Moments that make the memories

The prelude: The crowd was shockingly small, the weather lovely, the fans who were there in good humour, Brigids’ unsure if the hand of history would grasp them, the champions’ followers more muted than their rivals’ because of the familiarity of success.    St. Faithleachs were cheered by young and old, people straining for freedom from shackles put in place at a time when the world still reeled from John F. Kennedy’s death, this a club which won its last senior title before England’s World Cup (soccer!) triumph. Faithleachs have momentum now, their fabulous new grounds unveiled, their team a serious set of players who are standard-setters for most others in the county.    All of it was put into perspective by the impeccably respected moment’s silence in memory of the young men who lost their lives in various tragedies in the county in recent days.     The first half: It was beautiful for a while, ebbing and flowing as though the County Board had produced a dvd advert for ‘better county finals’ and invited us all to a screening. Brendan Reynolds’ two early frees helped the underdogs go 3-1 in front; Frankie Dolan’s first touch set up Blaine (via Kilbride) as Brigids’ stayed in touch.    This was good, open football, appreciated by the crowd, with the sides essentially sizing eachother up, the physical stuff kept to a minimum, the teams resembling two athletes who take it in turn to go to the front in the safe knowledge that the bell for the last lap won’t ring for some time.    After a shaky start the Brigids’ full-back line settled and this coincided with a dip in the quality of the Faithleachs’ challenge.  The save: It’s the second half that matters. St. Faithleachs started it well and were breathing down the necks of the champions, beginning to scent water after an ominous spell in the desert mid-first half. They had drifted dangerously, but their heart had dragged them back to within three points.    Then, another attack, and Faithleachs’ forwards bore down on a briefly-rattled Brigids’ backline. The ball came to Aidan Dooney and time stood still. His near-perfect shot, then, literally in a blink, Shane Curran’s instinctive dive, one borne of thousands of training ground sessions, and the super stop with the hand, the stunning moment that ebbed at the resistence of the challengers.  The goal: Two men close to me in the Stand (Hyde Centre side) were having a right go at eachother over ‘Frankie.’ I’d like to say one of them was John Maughan, but not so! One was a Brigids man, the other from Faithleachs, the former cheered the mercurial one’s every touch, the latter saw Frankie as a suitable target on which to vent growing frustration. As ever, Frankie provided some ammunition which ‘the man in the stand’ could use for verbal pot-shots; there were Frankie cameos every few minutes, with the number eleven racing in to remonstrate with umpires or referees or opponents. But he is captain, and most people would say he was entitled to strut thus. When the ball came to him, quality shone through, Dolan’s passing a delight.    Brigids’ led by 10 to 8, the ball came to Dolan. Frankie’s moment. A powerful run through the centre, then he glimpses a colleague and where another player might shoot for a point has the vision and composure to make the pass. A killer ball. Brendan O’Brien’s finish is brilliant, the perfect compliment to his own run and Frankie’s creativity. The game is dead.  The closing stages: Faithleachs battled away, but the save and goal had settled it. There was more to it than that too, Brigids had more class generally, some of their foot-passes from defence to an on-fire full-forward line were highly impressive. Faithleachs were gallant but Brigids were fully deserving of the glory that awaited. The game petered out, a few tempers got lost and small, insignificant squabbles were now as plentiful as the ‘noughts’ on a Tribunal lawyer’s paycheck.    It was over before it was over, otherwise Shane Curran wouldn’t have done a somersault in the middle of a game, would he? (Actually, he probably would).  The aftermath: Faithleachs’ philosophical but shattered, Brigids’ supporters reminding you – almost – of the Clan heydey, when county titles were routinely won and the real business was at provincial and national level. Robbie Kelly, Mark O’Carroll, Cathal McHugh, Brendan ‘Dixie’ O’Brien, these and others were excellent, while two ‘living ghosts’ from Roscommon’s recent past had once again played their part, Shane Curran with ‘the save’ and Frankie Dolan with ‘the goal.’    The two men beside me in the stand weren’t for making up. Well, they kind of half-looked at eachother, almost grinning, but not quite, at least not in front of the witnesses. I didn’t see John Maughan, but I’m sure he had a little to think about when he reflected on it all. In case it hadn’t crossed John’s mind, Frankie Dolan – taking to captaincy and ‘the mike’ with ease – advised the manager that he could win Connacht next year if he picks the best players available!   ‘Wonder who he has in mind?