Paddy Joe Burke on ‘the most exciting time of the year’

I’m Paddy Joe, and football is a huge part of my life. It’s not everything, but it has the ability to turn problems around for you.

  Every Christmas Day, when we sit down for our Christmas Dinner, your mind begins to float and you begin to think about New Year’s resolutions. I always think ‘this can be the year.’

  The thought of Roscommon bringing Sam home is never far from my mind. I can honestly say that every single day of my life I think about it. Roscommon bringing Sam home.

  I never despair, because it’s getting closer. It’s like being a door to door insurance salesman. Every door that’s slammed in your face…you’re a door closer to a sale. It’s the same with football.

  On All-Ireland Final day, when the winning captain collects the Sam Maguire, we’re a year nearer to winning it again.

  I dream every day about Sam coming home. I have a vision, a dream, a passion. I create the possibility in my mind and I know the day will come.

  At the moment, Roscommon have a very promising bunch of players. We are not relying on one or two forwards. We have six good forwards, in fact more like eight or ten.

  We have pace, we have lads that can run. They can compete with anyone, they can eat up the ground. When you have quality and pace you have a chance.

  Just now, Roscommon have a tremendous squad of players.

  Having said all that, we’re cautious this week. The Rossies can be over-optimistic and we can hype things up. I think the balance in the build-up is right this time.

  We are nervous, and we have every right to be nervous. I say that because this game is set up for Sligo – and we never have it easy there.

  I don’t know what it is that happens to us when we go over the Curliews. Sligo is beautiful and the people are lovely, but we seem to struggle there.

  One of my biggest disappointments following Roscommon came in 1977. The Connacht U-21 Final in Sligo was between Roscommon and Leitrim. We had a powerful team but we were beaten that day. At the full-time whistle we looked at Ben Bulben and it didn’t look near as good as it did at the throw-in.

  In 1987 we played Sligo in Sligo. A long ball from John Kent to Mick Laffey. He goes down and Seamus Prior gives a penalty. Laffey scores. Gay Sheeran kicks the ball out, Prior blows the whistle. We lose.

  This is a defining match for us. A defining match for the minors of 2006. We’ve done exceptionally well in the league in the last two seasons. We’re at a new level now; we have arrived. We’re up on the catwalk, but when you’re up there you can fall off easily enough.

  Sligo know all about us; that will suit them. We have to be very cautious. The Bord Failte ad says Sligo is full of surprises; we don’t want to be one of those surprises.

  I’m ready for the weekend. We beat London and now the Connacht Championship really starts. Our team has progressed exactly as we would have wanted. As usual, I have flags up in the garden. I just put up five Roscommon flags initially. Then I took one of them down and, in the tradition of sportsmanship and to salute our great neighbours, I put up one Sligo flag (four for Roscommon, one for Sligo).

  On Saturday we will travel with hope in our hearts. We’ll put our jerseys on and we’ll head for the Curliews. We’ll speak to the horse (The Gaelic Chieftain statue) on the way. It will be a gigantic battle, an almighty struggle, but hopefully we’ll have the right result when we return back over the Curliews. Hopefully it will be mission accomplished. If we win, it will be some day’s work and we’ll have a good hello for the horse on the way home.

  This is the most exciting time of the year. It always is. It started for me in 1966. This bug. The venue was Carrick. What a day. The teenage Dermot Earley lined out for Roscommon minors. They won. Straight afterwards, he came back out on to the pitch with the Roscommon seniors – and they won as well.

  That day 49 years ago, when I saw Dermot Earley for the first time, that’s the day I got hooked. I saw every single championship game Dermot Earley played for Roscommon from then on. And I was privileged to see them.

  I was hooked then, and I’ve never looked back. The dream lives on. It all starts again on Saturday. We are cautious, but I think we can win.

  For Paddy Joe, and for every Rossie, the best is yet to come!


(In conversation with Paul Healy)