Even on Wednesday morning (yesterday) the questions kept coming on the drive to school.
“Which do you think was the best Roscommon goal…the first one against Mayo, or the one against Galway on Sunday?”
It just shows you how much excitement and joy and positivity a win such as Sunday’s creates.
All over the county, young boys and girls have a huge pep in their step this week, an extra portion of ambition, expanded dreams too as they kick a ball around in the garden on these fresh summer evenings.
The adults are pretty happy too.
What a day Sunday was! A game of, to put it in an ‘Irish way’, three halves! Roscommon were going fine for 20 minutes or so, doing things right, playing with confidence and common sense, living fairly comfortably with their vaunted opponents.
At 0-5 apiece, we were engaged in an even battle, a nicely poised and relatively entertaining contest. Then, as the rain lashed down, Galway were suddenly upping the tempo, Roscommon losing their way. We were a boxer on the ropes; penned back, unable to retain our composure. Galway picked off a few scores. Conditions were slippery, Roscommon energy levels seemed to drop, suddenly our quality of passing dipped and, zig-zagging maroon shadows aside, it was greyness all around. Roscommon’s dream was dying in not so slow motion.
These terrific Roscommon men must have looked deep into their hearts at half-time. An early point on the resumption of play was the settler. Then, that wonderful goal. Darcy’s sumptuous pass was a thing of beauty, but it seemed to scream an instruction – ‘Attack! Attack!’ Cathal Cregg did not seek clarity; he scampered into the distance with the purposefulness of a courier who had great news to deliver. When Diarmuid Murtagh raced ahead of Cregg, we were watching the game’s defining moment in slow motion; seconds later, more like poetry in motion. Forget, for a moment, the kick-pass and subsequent finish…this was all about footballing instinct, intelligence, beauty. Cregg’s pass was the definition of perfect timing; Murtagh’s finish, low and to a narrow space between ‘keeper and post, was magnificent.
From then on, Roscommon mastered the opposition. The Roscommon defence was superb, Killoran and O’Rourke took control in midfield, and Murtagh and Cox were ruthlessly brilliant up front. But there were heroes everywhere; every Roscommon player contributing magnificently to a lion-hearted, quality second-half performance.
In the last ten minutes or so, we showed a level of ‘cuteness’ which was so important…precisely the same type of tactics that top teams have used against us over the years. Now, in deep defensive positions, and with tension levels high, Roscommon excelled further in their ball retention and composure…winning great turnovers (the best of them by Cathal Cregg) then keeping possession, drawing fouls, slowing the game down, squeezing the last remnants of hope from a broken, dispirited Galway. There had been flair too from Roscommon; now was the time to close this out.
Still, there were heartstopping moments at the end, O’Malley in the Roscommon goal dropping to his knees – we were doing the same in spirit – to keep a dangerous ball out. Then a flashing cross-shot at the end that thankfully evaded players and the target.
It was a thoroughly deserved and magnificent victory.
There were no speeches at the informal homecoming; all the talking had been done on the pitch. At just after 10.30 pm on Sunday night, the Connacht champions arrived back in Roscommon town in that distinctive Club Rossie bus. Hundreds of fans had gathered; mobile phones were held high to capture the scenes for posterity, or at least for now, the fans cheering and applauding as the beaming players emerged with the cup. And what gentlemen they are! They met the fans with humility and shared joy, posing for selfies, chatting, engaging, operating on adrenaline, the gleaming Nestor Cup the symbol of the great journey they’ve been on, the symbol of what they’ve achieved. Heroes.
Now we should dare to dream big. That’s not hype, it’s just the natural evolution of our levels of hope! Why shouldn’t we think big? Roscommon footballers have been in the last eight of the All-Ireland series for three years in a row now. We’re Connacht champions, and we’ve just defeated Mayo and Galway. Some years back, a provincial success would have put us into the last four. Now we should aspire to making it to that elite level. We cannot talk about famines and being starved of success and then look the other way when we begin to frequent the top table. This is the time to push on, to build further on the momentum of recent times…to strike for further glory.
Of course it’s going to be tough…we haven’t forgotten the bruising, sobering experience that was last year’s Super 8s. But Roscommon are steelier now, are playing with great confidence and structure, have a wonderful never-say-die resilience, and an abundance of quality too. We seem to have progressed significantly on the physicality/conditioning front; we have more to do, but the trend is thrilling.
It is obvious, observing the management and players, that Roscommon are intent on continuing this journey with conviction, intent on being very competitive in the Super 8s. Whatever happens, it has already been a great and memorable season. This Connacht campaign has been magical. But we are not supporting actors in the Super 8s’ production which is coming up; it’s our time, a stage we’re worthy of, and this magnificent group of players can blossom further on it.