great tunes instead of the daily diet of doom and gloom on the news programmes is a great relief. The sport was also a God-send. It was brilliant to have been involved in the streaming of the local club championship games here in the county and fair play to the GAA for running their inter-county championships at all grades too. It shortened the year for many.

To be able to watch the Soccer, Rugby, Golf, Horse Racing, and all the other sport was a tonic for me and for most of the country. Hopefully we can get to go to a few sporting events in 2021.

I for one will not be one bit sorry to see the back of 2020.

It was truly the year from hell.

Stay safe people.

Paddy Neilan Interview – December 2019

Paddy Neilan is not alone the number one Gaelic Football referee in Roscommon but in Connacht too. He has been a grade one referee for the past four years and his reputation is improving all the time. Paddy works as an electrician in Sligo and is a St Faithleach’s man and he lives in the Ballyleague area with his wife Carol and young sons Adam (4) and Alex who is just two months old.
I spoke to Paddy recently about the increasingly tough job that referees have, the new rules which will come in on January the 1st, his relationship with players, the training he does, the reviews of his performance, abuse of referees and several other aspects of modern day Gaelic Football. But instead of a man under pressure I found a man that relishes his job and enjoys it every day he goes out. I think it would be fair to say that he is ambitious too!

You have had a very busy2019 but you were not around for the last couple of months. Why was that?
“That’s true but it didn’t affect the inter-county for me scene at all. I have a foot injury the past few weeks and my wife gave birth to our second soon recently so I was out of action then, but this was my busiest year so far at inter-county level. I started with the FBD League game between Galway and Mayo and the experimental rules were in for that match. I had four great National League games after that including Kildare v Armagh, I was in Ennis for Cork v Clare, then I refereed Kerry v Monaghan in Killarney on a very snowy day and it was lucky the game was played at all. I also had four championship games and they all went well. I had a lot of high-profile games which I needed as I felt that I had to step it up a notch this year”

You didn’t do as many clubs games in Roscommon as you normally do this year. Any reason why?
“No reason at all except to say that when you are on the national panel they expect that you will be free all summer long as long as the championship is ongoing which is fair enough. I try to fit in as much club stuff as I can but it’s not always easy”

People in the county would say that Paddy Neilan should be refereeing the club senior final every year because he is the best referee in the county what would you say to that?
“It would be unfair to the other referees who are working all year in the county if that was to happen. They all deserve a chance. I was at all the county finals recently and I thought that they were all refereed well to be honest. When the new baby came in September in my house it ruled me out, and that’s when most of the club games were being played so that was another factor”

You refereed what are commonly thought of as the two best games in the All Ireland SFC this year, Cavan v Armagh in the replay in Ulster and Kerry v Donegal in the Super 8’s ( it finished 1-20 apiece). That must have been exciting….
“I have to say that I love going to the north of the country to referee there is always a great atmosphere at matches in the north. The day of the Armagh v Cavan replay I was down to referee Waterford and Westmeath in the qualifiers in Mullingar and I was delighted to be doing that because I never refereed either county before. If I had refereed that qualifier it would have left Wexford as the only county that I have not refereed. But the game in Ulster was a draw and I got the call on the Tuesday to do the replay. It was a brilliant game of football, a sunny day and the two teams just went at each other and you knew that you were part of a cracker. Then we went on to referee Kerry v Donegal in Croke Park in the Super 8’s and that was another great game. It was the same day as Shane Lowry won the British Open. But to have refereed two of the best games of the year in the championship in 2019 was great. You have to take it that you made some contribution to the games being exciting. You will not get any recognition afterwards as a referee and I don’t’ care about that but it was great to be part of those two matches”

Is your injury a serious one?
“I did the line in the All-Ireland minor final and I took a two week break after that and I started training again but I knew it wasn’t right so I took a complete break after that hoping it would go away. I pulled out of the latter stages of the Roscommon county championships and the Connacht club championships as well. But maybe it’s just as well because it’s the first real break I have had in two years. It’s no harm really. I did the Roscommon county final last year and the Connacht club final too so I was going until December so I had no break. I want to get this injury fully healed and if I miss a round or two of the National League in the new year then so be it. I want to get the injury cleared up”

What training do you do as a referee?
“I run three times a week and I go to the gym twice a week. I have really stepped up the training in the past two years. If you want to referee at the top level you just have to do it”
There are new rules on the way on January the 1st. Will that make the referees’ job even harder?
“I have to say that it won’t be much harder. We have refereed these rules last year remember. There is no doubt that there is bigger scrutiny in the bigger games, but I would like to think that I referee every game the same. If you let your guard down you could make a mistake and for the players that are playing in that game it’s a serious matter. The new rules will certainly be a challenge, but we have been well briefed. The sin-bin is not a problem. The most black cards you ever see in a game is two or three and they don’t all come at the same time either. I have no fears about implementing the rules to be honest. I think that clubs will play ball when it comes to it too”

