Granted, it wasn’t the first time I’d ended up in the principal’s office for a chat – but thankfully it turned out to be a far more pleasant experience this time around.
Ger Dowd is quite a remarkable man, but then again he must be. The Roscommon selector did after all succeed the legendary four-time All-Ireland winner Mattie McDonagh as principal of Creggs NS.
“Mattie and myself were very close. I started teaching out in Gortnadieve, where Mattie began his teaching career in 1957. His first year in Gortnadieve they won their first All-Ireland (1956 title). He stayed there until I think the mid-70s and in about ’75 he came into Creggs and replaced Bill Brandon, father of the Brandon brothers, who was principal at the time,” he said.
Ger’s own career path was to follow an identical trajectory, which would eventually lead to him working closely with the late Galway football legend.
“I started a long time ago now – 1980 seems like such a long time ago – in Gortnadieve. There were lots of amalgamations taking place; the smaller schools were being amalgamated into the larger schools.
“I was two years out there and then we moved into what was a new school in Creggs at the time in 1982. That was my first introduction to Mattie and we built up a great friendship, both of us were mad interested in sport – the GAA, rugby, all sports really.
“Mattie was a legend of the GAA of course; four All-Irelands as you know and ten Connacht titles, and we were at many different events and played a lot of golf, racquetball and snooker together”.
The week of a Connacht final between Roscommon and Galway is something Mattie would have enjoyed. He played minor hurling for Roscommon and later took over as manager of the Galway football team in the early ‘80s.
“Hopefully we learned a lot from him; above all he was a gentleman as well as everything else. He was a lovely man to be with, a very honest, generous man, and a great man for Creggs and for the school here. He was a great teacher and gave a lot to this area,” Ger said.
Mattie played for St. Brendan’s and of course Ballygar, but before he hung up his boots the great centre-forward togged out for Creggs.
“At the end of his career he came down and played a couple of years for Creggs, and in the late ‘70s I had the honour of playing with him. I was only starting out at that time playing for Creggs at intermediate level.
“Then later, when he retired, I ended up taking over from him as principal here. We’d great banter at this time of year with Roscommon and Galway and Mayo or whoever was in the Connacht final. He was a great man to go to the matches, himself and Johnny Hughes, a great friend of mine and a friend of his too. This type of Connacht final revives those memories of Mattie”.
The current principal of Creggs National School is a Creggs sporting legend in his own right, having starred on the football and rugby pitches of the half-parish.
His impressive background in rugby and that of Liam McHale’s in basketball have in some way helped to shape their coaching of this Roscommon team.
“With all these field sports we can learn a lot from each of them. I think there’s a lot of crossover with basketball as well in terms of attack and defence. Liam has brought a lot of that to the coaching and I’d like to think I’m bringing some of my rugby knowledge into it as well in terms of how we might defend and how we might look for space. In a lot of these games it’s always a fight to try to find where there’s space on the field and how we might exploit it to get scores and also trying to get mismatches between defenders and attackers to create situations where it’s two on two or three on two”.
Ger has scaled back his involvement with teams recently having been manager of the Creggs team which won the county junior title in 2016 while simultaneously working with St. Brigid’s and Roscommon. This year his focus is solely on helping Roscommon to retain their Connacht title.
“It is a bigger challenge this year to try and get this second title back-to-back. It’s something that hasn’t happened since I think 1991 and then before that you have to go back to the great side of the late ‘70s. It’s a new challenge and that’s what we’re trying to do; to push on and improve from what we did last year.
“You could be right in saying we caught Galway cold last year but we did prepare well and we were confident going up to Pearse Stadium and we’d like to think we’ve improved since then. We’re one year older, one year wiser, we have some extra players in our panel and we’ve had a very enjoyable year so far”.
The Tribesmen must travel across the border for this year’s decider and Ger believes home advantage will spur on this Roscommon team.
“You’d have to think home advantage is going to help in some regard; we love to have the Roscommon support behind us. It was very important to get the match in the Hyde. There was a lot of talk about it but now that it’s done I think it’s good for the GAA community in Roscommon, from youth level all the way up. Everyone’s looking forward to it and I think there’s a bit of a buzz in the town.
“The U-20s too, a great win there and congratulations to Shane Curran and Eddie Lohan and the management team. It’s never easy to go up to Tuam and get a result. That in itself gives the senior team a lift and then playing in front of us lends to the support and the buzz on the day”.
The Creggs man was enjoying the build-up to Sunday’s showdown and being an important part of Kevin McStay’s backroom team.
“I’ve really enjoyed my time with Kevin and Liam and the rest of the management team. The lads themselves are putting in huge sacrifices, every time we go for training – the backroom team, the players, everyone. The amount of work that’s going into it is unreal nowadays.
“I think we (management and coaching staff) respect each other’s opinions, there’s always difficult and tough decisions to be taken. We try to do our best and try to take into account as many factors as we can. I have to say that Kevin and Liam are both great coaches and great people to be involved with. They have a wealth of experience; they’ve played in a lot of Connacht finals themselves as players and managers. I’m learning from them all the time and we’re all learning from each other, I’d like to think”.
The border parish of Creggs is always an interesting place to be ahead of a big match between Roscommon and Galway and tensions have certainly risen recently. Local bragging rights are at stake for the third time in as many years and Ger says it’s all part of the summer buzz.
“We’ve a nice balance here between Galway and Roscommon in the school so we’re not completely outnumbered! It’s a lot of fun and there’s a lot excitement in the build-up to it – both from the kids and the adults around the village here.
“Up until recently it was dominated by Galway v Mayo so it’s nice to get this Galway Roscommon buzz back again because it hasn’t been here for a number of years. It’s all part of the fabric of summer football and the GAA Championship,” he concluded.