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Cathal Cregg Interview December 2019

When Cathal Cregg runs out for the Roscommon senior football team in 2020 he will be starting his 15th season in the Primrose and Blue. It’s doesn’t seem that long ago that he was one of the county’s best young players when he was a minor in 2005. But since making his debut in 2006, and with three Connacht senior medals in his back pocket the Western Gaels man is as enthusiastic as ever to represent his county and is looking forward to 2020.
Work and home is incredibly busy for Cathal. He is married to Lorna and has a two and half year old son Fionn, and he lives in Strokestown. Cathal was appointed as the Games Development Officer for Connacht taking over from John Tobin in April 2018, and if that wasn’t enough, he is completing a PhD (needless to say it’s in connection withGaelic Games) which he hopes to have completed in 2020
We sat down for a chat recently and we talked about Western Gaels, The Dubs, coaching and development, the new rules, oh and of course, The Rossies.

A lot of people (this writer included) would say that Cathal Cregg played the best football of his career in 2019. But he reckons that there were other good years too!
“2019 was a great year for sure. Any year you win a Connacht title is a great year because they don’t come around too often, but we have been very lucky to have won three over the past ten years, and two out of the last three. It was brilliant to beat Leitrim, Mayo in Castlebar and Galway in Pearse Stadium”
“The Super 8’s was disappointing. The Tyrone game was the one that got away. We missed two goal chances in the first half, I missed one and Enda (Smith) missed the other. If one or the two of those had gone in it might have been a different game. The Dublin game was tough but it was great to finish off with the win in Cork. It was very important for the group to get that first Super 8’s win”
“I am not sure was it my best year but it went well. I thought that in 2010 and 2015 I did fairly well too but I was in decent form this year and I played ok in the matches against Mayo and Galway which were high profile games”
Beating Mayo
When Roscommon fans look back on 2019 beating Mayo in a thrilling game in Castlebar was extra special.
“The Mayo match was special all right. To win after 33 years in Castlebar was fantastic. The enormity of the celebrations in the county afterwards was something I definitely didn’t see coming. I suppose when you are involved you don’t get caught up in that stuff. But it was a cracking game. We started well, they came back and it was a tough game and a tough night, and it was a hell of a game to win”

Playing For Roscommon
Cathal has played in all four league divisions for Roscommon in his time in the senior jersey.
“I was a minor in 2005 and I made by debut for the seniors in 2006 down in Limerick. Later in that summer I made my championship debut against New York. I am enjoying it as much as even I have to say. I was lucky that I had no injuries this year at all. I started every game, and when you get into a bit of form and you have a flow of games it’s a huge help. I find it very satisfying playing for Roscommon and especially this year”

Kevin McStay
It was rumoured that Cathal and Kevin McStay did not see eye to eye but he played that down when we spoke.
“I suppose I was out of favour with Kevin. I took a year out, and when you do that it takes a while to get back into it in terms of fitness levels etc, but I came on in almost every game and I started the Armagh game and played in the Super 8’ matches after that. I was in and out of form and in and out of favour I suppose” (laughs)
Changes in the games since he started playing in 2006

The amount of training hasn’t changed much since he started out but Cathal says that there has been a fundamental change in the lifestyle of players at the top level.
“I started with John Maughan (as manager) and in fairness to him he had a professional approach and I have had several managers since who were all very professional too, But I suppose the biggest change is the attention to detail in the backround, and the changes in lifestyle you have to have if you want to play inter-county football at the highest level.”
“Even at that stage when I started you could go out and socialise, but you just can’t do that now because if you do you will be left behind. With the volume of training that we are doing and the requirement for recovery, if you were drinking and not eating properly you just would not survive in Division 1 and Division 2. That’s probably the biggest change. We were probably training just as hard when I started but now if you don’t prepare properly you will get left at the starting gate. We had a few bad experiences the first year we were in the Super 8’s but I think we are learning from those games and getting better all the time”

A young family and demanding job ensures that Cathal has very little time to himself.
“It can be tough to juggle everything between the job training and home life. My wife (Lorna) also works and we have a two and a half year old son (Fionn) who keeps us on our toes. Work is very busy and I am finishing a PhD and I hope to complete that in 2020. It’s busy but I have so say I’m enjoying it”

Western Gaels
The Western Gaels club is close to Cathal’s heart all the time. They have been in the shake up for honours at senior level in Roscommon over the past decade without making the breakthrough.
“The one thing that is very disappointing is that we haven’t won a senior championship. Over the past few years we haven’t even got to a quarter-final and we have a very good team. We played ok in the group stages this year but we had a poor outing against St Brigid’s and we should be doing better. We have got to finals and semi-finals over the years but never got over the line. But we are not finished yet!!

The current Roscommon set up
Cathal has been re-energised since the arrival of Anthony Cunningham as team manager and thinks that the team is improving all the time.
“The lads in the group are all very happy. Anthony (Cunningham) is a very good coach and manager. He has the pedigree in club and county, football and hurling. It’s a top class set up with Mark Dowd and Iain Daly there too who are top class guys. We are very lucky to have the three of them together and we have a very good panel of players and the aim is to push on again in 2020”

So what are the aims in 2020?
“Promotion in the league has to be an aim for 2020 but we have four very difficult away games. In Division 2 you will probably have to win every game to be certain of going up wheras in Division 1 two or three wins will keep you in the division. We will be looking to get back up to the top group because that’s where you have to be competing. When you are playing the top teams you are learning all the time. Even though we were relegated in 2019 we learned a lot in Division 1”
“In the championship Mayo will be very strong again. They won’t like the fact that we beat them. They have a very good management team. Galway have a very good team too and with Padraig Joyce there now as manager it will be a big boost to them. They have a lot of good young players coming through. It’s a very exciting championship. Remember too that Leitrim are an improving side and Nigel Dineen is with Sligo and they are sure to be getting better as well”

The New Rules
There are new rules coming in from the first of January and Cathal thinks that they will be positive for an evolving game.
“I like the idea of the black card (sin-bin) because the old system favoured the top teams as they could bring on a very strong player for one sent to the line. Now they will be down to 14 for 10 minutes. It’s much fairer.”
“I’m not 100% certain about the forward mark. We trialled it this year and I played it in the International Rules. I think that it will bring more kicking into the game which would be good. It might reduce the amount of hand passing. The new rules are definitely worth trying. As a forward I would welcome it. Let’s give it a chance and see what happens. It might bring the big full forward back into the teams. If you have a guy isolated inside like Conor Cox, and he is a good fielder it’s an almost certain score. So it will be interesting. The game must evolve”

Dublin after Gavin
The big GAA story of the winter so far has been the retirement announcement made by Dublin manager Jim Gavin. How will it affect them?
“I was surprised that he retired to be honest. Will it weaken them ? It depends if they have any more player retirements. If they retain most of the panel they have it’s hard to see them being beaten. Having said that, Gavin seemed to have a unique management style and he kept the hunger there for all those years and it will hard to replicate that”

Cathal is back to training with the new year in mind.
“I have a bit of a niggle at the moment but we are back into training. We have seven weeks before the league starts and I have to say that I am still really enjoying it all and I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t, so roll on 2020”

From The Roscommon 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”

One Roscommon’s Greatest Ever Connacht Final Wins

Connacht Senior Football Final 2019

Roscommon 1-13 Galway 0-12

The Verdict

“Most of the important things have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.”

