The Hyde looked wonderful on Saturday; the Man from the Connacht Council would surely have been impressed!
It was easy enough to forget the trauma of Tyrone (the previous Saturday) as anticipation built before throw-in.
The Donegal fans had travelled in great numbers and there was a good atmosphere in the Hyde, where the flags and jerseys of the two competing counties created great colour in the stands.
Roscommon started with fire in their bellies, as we expected they would. A massive point from Ciaráin Murtagh was a declaration of intent from Roscommon.
We do belong in this company, it seemed to say!
Moments later, more excitement as Conor Devaney found Diarmuid Murtagh with a wonderful diagonal pass…a goal chance perhaps, but Diarmuid, soon swarmed upon by indignant Donegal defenders, had to settle for a point. Roscommon led 0-4 to 0-2 by the 12th minute or so. It was very encouraging…but change was coming.
Donegal took almost complete control of midfield. In the stand on the Athlone Road side, we watched with a sense of the inevitable: another defeat slowly creeping up on us.
Michael Murphy was now rampaging around the Hyde as if he owned the place…causing consternation. Roscommon went a long time without scoring; Donegal popped over several points before Cathal Compton stopped the rot.
A flare-up just before half-time, and suddenly an infuriated Roscommon manager, Kevin McStay, was on the field, remonstrating with the officials. Players jostled. Just as it seemed to be dying down, McStay walked away from the heat of battle, having had his say. He picked up the ball – by now a forgotten prop – and lobbed it back towards the rolling maul of players and officials. As luck would have it, the ball landed perfectly on the head of an official, like a Tiger Woods wedge hitting the flag.
Roscommon put in a very good second half. They closed the gap to four, desperately trying to stay in touch. It was much, much better than the feeble collapse against Tyrone. But Roscommon were again out-muscled and, playing a touch more conservatively today, they struggled to get men forward. The Roscommon kick-outs were under pressure throughout. We watched the Rossies play with honour and commitment and no little skill, but it was never likely to be enough. In truth, Donegal missed a number of chances and were comfortable enough winners.
The Donegal folk stayed around for many hours afterwards – many stayed the night -– in what was a welcome boost for local businesses.
On Sunday night, as we plaintively joined the neutral onlookers in assessing our sobering Super 8s ride, Joe Brolly suggested two tiers before bedtime – insisting that while Roscommon were a “good” team, they currently belong in a second tier Gaelic Football competition.
I couldn’t disagree more – Roscommon belong where they are. A silly point from Joe, which is not to say that Roscommon don’t have a lot to do to compete with the top five or six teams in the land, because they do! Second tier? You must be joking, Joe!
Meanwhile, the original Joe Brolly – Eamon Dunphy, that is – has announced that he is to leave RTE after 40 years in the pundit’s chair. I will return to this issue of national importance. For now, suffice to say that we truly will never see his likes again; an absolute national treasure. I loved tuning in for Eamon’s unique contributions – then making a cup of tea when the football came on.
When soccer scout Bob Bishop saw the teenage wonderkid George Best destroying opponents on Belfast playing fields, he reportedly sent Manchester United boss Matt Busby a telegram:
“I think I’ve found you a genius”.
Sitting in the Davin Stand watching the All-Ireland Minor Football Final last September, I might have been tempted to send a telegram – well, okay, a tweet – to Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice.
Same message as Bob’s…’eh, genius alert!’
Mind you, Mr. Fitzmaurice knows a fair bit more about Gaelic Football than I do – and by last September, he and most GAA fans in the country were well aware of the burgeoning excitement about a new sensation from The Kingdom, this potential heir to the greats of the past.
We all knew something special was happening – no need for that tweet!
Clifford was mesmerising in that minor final, scoring an amazing 4-4.
Watching this unfold was thrilling…because of his actual performance, but also because you knew that a superstar was announcing his arrival.
The future was being taken care of!
Clifford was so sensational, it was understandable that some people almost questioned what they were seeing…they grasped for meaning, for reassurance! How could this be? This Roy of the Rovers stuff? They wondered…could this young man really make a similar impact at senior level? Should his inevitable elevation into the ‘big boys club’ be delayed?
In fact Fitzmaurice put immediate faith in the breathtaking new kid on the block. And he’s taken to the senior grade effortlessly and is tormenting seasoned defenders.
Last Sunday, aided by a wise ‘old’ man – Kieran Donaghy is his name – Clifford electrified the watching audience in the Super 8s’ game between Monaghan and Kerry. Great players can exhibit the might of their greatness when it matters most.
Injury-time, seconds to go, Kerry a goal behind and on course – sensationally – to exit the championship.
Donaghy, weary but wise, knocked down one more high ball from the vastness of his veteran career. Everything froze, bar the wonderkid. Clifford’s positional awareness, composure, vision and skill was a declaration of genius. The ‘boy wonder’ (okay, 19-year-old) arrowed the ball past a fretful line of anguished Monaghan men.
Game saved, Kerry saved, audience gasps. Bob Bishop would have been lining up a telegram…