Saturday morning, Lisnamult
“Don’t forget to buy some buns on the way”.
Another Saturday morning, another GAA Blitz. By 9.45 am, we had everything ready. Hurling helmet. Hurley. Eight-year-old boy in Roscommon Gaels’ gear. Everything we needed. Sense of anticipation. Beautiful sunshine. The car journey takes about eight minutes. No need for the radio, because the eight-year-old is all talk. ALL TALK. Questions…which do you prefer, hurling or football? What time is it? Who is your favourite player? Are you staying? 9.55 am. Crossing the bridge, turning for Lisnamult, closer to the fields of fun. Cars park here and there, each vehicle releasing small hurlers with big dreams. We join the Blitz Brigade. It’s a 10.30 am start, but already some teams are warming up. Enthusiastic kids soloing and spinning, urged on by proud parents. It hasn’t even started yet, and when it does happen, it won’t have happened by magic. Volunteers were at the Roscommon Gaels’ grounds in Lisnamult the previous night, preparing the pitches that will be used during the blitz. This morning, they are here again. At the front of the dressing room, they’re lining up refreshments for later.
And we didn’t forget to buy some buns on the way.
They got a right soaking in Creggs on Thursday night. ‘Big match day’ doesn’t happen by magic in Creggs either. It takes a lot of voluntary effort. There is a lot of toil, but it is all done with fierce pride and enthusiasm. There were club volunteers there on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights…ahead of Saturday’s hosting of a Junior Interprovincial between Connacht and Munster.
Meetings, planning, jobs, preparations, boxes to be ticked every day. Whatsapp is your only man. This is the mostly unseen work, the generosity with time and energy which is the oxygen of sports clubs and voluntary groups in general. These days, Creggs RFC is reaching new heights in its great history…a confluence of achievement on and off the pitch. It’s no longer ‘the’ pitch either. There are now four pitches at Creggs RFC, including the only 4G one in the province. By Thursday night, the club was 38 hours or so away from hosting a glamour Junior Interprovincial. The volunteers got a right soaking as they cleaned and dusted the numerous hoardings that surround the new 4G pitch.
Saturday afternoon is different. Creggs is basking in sunshine now. There’s a large crowd present for this big occasion. Although many of the heroes of the 1970s – when the club was formed – are present, this is a whole new world in Creggs. The proud and lovable old place is on a new level now. Four pitches, a walking track…with new dressing rooms and a new stand on the way. As if to symbolise all this change, a drone hovers above, startling a few supporters, one of whom marvels as the flying wonder of modern technology stalls in mid-air, like it knows how good it is and is just showing off.
On the pitch, fierce combat, high skill levels. The pitch itself is like velvet. The supporters are engrossed by the battle, the locals in the crowd beaming with pride as their club showcases its superb facilities on a glorious day. There’s little between the sides, but Munster finish the first half strongly, and lead at the break. The highlight of the first half reminds us of a former great of the past. Henry O’Toole scores a solo try on 17 minutes; his father, a former star player, is Connacht’s Backs’ coach.
Saturday lunchtime, Lisnamult
They call it a ‘Blitz’ for a reason. The games come thick and fast. There’s a referee, a couple of coaches, proud parents. The coaches are supportive, positive, full of encouragement. Events such as Saturday’s are held countywide on a regular basis, enjoyed by hundreds of boys and girls.
The kids love it. Week on week, they are progressing, honing their skills, moving in the right direction. Each team gets three games. When the final whistle blows, the children are drawn, as if by magnet, to the well deserved ice creams, drinks, biscuits and buns. Within a few minutes, several of the boys are back on the pitch, this time with a football. It is their world, just now.
Saturday afternoon, Creggs
Munster are all over Connacht in the third quarter, leading now and seemingly destined for victory.
A walk around the pitch reveals the scale of the recent developments at the club. Four or five kids are playing on a pitch in the distance. The stewards are familiar faces, some of them wore the Creggs jersey in the old days. There are familiar faces in the crowd too, headline acts in the Creggs story. Three women on my right briefly discuss buying dresses for an upcoming event, before one of them says ‘we should be cheering the boys on’. They do, though they also return briefly to the dress debate. I chat with one or two club stalwarts. “Everyone wants to play on the new pitch” one says. “I don’t know what we’re going to do”. It’s hardly surprising; the new pitch is like something that was computer-generated, all green and pristine and bright and beautiful. Yet the ‘old’ pitch will surely remain in their hearts forever, being a monument to epic wins and great times.