Those are the words of American writer Dale Carnegie. They apply perfectly to Roscommon’s wonderful senior football team who turned in as fine a second half display as this observer has seen in championship football from the Primrose and Blue. It landed them the 24th provincial championship and further enhanced the reputation of this group of players as a really special team who have given wonderful entertainment and excitement to their loyal fans over the past four years.
At half-time in Pearse Stadium it looked bleak, very bleak. The Rossies had competed well for the first quarter but as the torrential rain came, Galway tightened their grip on proceedings and by half-time they led by five points and looked in total control. In fact with the aid of the elements to come in the second half many Roscommon fans were hoping that it would not be a drubbing at the hands of the Tribesmen. Anyone who tells you that they thought Roscommon would win at half-time is not telling the truth.
However, deep below the stands in the Roscommon dressing room, all was calm at half-time. There was no panic, no roaring and shouting, no harsh words, just a request from the management to the players to up the intensity and work rate. What happened after referee Barry Cassidy blew the whistle to start the second-half will go down in Roscommon folklore as long as Gaelic Football is discussed.
Roscommon were simply a different team. They worked like tigers all over the field. They pushed the Galway men out of the way time after time. Suddenly the men in Primrose and Blue were winning kick outs, turning over the ball in their favour and laying siege to the Galway goal.
Within six minutes the sides were level. What was all the fuss about? We could hardly believe our eyes. Niall Kilroy’s point in the 38th minute was followed by a brilliant goal and suddenly it was game on. A mighty run from Cathal Cregg (a player re-born this year), Diarmuid Murtagh knew it was a chance. He raced goalwards and pointed to where he wanted the pass. Cregg left it on a plate for him and the St Faithleach’s man drilled it to the net low and accurate. Hard to believe it was the first goal he ever scored in inter-county championship football. I was delighted for him because he is a class act.
But now the heroes were emerging all over the field, Ronan and Niall Daly were like two gun-slingers sent into town to root out any trouble makers. If one didn’t get you the other did! They were tremendous.
Davy Murray was immense. He tackled and hustled and harried a succession of Galway attackers who must have been sick of the sight of the Pearses man by the time the game was over. Tadgh O’Rourke and Shane Killoran were winning most of the ‘dirty ball’ in the middle of the field now. I was thrilled for them because the performance of the midfield area was much-critisised in recent months. Killoran scored an inspirational point with 10 minutes to go having burst through three Galway men. Then Tadgh O’Rourke made a spectacular catch near the end of the game just when the pressure was on. Enda Smith’s presence was so important all through and Conor Devaney was a huge loss when he went off as he was really playing well.
Darren O’Malley’s role in this Roscommon team often goes unmentioned. He has been cool, calm and ultra-reliable all through this campaign. A save he made in the final minute of injury time was much harder than it looked. He’s a class golfer. He is a class goalkeeper too.
Then there is Conor Cox. What a find he has been this year. He kicked five mighty points last Sunday but his 10th minute point is one that will be talked about for many a year to come. He was pushed out towards the side line, and the end line as well. He was no more than three yards from the end line. He decided to swing a left peg at it and it flew between the posts. It was an outrageous score from a seriously talented player. Tony McManus or The Gooch would have been very happy with that one and I cannot give higher praise than that. What a player Cox is.
Roscommon simply bullied Galway into submission playing with intensity, a huge work-ethic and no little skill. The Tribesmen were a huge disappointment in that second-half and their return of a paltry two points was an indication of their limp response to that Roscommon tsunami.
This magnificent Roscommon team can now take their place as one of the best we have seen in 40 years and they have given the people of Roscommon some entertainment and pleasure. A Division two league title, two promotions into division one, a spectacular run in division one that featured four away wins, two Connacht titles, beating Galway away in one and Mayo and Galway away in the other and now two appearances in the Super 8’s. It’s a magnificent record and the players and management should be very proud.
There is more to come too. With the exception of Dublin, no team left in the championship will want to face this Roscommon team. The fact that the opening game in the Super 8’s is at home is an even biggest boost.
I was reminded of a famous quote from BBC commentator Kenneth Wolsenhome last Sunday from the World Cup final in 1966 when the Roscommon crowd ran on to the pitch before the game was over. He said “There’s people on the pitch, they think it’s all over” then Geoff Hurst crashed home England’s fourth goal. “It is now” he said.
Last Sunday when the Roscommon crowd were cleared Conor Cox lofted over a 30 meter free with the outside of his boot to give The Rossies a four point lead. It was indeed all over.
To see the people of Roscommon flood on to the pitch in Pearse Stadium to dance and sing and celebrate with the players and to see Enda Smith hoist the Nestor Cup into the Salthill air was something that I will remember for many, many years to come.

A truly magnificent day by the seaside.

Key Moments

• On a showery, windy day conditions were tough for the players, but Roscommon were ahead in the 3rd minute when Conor Devaney pointed after a great knock-down from Enda Smith
• But Galway were winning a lot of ball in the middle third, and Michael Daly lofted over the equaliser from 30 meters two minutes later. Then Ronan Daly and Antaine O Laoi exchanged points from play to leave it level again after 7 minutes.
• Galway were beginning to dominate, and they had the two next scores as Shane Walsh and Fiontain O Currain pointed from play to leave the home side two ahead by the 9th minute.
• In the 10th minute Roscommon narrowed the gap with an outrageous point from Conor Cox. The full-forward was shunted out towards the side line and the end line too, but he swung a left boot at it and it flew between the posts. One of the scores of the year in the championship.
• A minute later a pointed free from Shane Walsh extended the Galway lead again but a Cox free and a beautiful score from Diarmuid Murtagh after a great run and turn, saw the sides level at 0-5 apiece after 20 minutes.
• Roscommon were dealt a severe blow in the 25th minute when Conor Devaney had to go off with an ankle injury. The Kilbride man was playing very well to that point.
• But Galway took over completely from there to the break. O Laoi pointed again in the 28th minute, and as the rain began to pour down, Walsh added another pointed free in the 31st minute.
• Galway added three points within three minutes before half-time from Eamon Branagan (on as a sub for the injured O Corraoin), a Michael Daly free and a super point from Gareth Bradshaw from 40 meters. It left the home side ahead by five at the break and looking good with the elements to come in their favour in the second half.

Half-Time Score: Galway 0-10 Roscommon 0-5.

Second Half

• Roscommon came out a completely different side and Niall Kilroy fired over in the 39th minute following a five man Roscommon move.
• Less than a minute later the goal that Roscommon needed to kick-start their challenge came. Cathal Cregg did the spadework powering away from his man. Diarmuid Murtgh made a brilliant sniping run inside and when he pass came he hit it low and hard into the corner. It was a great goal and now Roscommon were back in business.
• Conor Cox powered over another mighty point a minute later and the sides were level. You could see that Roscommon tails were now up as the Galway challenge visibly wilted.
• There were ten scoreless minutes before Diarmuid Murtagh lofted over a close range free and Roscommon were ahead for the first time in the game with 51 minute gone.
• Michael Daly’s point levelled the scores in the 56th minute but the Tribesmen were living off scraps and Roscommon were growing in confidence. They were winning all the major battles all over the field.
• Roscommon then scored two inspirational points. First, Niall Daly burst forward to cap a brilliant individual display with a fine point in the 58th minute, and two minutes later Shane Killoran shook off the attentions of three Galway men to point from 25 meters
• Roscommon were driving on now, and Diarmuid Murtagh pointed a free in the 66th minute to increase the gap to three.
• In the 3rd minute of injury time Darren O’Malley was called into action and he saved a long-range free well at the expense of a ’45 which was pointed by Shane Walsh.
• In the 74th minute Conor Cox kicked another peach of a score into the breeze from 30 meters as the Roscommon fans gathered on the Pearses Stadium side line.
• When the ball went dead in the 76th minute many Roscommon supporters thought the game was over and they raced on to the field to celebrate. But in fairness to referee Barry Cassidy he waved the spectators off and when play resumed the irrepressible Cox won a free for himself which he pointed from 25 meters with the outside of his right boot. Now it was over and the Rossies fans could celebrate. They certainly did that!
Final Score Roscommon 1-13 Galway 0-12.