How important are your umpires?
“They are very important. The one thing that really bothers me is when umpires get critisised. Critisism never bothers me but I hate when the umpires get stick. People always say ‘sure they are all his mates and they are only going for the day out and the feed’ but nothing could be further from the truth. This year we were in Newry, Killarney, Derry and Ennis to name just four days. We leave Roscommon Town at 9 in the morning and we don’t get back until 9 or 10 that night. The lads I have don’t do it for a free dinner. There are far easier ways of getting a free dinner that that I can assure you. They do it because they love it and they are very dedicated to making sure they do a good job too. I can certainly say that only for my umpires I’d be lost”

Are you ambitious?
“Well I am, but I’m not obsessed about it either. After the Kerry v Donegal match someone asked me would I like to get the (All-Ireland) final and I said that I wouldn’t be disappointed if I didn’t get it, and that’s the way it turned out butI have had a great year anyway. But there is natural disappointment there because if you want to have ambitions to do the All Ireland senior final you have to do a minor or an U-20 or club final. The problem for me in recent years is that Corofin have been in a lot of club finals, Galway have been in three of the last four minor finals, and Mayo have been a lot of senior finals too and to add to that Galway and Mayo have been in the U-20 finals in recent years too. So it’s very hard for a Connacht referee to get a look in when there is a Connacht team involved and that’s just the way it is. I just have to bide my time and when the opportunity comes along I have to take it. But I have to say I am very happy where I am at the moment”

Do you chat to the players during a big game?
“Oh yeah I do relentlessly. I try not to overdo it because you don’t want to come across as you are to pally with the players, but you have to be straight with them at all times. I always try address them by their first names and I make sure I get to know their names. If there is a team and there are a few players in it I don’t know, I do my research beforehand and make sure I know them before I go out. I remember that I refereed Laois and Carlow a few years ago and it was my second time to referee Laois that year so I knew them, but it was the first time I did Carlow. I wasn’t sure of some of the Carlow players’ names but I learned them off before I went out and they were surprised at that. It’s all about respect. If you respect the players they will respect you. I try to do that in club matches too. If I don’t know a player I would ask the lads that I do know and then I chat to them. Referees deserve respect, but so do players”

What about abuse. How do u deal with that?
“I haven’t got a lot of abuse to be honest. If by abuse you mean people shouting during a match in the crowd then that happens in every game and I pass no heed on that at all. But serious abuse is very rare, it might have happened once or twice in my career and that’s it. Sometimes referees can be too sensitive too, and you have to take the rough with the smooth. Everyone gets grilled in whatever job they do so you just have to get on with it as long as it’s not serious and I find most people are genuine and there is no bad feelings at all. I find when you talk to most people one to one they are decent”

What’s the schedule for 2020?
“We do a fitness test in January, in fact as far as I know the fitness test is on the 10th January so while Christmas is not cancelled, it will be curtailed for sure. I am not a big drinker anyway so it won’t bother me but you have to mind yourself if you want to do the job. You are expected to pass that fitness test with a bit to spare and then we will have the league coming up very soon after that”

Any regrets since you started?
“I wouldn’t say regrets but you look back on some games and certain incidents and say’ I could have done better there’ or’ handled that situation better’ A lot of people think that when a game is over the referee goes away and forgets about it. Nothing could be further from the truth. If there is a video tape of the game that I have refereed I always watch it back and self-analyse. You have to do it to improve. You have to nit-pick, and I find that I get better if I am self-critical. If I don’t do it then I will never improve. We also get feedback from Croke Park who are constructive in their critisism. The top referees meet every two or three weeks during the championship in Abbotstown for training sessions and video analysis. It’s an open forum. It’s very well run”

I presume that to referee a senior All-Ireland final is the ambition?
“I’d like to think that some day I will get a final, but I am certainly not obsessed about it. If I get better every year it is something that will fall into place naturally. There are 40 lads on the national referees’ panels and every single one of them wants to referee a senior All-Ireland every year and I’m no different. There are lads there who have refereed two and three All Irelands’ and they still want more so in that way it’s very competitive, but in a good way. But it would certainly be an ambition into the future. But even if it stopped today I have had a great run. But I’m looking forward to more hopefully”

From Roscommon People Plus magazine.

Jack Carty – One Of Roscommon’s Greatest Sportsmen

Jack Carty could easily lay claim to be Roscommon’s number one sportsman. From Kiltoom, Jack was a brilliant under-age Gaelic footballer with St Brigid’s and Roscommon. Not alone that, he was a superb Soccer player who once aroused the interest of Southampton and West Ham at youth level. Of course he was an exceptional Rugby player where he progressed quickly at schools and club level to become the lynch-pin of the Connacht team that competes in the Pro 14 league and the Heineken Champions Cup. Now in 2019 he has been capped by Ireland at senior level no less than three times, the first Roscommon man ever to be capped at senior level for Ireland.
He is currently training with the Irish team as they prepare for the World Cup later in the year and he will be challenging with Joey Carbury to be the understudy to Johnny Sexton in Japan.