Back on the new pitch, something dramatic is happening. The tide is turning. Connacht are digging deep. 21-10 behind, they roar back into the game. Local hero Shane Dowd breaks through to score a great try, and our memory goes back to the jinking incisions once made by his Dad, Ger. A few minutes later, the rampant men in green are 29-21 ahead. Ten minutes left.
On such a beautiful day, in such close proximity to the action, midst the stillness, you hear everything. The Connacht players regroup in their own half after their latest try. They cajole one another with varying war cries.
“Loads of rugby left here”.
“Ten f**king minutes!”
“No score lads, no score!”
When it’s over (Connacht win), the fans break into appreciative applause. Perfect day. Now the hosting continues. The two teams and their entourages will have Dinner in the clubhouse. They’ll watch the European Champions Cup Final there. Many supporters join them. The local volunteers continue with their work. It’s a team effort. Creggs’ President Padraic Deane is to the fore, on this proud day for the club. Later, the Connacht party will socialise in Roscommon town, but they’ll stay the night in Airbnb in Castlerea. Apparently all the beds in Roscommon town are booked out.
In all, six Creggs lads have seen action on the field today: Maurice Buckley, Andrew Callaghan, Brian Diffley, Brian Donoghue, Shane Dowd, Aidan Leech. Clubman Pat Cunningham was the forwards’ coach. Six locals on the Connacht team! More pride. Off the field, a fabulous success. A perfect day.
11.40 am, Sunday, Roscommon
On Roscommon’s Main Street, all human life. Two men arrange their hats, flags, horns and headbands. A modest cardboard sign is on the boot of their car…‘Hats, flags, horns and headbands’. A man wearing a Leitrim jersey (No. 11) is passing Paddy Power’s; he doesn’t go in. Coming in the opposition direction are two buskers who are in their 60s or older. Both men have a reasonable amount of white hair on their head and they each sport a distinguished beard. One carries a guitar in a case, the other man carries a banjo. They have lived-in faces.
Most people moving around Roscommon just now, with throw-in a few hours away, have some version of expectant ‘Championship Face’. You can actually see the in their faces how happy they are. Their Championship faces, their Championship striding and strutting. The day has finally arrived.
2.30 pm, Sunday, Roscommon
The supporters weave towards the Hyde. At Casey’s roundabout, a ‘Sinn Fein man’ is hammering an election hoarding into position.
There are canvassers and election candidates all over the place, including MEPs Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan and Matt Carthy. It’s a beautiful day. There are plenty of buskers too. The two bearded buskers with the guitar and banjo set up within a few metres of the entrance to the Hyde.
The game itself is very one-sided, Roscommon rattling in three first-goals, leaving Leitrim dispirited and facing a heavy defeat.
Volunteerism is to the fore here too. Familiar faces…stewards here, there and everywhere. Passionate GAA folk. They have their championship faces on today, a pep in their step since late morning.
The match never quite takes off, but Roscommon impress, and win easily. Leitrim will have better days, and have had a good season.
It may have been a one-sided match, but it’s a great occasion. It’s wonderful to have Championship ’19 underway. The Hyde Park pitch looks fabulous. The Roscommon subs contribute several points, an encouraging aspect of the day. Many of the kids play Gaelic football, hurling, camogie, soccer and rugby locally are in the Hyde today. Below us, Roscommon goalkeeper Darren O’Malley is signing autographs for a few of those kids.
It’s been a heartwarming sporting weekend. The Roscommon hurlers had a great win. I am conscious too that there are many more sports blossoming locally, involving great volunteers and many participants. Ballinasloe won the big soccer final in Lecarrow at the weekend. Participation levels in girls/ladies sports are rocketing. I will revisit these and other sports in the coming months.
The American politician Tip O’Neill said that all politics is local. In a way, all sport is local too. Certainly for us it is. We enjoy the golf majors, the Premier League, the Champions League, the exploits of Irish and world stars in various sport. But local sport…driven by locals…is very special indeed. We have so much to be proud of here in Roscommon in that regard.
5 pm, Sunday, Hyde Park
The fans, basking in sunshine, depart in good humour, weaving back towards their cars, or into town on foot. We are back up and running. Happy days.
The two bearded buskers are singing ‘I’ve been a Wild Rover for many a year…’