Teams and Scorers
Roscommon: Darren O’Mally; David Murray, Seán Mulloly, Conor Daly; Niall Daly (0-1), Conor Hussey, Ronan, Daly (0-1); Tadhg O’Rourke, Shane Killoran (0-1); Conor Devaney (0-1), Cathal Cregg, Niall Kilroy (0-1); Diarmuid Murtagh (1-3, 2 frees), Conor Cox (0-5, 2frees), Enda Smith. Subs: Hubert Darcy for Devaney ( 25); Colin Compton for Smith (57) ; Cian McKeon for Cregg (61); Andrew Glennon for Murtagh (68) ; Brian Stack for Killoran (73).
Galway: Ruairí Lavelle; Eoghan Kerin, Seán Andy Ó Ceallaigh, Liam Silke; Gary O’Donnell, Gareth Bradshaw (0-1), John Daly; Thomas Flynn, Fiontán Ó Curraoin (0-1); Shane Walsh (0-4, 2 frees, ’45′), Michael Daly (0-3), Johnny Heaney; Antaine Ó Laoí (0-2), Ian Burke, Peter Cooke. Subs: Eamonn Brannigan (0-1) for Ó Curraoin (21); Seán Kelly for Cooke (53) ;Cillian McDaid for Heaney (60) ; Adrian Varley for J Daly (62) ; Martin Farragher for Burke (68); Kieran Molloy for O’Donnell (74).

Referee: Barry Cassidy (Derry)

Stat Attack

Wides: Roscommon 6 (5 first-half) Galway 5 (1 first-half)
Red Cards: None
Black Cards: None
Yellow cards: Roscommon: 3 (Sean Mulooly, Niall Daly, Ronan Daly) Galway 7 (Ian Burke, Peter Cooke, Liam Silke, Eoghan Kerin, Shane Walsh, E Branagan, Sean Andy O Ceallaigh)
Man of the Match: Davy Murray (Roscommon)
Scores From play: Roscommon 1-9 Galway 0-8
Attendance: 17,639
What’s Next: Roscommon play in the Super 8’s- 1st game in Dr Hyde Park on the weekend of the 13th and 14th of July( against a qualifier). Dublin are also in Roscommon’s group (assuming they win the Leinster final next Sunday) and Roscommon will face the Dubs in round 2 on the weekend of July 20th/21st.

What They Said

Kevin Walshe (Galway Team Manager)

“In the second half we just didn’t seem to get our hands on the ball. We overturned the ball maybe two or three times at the start of the second half, when we were attacking, and the next 20 minutes we didn’t seem to get our hands on it”
“They seemed to be winning all the breaking ball and running at us. We certainly weren’t as good defensively in the second half. We’ll have to evaluate it during the week. One thing for sure is it wasn’t a consistent performance.”
“I don’t think it was one of the reasons, because there’s a lot of guff out there about that (defensive set-up) .At the end of the day we didn’t get our hands on the ball when we needed to. There was no different structure in the first half compared to the second half”
“We’ve had our chat in there. Whether a change in mindset in being able to get the dirty ball and whatever it is, but when you don’t have the ball you defend space, and when you have it you attack space and that’s what the boys did in the first half. Ten points in the first half was good in these conditions, so there were no different instructions for the second half but you need to get your hands on the ball”
“It’s three weeks now before the next match. We’ve club football next weekend as well here, so we’ve two weeks after that and we’ll have to see who comes in the draw. But at this moment it’s raw, and there’s no point in saying too much about that. Certainly after a week is over and they get the club out of the way, lads, I’d be hoping, will be ready to come back and try and put this right.” he concluded.

Anthony Cunningham (Roscommon Team Manager)
(Who was celebrating his 54th birthday)

“The second half we showed tremendous courage, you would have to use the word courage. The players really went for it. It was looking a bit rocky there ten minutes before half time”
“We dropped off and Galway punished us. They just nailed on five points. And if the wind came up that was going to work against us as well. We just asked that they worked harder (at half-time)”
“I’m delighted for the players. We’ve a good bit of improvement to do as you will probably tell me. And you’re right. But we will settle down now after a few days and focus on the Super 8s.”
“It is just an honour for me. I love being involved in team management and trying to make a contribution. I have to say Iain Daly and Mark Dowd I have two tremendous coaches with me and I’m lucky. They are tremendous workers. There is no end to the amount of work they do. And we set up with a lot of work in the gym as well and that might have been missing a bit (in the past).”
“Winning the breaking ball was poor in the first-half, we had a lot of turnovers against us as well. Conditions were tough. We needed to settle down and show more composure. We had a chat about it at half time and got to the pitch of the game and competed a lot more for kick outs. We put a lot more pressure on Galway. I think we forced it in the last ten minutes of the first half. (We needed) to get back to our game plan and stick with it and look to attack up front.”
“The Mayo match was a great confidence boost and when we were in trouble there today they went back to that reservoir and said: we have done this before. We haven’t conceded a goal yet. We were rocked by Galway there before half-time and they are a top-class team”
“But our lads were a credit and right through the Daly brothers, Conor Hussey, Shane Killoran at midfield, Tadhg (O’Rourke) there with a great catch at the end too. So the middle third was vital and then we used the ball more intelligently up front. And Diarmuid (Murtagh) slipped a goal which really put us in the driving seat. I’m so delighted for everyone and especially the loyal Roscommon fans” he concluded.

Enda Smith (Roscommon Captain)

“An incredible win surely. It wasn’t looking good at half-time but we really dug it out in the second -half. We went back to basics, we ran the ball got the right people on the ball and we got the scores.”
“In recent Connacht finals it was us who came out of the traps quickly but that wasn’t the case today and at half-time there was panic or any roaring and shouting. We just stressed that we would work on what we had done the last couple of weeks in training”
“In the 15 minutes before half-time we were forcing the kick-passes and that was costing us and that was partly due to the conditions so we want back to basics in the second half and it paid off”
“The two teams played better against the breeze today. We got the goal at the vital time too and we kicked on from there. To beat Mayo and Galway to win a Connacht championship doesn’t happen too often and it’s a tremendous honour to be captain here today”

Tadgh O’Rourke

“We knew that we were still in it at half-time. It was the exact opposite of the situation last year. They came back last year so we knew we had it in us to turn it around. It was just a matter of coming back out and get the attitude right and we did that”
“You can talk about tactics and set-plays all you want but heart and determination is so important in this game. We started to win the ball in the second half and it turned in our favour. When you have the lads that we have all they need is a sniff and when we got the chances we took them”
“It’s a tremendous win, we are always looking to improve and remember this is a young team and we are only building. We have to use the experience that we have had in the past and learn for the future and hopefully we will have many more days like this. We will enjoy this tonight and this week and then we will concentrate on the Super 8’s”

