We’d missed the first half, but were determined to see the second half up close and personal. It was eerily quiet as we approached Roscommon’s own theatre of dreams. My son and I, flag in (his) hand, in good spirits on a memorable Grand Slam winning weekend.
A beautiful day mischeviously made imperfect by piercing cold wind. Everything quiet and peaceful. Few enough cars, suggesting a smaller than expected crowd. A woman walked her dog past St. Coman’s Cemetery, away from whatever was unfolding at the Hyde.
The first person we met on entering the stadium was well entitled to have his opinion respected…his late father captained Roscommon to All-Ireland glory in 1943 and ’44. I chatted with John Murray for a couple of minutes. His report was succinct; after starting badly, Roscommon had finished the first half very well, and were now three up. “Ah they should win by a couple of points” John concluded, and we quickly banked his optimism.
We settled in the old stand on the Athlone Road side, merging into the web of fans. Familiar faces here and there, and young people availing of the opportunity to meet up and stare into their smartphones. Behind us, a couple of passionate Cavan fans provided an expletive-dotted but fair commentary. I met the great Roscommon supporter, Noel Coyle, who informed me that Roscommon had scored eight points in a row after trailing 0-5 to 0-1. Roscommon led 0-9 to 0-6 at half-time.
Cavan started the second half sharply, with purpose. It looked ominous for Roscommon. Cavan were finding scores that bit easier to get, with Gearoid McKiernan merciless.
Conditions must have been very tough for the players. Roscommon were working their socks off, but most of their second-half attacks were just falling short of achieving scores. Three Roscommon efforts rebounded off uprights, to communal groans. To be fair, Cavan had a couple of goal chances that, had they been taken, might have maintained Roscommon’s then mediocre home record in this season’s league. But Roscommon hung in, and in the final minutes, Kevin McStay’s team – reinvigorated off the bench – began to take control.
The Cavan men behind us continued to cast blunt judgement, falling just short of making a Specsavers appointment on the spot for a linesman! By the final whistle, Roscommon, showing great character and hunger in bitterly cold conditions, had turned possible defeat into a very welcome victory.
We’re fans, and we assume a right to criticise, the verdict often harsh and unfair. But let’s give credit to these players. As I watched Roscommon rescue this game on Sunday, I was so impressed by their commitment. These guys dug deep, their mindset not indifferent to that of our rugby heroes in Twickenham. Against very decent, in-form opposition, Roscommon dug into their reserves, withstood the ferocious cold and quarried out a good win.
At the final whistle, Noel Coyle and I agreed that it was a damn good result. It wasn’t that small a crowd after all; the aisles in the Stand were congested for a few minutes. The reviews varied. A Cavan man beside me said ‘The Dublin subs would bate the pick of them’, but you’ll hear that sort of rash stuff from fans. It turns out that Galway were in the process of drawing with Dublin. And the general consensus was that this was a very good game, and a great two points for Roscommon. Cavan fans were certainly a bit taken aback by the defeat, pockets of supporters holding postmortems here and there.
The Rossies were happy. John Murray had been right. We won by two points. My son (7) asked what the win meant. Would we be going to Croke Park next? The wide-eyed wonder experienced through trips to Croker in 2017 has created an enduring impact. In fact it’s Cork in the Hyde next week, another day of great league ordinariness.
Each passing week I find myself growing fonder of the league. The Championship may be the big beast…exciting, headline-grabbing, usually season-defining. But the league is a thing of beauty, of honesty. The league is raw, revealing.
This was a great St. Patrick’s Weekend. We won a Rugby Grand Slam in style. Leo, planning permission codology aside, had some important game time in The White House. The world turned green, and that’s no small thing. At the Hyde, the rhythm of life continued. A woman walked her dog, both perhaps oblivious to the Roscommon/Cavan match. Inside the theatre of dreams, we gathered to inhale the greatness of the GAA, to breathe in that great ordinariness of the league. Ciaráin Murtagh. A Seanie Johnston cameo. Passionate Cavan and Roscommon fans. Parents and their kids. Old men with furrowed brows and ready sighs. Utterly honest endeavour on the pitch. All eyes on the ebb and flow of the game, the thrills and spills. Pride and points at stake, the game at the mercy of the smallest margins, a turnover here, a shaved upright there. Grand entertainment in the Hyde on St. Patrick’s Weekend. The most Irish of things on the ultimate Irish weekend. Something to be very proud of. And a good Roscommon result. Even the dog in the street probably knew that.