It has been a spectacular rise to fame for the affable 26 year old who has broken several records along the way. He was nominated for Irish player of the year in for the 2018/2019 season, he has broken the points scoring record for Connacht in the Pro14 competition. He had been capped four times by the Ireland U-20’s in 2012, and earlier this year he came on as a replacement in Ireland’s Six Nations game against Italy in Rome to win his first senior cap. He was also capped against France and Wales (a game in which he scored his first Irish points) and he is hoping to be on the plane to Japan when the final Irish squad is named in September for the World Cup.
Despite his incredibly busy schedule Jack retains a huge interest the fortunes of the Roscommon footballers and is thrilled the way they have progressed in 2019. He spoke to me recently.

To start can you give me a few details about your backround?
“I am from Kiltoom, I went to school in Balybaby National School, after that I went to Marist College in Athlone and after that I went to NUIG where I did a B.Comm. I played Rugby with Buccaneers the whole way up and played Gaelic Football with St Brigid’s and I also played soccer with Hodson Bay. I have two brothers, Luke who is also involved with Connacht in the Rugby and Ben who is in Dublin and I have two sisters Deirdre and Aoife”

Tell me more about your involvement in GAA in your younger days
“Well I played with Rugby all the way up and with regard to the Gaelic Football, I played under-age with St Brigid’s and I played with Roscommon and was on a Fr Manning Cup team (u-16 inter-county) that won the competition for the first time in 15 or 16 years. I was actually captain of that team and we beat Sligo in the final. There are still a couple of lads on that team playing for Roscommon at senior level today but that was a great memory. I also played minor for Roscommon a couple of times. But at that stage I was playing Rugby at under-age level with Buccaneers and then with Connacht.

So how did the Rugby career evolve after that ?
“There were a lot of lads that I was playing with who broke through at Connacht level but I had to bide my time and be patient. I actually played my first game for Connacht in 2010/2011 but then I didn’t play again for another year and a half at least. It was very frustrating at time but I put my head down and worked hard and it paid dividends in the end thankfully”

Who has been the biggest influence in your Rugby career ?
“I have been blessed that I have had some great coaches all the way up. Charlie Cooper was a massive influence early on in Athlone, and to be honest there have been too many to mention, all great people. Nigel Carolan, the attack coach in Connacht the was also a major influence and I have been lucky all the way along. To be honest and I’m still learning every day.

You have had some fantastic years with Connacht but did u always yearn for that first Irish senior cap?
“It was always an ambition of mine to play for Ireland at senior level and I knew that I had to find a high level of consistency in my game. I was confident myself that I was up to that level but it was all about eradicating small mistakes. Once I realised what was causing those small mistakes in my play I was able to take my game to a higher level. Fortunately earlier this year I was lucky enough to be capped against Italy in Rome”
What was it like running out to represent your country for the first time at senior level in front of your family and friends?
“It was fantastic but it was even more special the following week when we played France at The Aviva and I got a second cap because all my family, my extended family, grandparents an friends were all there to share in that. There were a lot of people who couldn’t get to Rome but they were all there the following week so that was great. I didn’t really think about it until the Six Nations was over, and yeah I have very fond memories of it to be honest. It’s the ultimate that you can achieve in the game”

You are in the wider World Cup and you are in training camp, so how is that going ?
“It’s been really enjoyable to be honest. We have had two weeks on and a week off than and it is really tough training. We are doing a lot of running and stuff in the gym at the moment. We are getting stronger and fitter and then they are planning to introduce us to Rugby bit by bit. It’s been tough, but with the two weeks training and then a week off there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s been great going around the country to the different towns and cities too. It was great being in Galway last week. We saw lot of familiar faces and there werea lot of Connacht fans there that I know well”

I presume a place on the plane to Japan is the ultimate goal ?
“Yeah that’s what we are all aiming for, but there is a lot of training and Rugby to be played before that happens. The final squad won’t be picked until the end of September. We have four games to play between now and then so if I get a chance in those games I have to be ready to impress and play the best I can and try to stay injury-free. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. Naturally I’d love to go because it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity”

So what do you think are Ireland’s chances in the World Cup in Japan?
“I know that the ultimate goal is to win the competition but we are taking it game by game week by week and month by month. Our goals is to improve every day and every week we train and we have not been looking too far ahead as of yet. There is a long way to go and we will look at the actual competition later in the year but at the moment it’s all about our preparation.

Have you been following the fortunes of the Roscommon football team this summer?
“Oh I have for sure, they have been doing great and I’m thrilled for them. They were very unlucky against Tyrone and I didn’t get to the Dublin game. But they have made a massive improvement in the space of 12 months and they are so competitive now. Of course they are under the management of a good St Brigid’s man Anthony Cunningham and he has brought much more steel to them. You can see that they are much stronger physically this year and they have improved so much in defence. If they can keep improving the way they have been going this year I have no doubt that we could see the Sam Maguire coming to Roscommon in the next few years. I always take a huge in interest in how they are doing and I wish them well for the future. Who knows, if things didn’t turn out the way they did on the Rugby front I might be on that Roscommon panel but that’s the way it goes”

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