Ronan Daly

“We knew that we were up against it at half-time. We threw caution to the win in the second-half. We had to attack tghem and go at them and we did that. We were struggling in the first half to get the ball up the field to the forwards”
“Once we started to take Galway on the ball started to stick up front and we were causing them problems. We improved defensively too and we put more pressure on them”
“We put more emphasis on getting in under the breaking ball which was very important and we used the ball far better in the second half and we weren’t giving it away stupidly. It’s great to beat Galway and Mayo to win the Connacht title but we are not finished yet and it’s on to the Super 8’s now”

Kevin McStay

“So where can Roscommon go with this? Five Connacht finals in four years mean they are not newbies. They have two titles out of four attempts, which is above the Rossie’s mean average. The challenge now is to perform but it may not be this year that we see the best of this group. The two teams I would hate Roscommon to meet between now and the end of the year are Mayo and Galway. Mayo, in particular, are just more grizzled and experienced”
“Roscommon’s massive ambition for 2019 would be an All-Ireland semi-final. So when can they burst through this glass ceiling and dream the impossible with conviction? Well, when they perform and compete seriously at the Super Eights level. They are in a different space now and the championship is opening up for them”

(Irish Times)

“He’s one of them players, sometimes, I’d just love to shake him because whenever he does something he does it so well, he’s got that physicality, he can win a kick-out. Then he’ll take off like a bullet and put one into the net.
“Sometimes then he’ll drift off out of the game then, and you’ll be wondering what he’s doing. Then somebody pokes him and he’s off doing something similar again. Anytime he does something, it seems to have a huge effect on Roscommon, he seems to be a great lad. He has all the skills.”
“When you’re playing against him – you’re just thinking, I hope this lad doesn’t take off and go past me. He’s a bit like Shane Walsh in Galway, he definitely deserves a chance to shine in the Super 8s and Roscommon – they can be competitive this time around.”

(Tyrone’s Sean Cavanagh talking about Enda Smith and Roscommon on Sports Joe)

Connacht Final Snippets

• It’s Roscommon 24th senior title and it’s the first time since 1972 that the Primrose and Blue beat Galway and Mayo away from home to clinch the title.
• Irish Independent Chief GAA writer Martin Breheny covered his last Connacht SFC final last Sunday after 45 years. There was a small presentation made to the Barnaderg man in the press-box prior to the final.
• Roscommon team manager Anthony Cunningham celebrated his 54th birthday last Sunday.
• The Leitrim team that won the Connacht senior title in 1994 were the special guests at the Connacht final. They beat Roscommon, Galway and Mayo to win that title.
• As a manager Anthony Cunningham has now won provincial titles in senior hurling and football in two different provinces.
• “The GAA scene has been nothing short of dramatic for the last few weeks but last weekend was particularly juicy with the Galway and Clare hurlers exiting the All-Ireland and Roscommon coming from behind to beat Galway in their own backyard in the Connacht SFC. Roscommon are now 40/1 from 80/1 to land their first All-Ireland title in 75 years with 10/1 available for them to reach the final, cut from 20/1”(Boylesports)

From The Roscommon People.

A Great Day For Roscommon Footballers In Castlebar

What’s Seldom Is Wonderful!

The 1980’s were a bleak time for Roscommon football. The brilliant team of the late 70’s and 1980 were now a distant memory. Star players like Dermot Earley, Pat Lindsay, Tom Heneghan, John O’Connor, Mick Finneran and Seamus Hayden had moved on and there were several new young players on the Roscommon team.
At the beginning of 1986 Mayo were joint favourites to win the All-Ireland senior football title. In 1985 they had been unlucky not to have beaten Dublin in a replayed semi-final and they possessed some of the best players in the country. Players like Peter Ford, Willie Joe Padden, Martin Carney, Kevin McStay, Liam McHale and the prolific Padraig Brogan were the backbone of their team. When Roscommon were drawn to play Mayo in the first round of the Connacht SFC in 1986, they were not given a hope by anyone of beating their neighbours at McHale Park in Castlebar.
However a quite brilliant display from Roscommon and the two McManus brothers – Tony and Eamonn – in particular, helped Roscommon to one of the sweetest wins they had in the Connacht Championship in many years. It was the day that Mayo were dumped out of the championship by a totally unrated Roscommon team.
Mayo 0-12 Roscommon 1-11 (at McHale Park, Castlebar)
If the bookies were doing big GAA business in 1986 then you could have backed Roscommon at 6/1 – maybe even more – in the run-up to this game. Mayo held all the aces. They had a very strong team of very talented players while Roscommon had not won a Connacht title since 1980 and a lot of their players were young and inexperienced.
However what happened on the 15th of June, 1986 on a sweltering day in Castlebar restored many people’s faith in Roscommon football and although the team did not go on to win the Connacht final, it was an experience that stood to many of the players who were to go on to win Connacht titles in the coming years. It was the experienced players on the team, Gay Sheerin, Eamonn and Tony McManus, Harry Keegan and Gerry Fitzmaurice who were all at their brilliant best as Mayo suffered a shock defeat.
It was a searing hot day in Castlebar and the 17,500 crowd were treated to a real hum-dinger of a championship game which began in sensational fashion. Mayo lined out without the injured TJ Kilgallon and Dermot Flanagan but they still had a very strong team on duty. After ninety seconds of play Tony McManus netted what was probably the finest goal he scored in his long and distinguished football career in championship football. Seamus Killoran fielded brilliantly at midfield, he passed to Tom Og O’Brien who spotted Tony Mac free down the centre and after one hop and a solo he unleashed a fantastic shot from twenty yards that almost took the head off Eugene Lavin on its way into the top corner of the Mayo net. It was a fantastic goal and was picked as one of the goals of the year on The Sunday Game in 1986. A minute later Paul Earley rattled over another Roscommon point and corner-forward Adrian Garvey raced through for another Roscommon score in the 7th minute to give the Primrose and Blue a shock five-point lead.
Rattled Mayo gradually got going and points from Jimmy Maughan, Kevin McStay and Padraig Brogan saw them back to within two by the 19th minute. Mayo had plenty of the ball but their wides total was mounting while Roscommon could always manage a score when they attacked, and with the McManus brothers in lethal form, the crowd realised that this was going to be anything but a one-sided affair.
Tony Mac scored another great point on the stroke of half-time and at that stage Roscommon led by 1-5 to 0-4. Mayo were much better in the second half and were unlucky when Liam McHale’s shot came back off a post in the 10th minute. Meanwhile Gay Sheerin made two brilliant saves to deny Padraig Brogan first and then Willie Joe Padden. However, Mayo were playing better and they were chipping away at the Roscommon lead. Willie Joe Padden’s point in the 16th minute brought the margin back to two and Brogan reduced the gap even further with a point from a free two minutes later. Roscommon were struggling at midfield. They introduced Castlerea’s Pat Gaynor and it helped to steady the ship. However after Brogan equalised with 13 minutes to go, the crowd expected that Mayo would go on and win it.
But Roscommon had the bit between their teeth and they pulled two clear again with points from Paul Earley and Adrian Garvey. However Padraig Brogan was the one Mayo player who was excelling. He kicked a mighty 35-metre point in the 27th minute and a converted free from the same player two minutes later levelled the scores. Mayo attacked in search of the winner. Liam McHale kicked a bad wide in the 33rd minute when in front of the posts, and a draw looked odds-on.
However the McManus brothers had other ideas. As the clock ticked past 35 minutes, Tony Mac gained possession almost 60 yards from the Mayo goal and turned and kicked an outrageous point that brought the Roscommon supporters to their feet. There was even more excitement on the kick-out when Eamonn McManus caught the ball and powered over another brilliant point. Then Mickey Kearins blew the final whistle and it was over.
It was a brilliant win for Roscommon and the Primrose and Blue supporters swarmed on to the McHale Park pitch to celebrate with their heroes. I recall heading back to Ballinlough that evening where a brilliant night was had by one and all all in Fitzmaurice’s bar. It was one of the sweetest wins for Roscommon senior footballers in many years.
It’s hard to believe that Roscommon have not beaten Mayo in the senior championship in Castlebar since that famous day. It’s time that gap was bridged!
Roscommon: Gay Sheeran; Gary Wynne, Pat Doorey, Harry Keegan; Paul Hickey, Gerry Fitzmaurice, Danny Murray; Seamus Killoran, Padraig McNeill; Eamonn McManus Junior, Tony McManus (1-3), Eamonn McManus Senior (0-3); Tom Og O’Brien, Paul Earley (0-3), Adrian Garvey (0-3). Subs: Pat Gaynor for Killoran, Seanie McNeill for O’Brien, Anthony McManus for Doorey.
Mayo: Eugene Lavin; Martin Carney, Peter Ford, Jimmy Browne; Frank Noone, PJ McGarry, John Finn; Liam McHale, Willie Joe Padden (0-1); Padraig Brogan (0-8), Jimmy Burke, Noel Durkin (0-1); Tom Reilly, Jimmy Maughan (0-1), Kevin McStay (0-1). Subs: M Fitzmaurice for Maughan, MJ Mullan for McStay, J Lindsay for Noone.
Referee: Mickey Kearins (Sligo).

