It was always likely to be a cracker – it turned out to be a classic.
By the end of a mesmerising contest, old men with hats protecting their heads from the searing sun were on their feet to acclaim a swashbuckling and stylish Roscommon performance.
The bog could wait.
Delighted children perhaps didn’t realise the full significance of the win; the rest of us knew for sure how special this was.
Portlaoise is a really nice ground and Roscommon fans have fond memories of this place. Over a quarter of a century ago Tony McManus (scoring 2-5) led Roscommon to a famous National League knock-out win over Dublin in a classic at that ground; in 2003 Frankie Dolan produced his own masterclass (scoring 0-11) as Roscommon saw off Kildare.
When we arrived in Portlaoise on Saturday, weather conditions were beautiful and Roscommon fans easily outnumbered our friends from Armagh, anticipation high.
Roscommon started brightly enough, but the Armagh forwards were threatening Armageddon for Kevin McStay’s side; their phenomenal first-half shooting was setting a daunting standard.
We were doing well in general play, but in a free-flowing game every Armagh attack was hurting Roscommon.
In a thrilling first half hour, every single time Armagh went for a point the ball sailed between the uprights. It was a scoring masterclass, and left Roscommon in no doubt about the scale of the challenge.
The key first-half score came after 29 minutes and it pumped extra confidence into Roscommon.
It’s been obvious for several months that this exciting Roscommon team carries a lethal goal threat, one that is the envy of most teams in the country. Now, in a superb move that traversed the length of the field, Roscommon cut through Armagh with intent, the decisive strike from Devaney, who injected pace at the right time before passing to Enda Smith who goaled to the acclaim of the fans.
Roscommon had started well and had been staying with clinical Armagh; but this score was a game-changer, a declaration of intent.
The second half was another thriller, Armagh missing a penalty but scoring a goal a few minutes later, Roscommon showcasing all their attacking flair with some superb points. It was quality football; a feast for spectators – and nervewracking too.
Roscommon always looked the most likely winners – but they had to win this one four or five times, with Armagh coming back every time McStay’s team went a few clear.
The scores were now coming faster than UK Government resignations. The brilliant Cathal Cregg was kicking inspirational points; Enda Smith was tormenting Armagh with his powerful running and superb use of possession. The Murtaghs? They used to say that defenders who had faced George Best left the field with ‘twisted blood’; the Armagh defenders will know the meaning of that term this week.
By full-time, the best dressed umpires in the world – all soberly atttired in collar and tie, as though rehearsing for stewarding duties during the Pope’s visit – were wrecked from raising their flags, the game producing 44 scores.
It had promised to be a cracker, it turned out to be a classic. Roscommon were well deserving of their win and might have had three more goals. Armagh had contributed handsomely to a great game.
The prize was epic – a place in the Super 8s. It has lifted the morale of a county – further. The flags are flying proudly and ‘football talk’ is the background sound of this sizzling summer.
Back to Portlaoise: What finally shook a formidable Armagh team off was Enda Smith’s game-sealing second goal. Roscommon had relentlessly sought to push Armagh into submission with some superb football – but the Ulster side had gamely hung on. Now, after three second-half goal chances had been missed, Smith powered through and took responsibility. Too often Roscommon had paid a price for over-elaborating or over-thinking; Smith didn’t look for options, for help, he just went for it; Ball. In. Net. Game. Over.
The last few minutes – Roscommon seven up, then six – were reminiscent of the final minutes of the 2017 Connacht Final. Giddiness, relief, joy escaping. Roscommon knew they were over the line, that the margin was a safe one, that this was their day.
Many enthusiastic fans surged on to the pitch at the final whistle. Some of us just drew breath and savoured what it all means. Below us, Kevin McStay and Kieran McGeeney shook hands, mutual respest dripping from them. We left the stand smiling inside and outside, emerging into fierce heat and the first steps of the new adventures that lie ahead.
It seems that nothing excites the Irish media like the prospect of a Presidential election.
The silly season hasn’t even started – but the silliness is being cranked up.
For years (yes, years) the Irish media chased Miriam O’Callaghan around, in excitable anticipation of the Golden Girl reaching for the Áras.
This constant media attention must have been deeply embarrassing for Miriam, who thankfully hit on a great idea a year or two in – announcing that, despite constant pleas from the public for her to run, she had decided not to.
The incumbent, the very shrewd Michael D. Higgins, kept his cards close to his chest while all around him the media were doorstepping anyone with the slightest profile and demanding to know: Are you running for the Presidency?
Michael D. had told the nation in 2011 that, if successful, he would strictly be a one-term President.
We listened intently to that proclamation and then dismissed it. And we were right.
The world’s worst kept (and least interesting) secret is out – and Michael D. is indeed going to seek a new term.
Cue the media going into overdrive in a frenzied search for some drama...well, even for some credible opposition to the man who has undoubtedly been a distinguished holder of the office.
The prospects for a great epic battle are bleak – and even the media realises that the race for the Park in 2018 might well be a sad successor to the drama of the 2011 campaign, like a Bond movie being followed by Oireachtas Report.
The Irish Independent on Wednesday (again, note the profile given: it was the lead story) ominously spoke of Michael D. facing minnows in an election anti-climax!
As Kevin Sharkey (artist) and Padraig O’Ceidigh (Aer Arann founder) digested their morning cereals and the reality that they had been depicted as minnows, the smug Terry Prone discussed the matter at length with Pat Kenny on Newstalk.
On and on it went – I almost switched over to Ryan Tubridy – but it was still too early in the day for such jollity. (To be continued!).