Eugene McGee – A Man Apart

Eugene Mc Gee

Like so many people I was shocked and saddened to hear of the passing of Eugene McGee as the news spread on Sunday morning last. In the days since it is amazing how many people have so many fond memories of the great man from Colmcille and I am certainly no different. He touched so many people’s lives in a positive way.
Of course he will be remembered as the man who steered Offaly to probably the most famous All Ireland senior football final win of all time in 1982 but he had so many more strings to his bow.
I first met Eugene in the late 70’s when he was in charge of a famous and very successful UCD team that contained our own Tony McManus. Tony often regaled us of some fantastic stories of his coaching methods and no-nonsense approach and when you first met Eugene he appeared off-hand and gruff but once you got to know him he was anything but that.
He was a man who was way ahead of his time in terms of his attitude and thinking. When local radio started in 1989 there were many people in the local newspaper industry who viewed this new form of local media as a possible threat however Eugene was one who embraced the idea and was of the opinion that it would be a big addition to local communities and of course he was proven right.
As the GAA commentator and reporter in those early days I spoke to Eugene and sought advice several times a year and he was always so helpful and supportive. He was also very quick to point out anything that he disagreed with too!
But Eugene McGee was far more than a GAA coach and columnist. As the Editor of the Longford Leader (and before that the Cavan Leader) he was a tireless advocate for people in Rural Ireland. He used his high profile to highlight many issues in terms of unemployment, emigration, health services transport and infrastructure. He spared no one in power if he thought they were selling Rural Ireland short.
He had a brilliant mind whether it was to do with the GAA or other issues but his dour demeanour meant that some people thought he was off-hand and gruff. But when you got to know Eugene the exact opposite was the case. He loved seeking out people’s views and in recent years we would chat on the telephone and his love of rural issues and of course his love affair with Gaelic Football never waned.
In recent years he was not as frequent a visitor to Croke Park as in former years as he had some health problems. The last time I met Eugene was in Croke Park at the Roscommon v Dublin Super 8 match last year. He was in good form and we had a long chat about loads of stuff including blanket defences, club matches, Offaly football, Roscommon football, and whether Dublin would win the All Ireland again. As we parted that day he said to me “you know it’s nice to be back here again” He loved the big day and especially the big day in Croke Park.
He was a fearless GAA columnist and he regularly lashed the GAA when he saw fit. In fact I remember at one stage there was talk about banning Eugene McGee from the Press Box in Croke Park because of his criticism. But thankfully sense prevailed. The criticism was coming from one of their own, a man who loved the GAA and knew it’s positive impact on communities around the country.
There are so many stories that I could tell about Eugene over the years and his blunt, straight talking way of going on. I will choose two short ones. One of the first Sundays that Shannonside was on the air after the station had opened there was a presenter on air who hadn’t a clue about sport. At one stage he read out the following: “And the latest score from Ballybofey is, Finn Harps nil Longford Town one point” The phone rang immediately at the station. It was Eugene who said to the girl who answered the phone “Would ya tell that bloody ejit that there’s no points in Soccer” and he put down the phone.
On the morning of the All Ireland final between Offaly and Kerry in 1982 a journalist asked Eugene how badly did the Offaly players want to win the match. He snapped back “There are men in that dressing room who haven’t had a pint since last Wednesday night”
So many more of those stories about Eugene will be shared this week by those of us who were privileged to have known him. He was one of the finest men that I have met in my lifetime.
This weekend hundreds of thousands of people will do the ‘Darkness Into Light’ charity walk. Eugene McGee brought light and hope to many people throughout the country over the years. An innovator, a deep thinker a very intelligent, witty and caring man who spoke straight out as he saw it and never suffered fools in any walk of life.We won’t see the likes of him again.
To Marian, Linda and Conor I extend my deepest sympathy.

May he rest in peace.

(From The Roscommon People)

Mayo Favourites To Regain Nestor Cup -2019 Connacht Preview

The 2019 Connacht SFC – A Preview

The 2019 Connacht Senior Football Championship will begin again this weekend when Mayo visit New York and Galway travel to London. The ‘big two’ Galway and Mayo are the strong favourites to win it. But the start of a new championship always brings new hope. Can a rejuvenated Leitrim trouble Roscommon? Can Roscommon put it up to the big two? Are Sligo London and New York also-rans? All will be revealed over the next six weeks. I attended the launch of the championships last week in Ballyhaunis and I spoke to representatives from the counties to take the temperature as they prepare to go into battle.

1. Galway
Number of Titles: 47
Last Won: 2018
Manager: Kevin Walsh (5th year)
Key Players: Shane Walsh, Ian Burke, Damien Comer (injured at the moment)
First Game: v London in Ruislip this Sunday 5th May
Title Odds: 4/5
They Said It: “You always want to win Connacht. It is a shorter route to the Super 8’s and it makes things much easier. It’s been a long time since Galway put two Connacht titles back to back. But if we don’t manage that we will have to refocus. But our aim is to win Connacht if we can” (Kevin Walsh)
Chances: The deserved favourites. They were a kick of a ball away from playing Kerry in the league final as they made a few vital mistakes against Tyrone in their final Division one game. The return of the Corofin players and a fully fit Damien Comer will be vital for them. A very strong and improving outfit.
Prediction: Beaten finalists
2. Mayo.
Number of Titles: 46
Last Won: 2015
Manager: James Horan (1st year- second term)
Key Players: Aidan O’Shea, Keith Higgins, Lee Keegan.
Title Odds: 5/4
First Game: V New York this Sunday 5th May
They Said It: “The fact we won the league has not put any added pressure on us at all. It was great to win a national title. It helps in terms of confidence and belief but by the time the players had togged in that day they had already moved on and it was amazing how quickly that happened. It was great to win it but we have definitely moved on” (James Horan)
Chances: They look the part under James Horan and a couple of excellent wins against Kerry in the league have brought them back into national focus again. If they win this Connacht championship it’s likely that they will have to beat Roscommon and Galway so it won’t be easy. They seem to have a renewed confidence and will have a massive following behind them.
Prediction: Winners.
3. Roscommon
Number of Titles: 23
Last Won: 2017.
Manager: Anthony Cunningham (1st year)
Key Players: Enda Smith, Diarmuid Murtagh, Sean Mulooly.
Title Odds: 10/1
First Game: v Leitrim Sunday May 12th
They Said It: “Our biggest goal is to keep improving and improving our performances from the league. Competition for places is high at the moment and it is great to have that. Leitrim have a huge amount of confidence behind them. Terry Hyland has done a great job. We are not looking at Mayo or Galway or anyone else, our sole focus is on Leitrim on May 12th and that’s it” (Anthony Cunningham)
Chances: Roscommon always have a chance of winning the Connacht championship. However this year they have not an easy draw. A battle with a rejuvenated Leitrim will be tougher than usual but it is a game they should win. The clash with Mayo would be a different prospect altogether if they can overcome Leitrim. It is 1986 since the Rossies won in Castlebar and all the ducks would certainly have to be in a row for Anthony Cunningham’s men if they were to win on May 25th, Even at that Galway would probably be waiting in the final.
Prediction: Beaten Semi-Finalists.
4. Leitrim
Number of Titles: 2
Last Title: 1994
Manager: Terry Hyland
Key Players: Ryan O’Rourke, Michael McWeeney, Emlyn Mulligan.
Title Odds: 500/1
They Said It: “We are going into the Roscommon game to win it and that’s not being cocky or anything like that. If we didn’t think we couldn’t win we would be in the wrong job. Can we beat Roscommon? Yes we can. Will it be tough? Yes it will. It would be a turn up for the books but that’s for other people. It’s a huge game for Leitrim and we need to perform on the day simple as that” (Terry Hyland)
Chances: It would be a very brave man (or woman) who would predict that Leitrim would win the 2019 Connacht championship. They would have to beat Roscommon, Mayo and Galway to do so which seems very unlikely. However their excellent league campaign will give them hope as they take the field in Dr Hyde Park on May 12th. They will cause Roscommon problems but are unlikely to upset the odds.
Prediction: Beaten Quarter-Finalists
5. Sligo
Number of titles: 3
Last Title: 2007
Manager: Paul Taylor (1st year)
Key Players: Niall Murphy, Adrian Marren, Cian Breheny.
Title Odds: 100/1
They Said It: “It was a very difficult league campaign but the mood in the camp is good. We have taken the positives out of the league and the lads are training hard and looking forward to the championship. We have a very young panel and we are looking ahead. We are short a lot of players through injury and retirements but we are building. I presume that we will be playing Galway and if so it will be a tough game but we will be going in as underdogs so the pressure will be off” (Paul Taylor)
Chances: Sligo are usually capable of making a shape when it comes to the championship but this year it’s not looking great after a disastrous league campaign that has seen them relegated to Division 4. Assuming that Galway beat London it’s hard to see Sligo causing the Tribesmen too much trouble. They will have to hope for an easy draw in the qualifiers.
Prediction: Quarter Final Defeat.
6. London
Number of Titles: None
Manager: Ciaran Deeley (2nd year)
Key Players: Ryan Jones, Kiam Gavigan, Anthony McDermott
Title odds: 500/1
First game: v Galway on Sunday May 5th in Ruislip.
They Said It- There was no London representative at the launch.
Chances: London have had a very poor league campaign and finished bottom of Division 4. They have much the same tam as they have fielded in the past three years and although they are capable of playing some nice football they would have very little chance of beating a powerful Galway team
7. New York
Number of Titles: None
Manager: Justin O’Halloran
Key Players: Tom Cunniffe, Vinny Cadden, David Culhane.
First Game: v Mayo on Sunday May 5th.
Title Odds: 500/1
They Said It: There was no New York representative at the launch.
Chances: The trip to New York is eagerly awaited by supporters of the various Connacht counties and New York have shown that if they can get their act together they can put it up to the visitors. But they will surely be up against it against Mayo on Sunday next. It will be a great weekend for Mayo people in the Big Apple but no luck for the New York GAA team again this year.
Prediction: First Round defeat.

Sean Young – The Derryman Who Was A Roscommon GAA Legend

The word legend is misused and far too often bandied about when it comes to the GAA in particular. But I am entirely comfortable using the word to describe the late Sean Young who gave his life to the GAA and Roscommon GAA in particular.
I’m not sure when I first came in contact with Sean Young but it was probably in the late 70’s and early 80’s. He was coaching the Roscommon minor team that my brother Declan was on. Even though he was a Derry man his contribution to Roscommon GAA was simply enormous. For over five decades, there was hardly a year that he wasn’t involved with some team or other, whether it was Boyle or Roscommon. He loved coaching and he loved coaching young players in particular.
I was a very young County Board delegate and when I was going to County Board meetings every month one of the most vocal delegates was Sean Young. He passionately believed in club football and he argued for many years that county players should be playing far more club football all the time. Having said that he coached and managed every Roscommon county team there was at the time. In fact he was manager of the county senior team twice, once in the 70’s (when Roscommon were beaten by Kerry in a league final replay) and again in the 80’s.
Another remarkable thing about Sean Young was that although he put his entire life into Roscommon football he remained a very staunch Derry man. He loved to tell us all about his great friend, the legendary Jim McKeever, and any time Derry were doing well he was over the moon. Needless to say he was so excited in 1993 when his beloved county won the Sam Maguire Cup for the first time.
He was great company and loved the craic. Even though he never drank or smoked, many a long day and night we enjoyed in his company after matches and at GAA Golf outings. I will always remember the evening of Jimmy Murray’s funeral in P Walshe’s pub. There was a big crowd there and we were telling yarns and football stories and singing songs, remembering the great Knockcroghery man. Sean stood up and gave a rendition of ‘The Town I Loved So Well’ the likes of which I never heard before or since. You would hear a pin drop as he sang that night. Not a drink taken but still mad to be in the middle of the craic. He was a mighty singer and I heard him many, many times over the years. That was Sean Young.
There was a period of about 15 years when Sean Young rang me almost every week to comment on what I had written in the paper about GAA and football in particular. The phone call always started with him saying ‘Young Man’ Some weeks he agreed with me and others he disagreed with me too. We argued plenty but we never fell out. He was so passionate about football but here was never any malice in what he had to say.
I know in recent years he didn’t enjoy the best of health but his contribution to Roscommon GAAA was simply immense over 50 years and he was happiest when he was coaching young players. Up to just a few years ago he was working with the Boyle U-14’s. He was into his 80’s at that stage and he loved every minute of it.
To his wife Ann his sons Liam, Joem Sean and Paul, daughters Aileen and Catherine and all his family, and many friends and particularly those in Boyle GAA can I extend my heartfelt sympathy. May his kind and gentle soul rest in peace. RIP
(From The Roscommon People)

The Day Roscommon Toppled The Kingdom

A Day We Will Never Forget

It was one of the greatest days in the proud history of Roscommon football and it is hard to believe that it is all of 40 years since it happened. It was a day when Roscommon not only won a major All Ireland title but it was done at Dr Hyde Park in front of thousands of Roscommon people and it was Kerry, the aristocrats of Gaelic Football who were the vanquished on a day that those of us who were lucky enough to have been there, will never forget.
It was a magical time for Roscommon football. The seniors were in the middle of a four-in-a-row of Connacht titles. A time when playing Mayo and Galway (and anyone else for that matter) held no fears for The Rossies. Under the guidance of Tom Heneghan Roscommon’s U-21’s put the disappointment of losing the Connacht final to Leitrim in 1977 behind them with a thrilling championship campaign culminating with that dramatic win against the mighty Kingdom in the decider. It is also amazing to note that the Connacht final, All Ireland semi-final and final were all won by a solitary point.
Forty years later the lads who brought such glory and honour to Roscommon are still the best of friends. Indeed when they meet up, (which is regularly) the bond which they first generated as part of that great team still exists and is plain for all to see. The banter and fun they have together is an indication of the friendship that was generated by their time together in this special group of players.
Recently I sat down with four of that 1978 team to look back on the year, the matches they played and to share their memories of a really year and a special occassion. Seamus Hayden was captain on the day and played midfield alongside Gerry Fitzmaurice (who scored a great goal in the final). Tony McManus went on to become a Roscommon football legend and was a star with UCD and Roscommon even at that stage. Gerry Emmett has probably not been mentioned as much as others on that team but he was a fantastic player with a great football brain. He was ‘man of the match’ in that final and scored four points from play in the biggest game of his life.
There was plenty of banter and craic as the lads looked back on that campaign. Roscommon started with an easy win against Sligo, then they beat Galway in the Connacht final, Down in the All Ireland semi-final and Kerry in the final.

T Mc- Tony McManus, GE- Gerry Emmett, SH- Seamus Hayden, GF- Gerry Fitzmaurice

The disappointment of losing to Leitrim in 1977 was motivation for Roscommon when they started their campaign in 1978. That was the starting point for our chat.

SH: We had a very good team in ’77. Jigger (O’Connor), Danny Murray, Martin Dolphin and Gay Sheeran were also on that team along with the rest of us.
GF: We probably had a better team in ’77 than we had in ‘78
SH: You have to go back to 1975 really because we won the minor Connacht championship that year that year and most of us were on the U-21 team in 1976. But it was badly organised that year and then in ’77 Tom (Heneghan) came in and he got it going.
TMc: We were very disappointed in 1977, we didn’t think Leitrim were as good as they actually were. They gave Kerry a real run in the All Ireland semi-final after they won Connacht so they were good. Mickey Martin was their well-known player and they had a great centre-half back in Frank Hoolahan.
GE: We didn’t give them enough respect to be honest.
T Mc: I remember we had chances to win that game but we didn’t take them.
SH: We started training much earlier in 1978. Well, some of us started training earlier. We had a few big shot students on the team (laughs) – Tony was playing for UCD at the time and had special status.
TMc: I missed the first game in the championship against Sligo. I had exams and Tom Heneghan allowed me to stay in Dublin. Actually Aidan McHugh was picked in my place and he scored four goals against Sligo and he kept his place after that. (Roscommon beat Sligo by 5-7 to 1-4 in Castlerea in the first round)
GF: McHugh was mighty that day, he scored some great goals.
The competition was drawn out that time, with the first round in May and the Connacht final in July. The Connacht final (against Galway in Ballinasloe) was a real helter-skelter game that went down to the very last seconds. Roscommon won it by 3-9 to 2-11.
GE: We were awful lucky that day. Tony completely mis-hit a penalty and it deceived their goalie and barely got over the line (more laughs). We were six points down at one stage that day.
T Mc: I didn’t miss hit it. The ‘keeper went and I just rolled it in! I was playing midfield that day by the way.
GE: You must have been picking the team yourself!
TMc: The game was in injury time and we were three points down and the penalty drew the sides level. Harry Crowley kicked a mighty point from way out the field to win it then.
GF: Harry could do that. He was a great footballer. It was a great win and to beat Galway on their home ground was even better. I didn’t play well that day myself but it was a great game of football.
Roscommon were in the All Ireland semi-final now. They were to play against Down and the Munster and All Ireland champions Kerry were to play against the Leinster champions Louth. Roscommon won the toss for venue for the semi-final and it was played on a very wet and windy day in August of 1978.
SH: We played Louth in a challenge game up in Dundalk before the All Ireland semi-final and on the way home Greg McCrann was injured in a car accident. He broke his arm and that put him out of the team for the semi-final and Des Newton came in for him.
GF: Indeed I remember that challenge game. We had a few pints on the way home. Sure the final wasn’t for a few months so we were all right!
TMc: Some of ye had!
GE: I was married at the time so I was gone home!
GE: The day of the semi-final was a very bad day of weather and I remember Micheal O’Callaghan (the county chairman at the time) saying to us afterwards that it was “a good job ye won that game with all the chances ye missed”
T Mc: It was a very low scoring game in awful conditions (Roscommon won by 0-8 to 0-7) and I remember that Michael Finneran had a great game that day (he scored 0-4).
GE: I remember that Down had a very good goalkeeper that went on to play senior after that for a good few years (Pat Donnan) But it was a relief to get out of it with a win.
SH: It wasn’t a good game. It was a terrible day of weather. There was a lot of pulling and dragging but it was a good one to win. We were through to the final and we were playing Kerry.

To this day it is still a wonder of modern day Gaelic Football that Roscommon convinced Kerry that it would be a good idea for them to come to Dr Hyde Park to play the All Ireland final. There was a senior football competition on at that time called The Ceannarus Tournament involving the four All Ireland semi-finalists, and Roscommon were due to play against Kerry in the final of that competition. Even the four players I spoke to are still not entirely sure of how Roscommon got a home venue for that final but they are all agreed that the wily old Chairman at the time Micheal O Callaghan was involved!!

SH: Micheal O’Callaghan swung it in our favour. Kerry were going for three (U-21) titles in a row and they thought they had to only turn up to win.
GF: They (Kerry) had won the All Ireland senior title and had hammered Dublin in the final and they had six or seven of that team on the U-21 team as well. I met Pat Spillane a few times over the years since and he always gives out all roads about the Kerry County Board and why they agreed to play that final in Roscommon. But I’m convinced that it was Micheal O’Callaghan that did it. He told them how great they were and that it would be nice for them to come up to Roscommon. They swallowed it Thank God.
SH: We trained really hard for the final. We certainly took it very seriously.
T Mc: It was very intense (the training). I remember marking Seamus Tighe in training and we nearly came to blows several times. I remember he said to me It’s all right for you, you are sure of your place. I said back to him the way you are playing you are sure of your place too!
GE: Tom Heneghan was a great one for instilling confidence into his players. No one was giving us a chance but at training he was top class at driving us on. He was way before his time as a coach. He had super ideas
GF: I was disappointed that the game was fixed for Hyde Park because I wanted us to play the final in Croke Park. But I got used to the idea as the game was coming closer.
SH: There was a huge crowd there the day of the final and a serious atmosphere. It was a very attractive programme with the Kerry seniors there as well. It was Kerry’s first game after winning the All Ireland against Dublin. The Ceannarus match was first and I remember that Tom Heneghan played the first half of that match and he came off at half-time. The seniors winning the first game was a good boost for us.
T Mc: What I remember most about that match was that Gerry Emmett scored four points from play. Incredible to be honest (more laughs)
GE: I was under pressure that day surely as I knew that Tony (Mac) wasn’t playing that well so I knew that I would have to carry him! Look, Fitzy (Gerry) got a goal that day and after that I knew that we were not going to lose that game!
SH: It was a very tough game all through. Peter Dolan had a great game at full-back on ‘The Bomber’ Liston. But everyone was so highly motivated that day. It was a great opportunity to play against these guys who had just won a senior All Ireland title.
GF: We didn’t really talk much about them in the build-up (the Kerry players) really. It never really registered that they were as good as they were and we just went out and took them on to be honest. The goal came mid-way through the second half and I can’t remember much about it. It was into the town goal is all I can remember about it.
GE: It was a great win for sure and it didn’t really matter who played well as long as we won it. I was marking a fellow called Mulvihill .
T Mc: He never played for Kerry after that!
GE: I never played for Roscommon after that!
GF: They had seven or eight lads with All Ireland senior medals so it was a mighty achievement.
T Mc: It was a very tight game. It was touch and go right to the end. We were four points up and they got a goal late on.
GF: I remember that we thought we had the goal line covered and there was a small space in the top corner and Jack O’Shea found it. It was a great goal.
T Mc: We had a strong wind with us in the first half and we were 0-6 to 0-2 up at half-time but the second half was very close.
SH: I remember that Jack O’Shea made a great run for that goal. I looked over at the side line at Tom Heneghan and he gave me a stare that I’ll never forget. I said to myself, I better not let that happen again!
SH: It was such an honour to be the captain. The presentation was a bit of a blur but there were huge crowds around. We went to the Royal Hotel for a meal after the match. I remember that myself and Tom Heneghan went out to see Mick Mullen’s (Mick Mullen was the kit man) son in Ballybride outside Roscommon Town. The lad was sick in bed and we brought to cup out to him. We didn’t tour the county that night, we stayed in the town but we went on a tour the following day.
GE: The one major regret that I have was that I didn’t go down to Ballyfarnon on that Monday night. We got as far as Strokestown and I got no further. I wasn’t much of a drinker but we got stuck in Strokestown and it wasn’t the first time or indeed the last to get stuck there! But I genuinely regret not going down to Ballyfarnon that night.
GE: We didn’t realise at the time just how big a deal it was to win that All Ireland it’s only as time goes by that we realised that it was such a big thing for people in the county.
T Mc: Roscommon football was on the crest of a wave that time. We had two Connacht senior titles won. Things were going really well.
SH: Sure we were only young and we thought this could happen every year. We kind of took it for granted at the time. But it’s interesting to meet the Kerry lads to this day. They still give out about losing that game and that’s despite all the medals they won over the years.
GF: Sure look at Pat Spillane. He wasn’t even playing that day and he is still giving out about losing it. They were going for three in a row at U-21 level that year.
GE: There were some great footballers on our team. Harry Crowley was as strong as a bull and a great player. Coman Reynolds who emigrated to Australia was a very classy player too. Richie O’Beirne from Strokestown and Eddie Egan from Castlerea. Gerry Connellan too. So determined and with a great attitude.
SH: When you get older you appreciate it more because you realise that an All-Ireland is so hard to win.
T Mc: We felt that in 1975 we let ourselves down in the All Ireland (minor) semi-final against Kerry (when Roscommon were well beaten) and that hurt us. There were much the same teams in 1978 in the U-21 so it was great to beat them. It was redemption for us in a way.
SH: We played pure shite that day(1975) it was a very good minor team and we just didn’t play on the day. We strolled through Connacht but we were very poor against Kerry.
T Mc: Jimmy Murray was over that minor team and he was very disappointed at how it turned out. When we won the U-21 we went out to Knockcroghery to see him with the cup the following day. He was thrilled.
GE: The fact that we won that All Ireland together has meant that we have been close since as friends. No matter where we meet, and it might not be for a few years, there is still a great bond there between the lads.
T Mc: I remember travelling up and down to Dublin with Seamus Tighe and Gerry Connellan that year when we were training. Gerry would be asleep the minute we got into the car but there were great memories.
SH: I agree with Gerry (Emmett) we have built up a great bond with all the lads over the years.
TMc: But a lot of our success was down to Tom Heneghan. As a coach he was in a different league.
GF: He had a hatred of the opposition. As players he would make you hate the sight of the opposition. He would bring out real passion and will to win in every player. I remember a friend of mine was on the Galway panel in the 1970’s and he was marking Tom Heneghan in a league game in Castlerea. He never played for Galway again such was his experience on the day. He was a fearsome defender. But he was a great Roscommon man and a coach before his time.
T Mc: He was really thorough as a manger. He had routines worked out with regard to free-kicks and kick outs and he was a big believer in having the half-forward playing out the field with a big gap in front of the full-forward line. He was a great manager. In fact if you talk to many people in the modern era there is a criticism that Roscommon are not ruthless enough when it comes to the crunch. Tom Heneghan was certainly ruthless.
SH: With the senior team when Dermot (Earley) was taking a free if he put the ball down with his right hand it would go to the right corner or the left it would go to the left corner and if he left it down with both hands it would go down the middle. In those years the Roscommon defence was feared all over the country. Lads like Harry Keegan, Pat Lindsay, Gerry Connellan, and Heneghan himself were teak tough and mighty players. But to win that U-21 All Ireland was such a great honour and great to look back on a special day and especially with friends.

The All Ireland U-21 Football Final was played at Dr Hyde Park on Sunday 15th October 1978 in front of a crowd of 12,000 people. Roscommon won by 1-9 to 1-8.The Roscommon team in the final was: Brendan Kenny (Elphin); Des Newton (Shannon Gaels), Peter Dolan (Roscommon Gaels) Seamus Tighe (St Barry’s); Gerry Connellan (Kilmore), Richard O’Beirne (Strokestown), Eddie Egan (Castlerea St Kevin’s); Seamus Hayden (Roscommon Gaels) capt, Gerry Fitzmaurice (Michael Glavey’s) (1-0); Michael Finneran (Western Gaels) (0-2), Gerry Emmett (St Ronan’s) (0-4), Coman Reynolds (Elphin); Aidan McHugh (Strokestown), Harry Crowley (Oran)(0-2), Tony McManus( Clann na nGael)(0-2). Subs: M Dolphin (Padraig Pearses), M Murray ( St Dominic’s), K Murray ( Western Gaels), E ennett ( St Barry’s), J Costelloe (Roscommon Gaels), j Lambert ( St Croan’s), G Collins ( Shannon Gaels), L McDonnell (Michael Glavey’s), L Tiernan ( Elphin), G Watson ( St Dominic’s) A Dooley (Padraig Pearses).

(From The Roscommon People Plus magazine)

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