‘Where are you from?’ asked the man. ‘I’m from Roscommon’ I said. ‘Ye should have won in 1980’
Last Sunday morning, I was walking up Westmoreland Street, just south of the River Liffey in Dublin City. I passed O’Sullivan’s pub, swung a quick right down Fleet Street, and another quick right again, and in through the big brown door of the Palace Bar, my favourite watering hole in the city. I sat in booth one, which is crucial, if the afternoon turns busy (and it does!).
I was in a pensive mood, the garish light beaming through the tented windows, the clatter of glasses behind the bar, the smell of old mahogany wood, the hustle and bustle of the city outside. I will leave the rest to the fertile imagination. I ordered an Irish whiskey. I’m a heretic, when it comes to having some mountain dew. “One cube of ice please Liam!”
I was about to read Joe Brolly’s interview in the Sunday Business Post. It looked pretty long; (maybe I actually needed a drink for this!). I was about to put my spectacles on, and I caught in the corner of my eye an unkempt skinny man, with a whiskey nose, a cigarette-stained moustache, with big round spectacles on him also, with the right lens slightly cracked, and they weren’t sitting on him properly. Our eyes met awkwardly. It felt slightly uncomfortable at first, but he unshyly spoke in a high pitched voice; “Where are you from?” “I’m from Roscommon.” My precise response provoked his thoughts even further. “Ye should have won in 1980 really. That was a great goal by the Jigger Connor, and McManus turned on a halfpenny to put him through! Spillane said that’s the one they should have lost you know.” This man has a fairly lively mind I thought. He was cordial, sharp and witty in fact. I had to scratch my curiosity itch, and we ended up having a pretty erudite discussion on a game that happened 37 years ago.
I was amazed at the vividness, and the archive of memory the man had. Luckily for me, I was up to speed, as I had watched all the repeats of All-Ireland finals (when TG4 first came on air in the mid-1990s). “Brendan go to bed will ya!”
Detail after detail, we discussed from when Pat Spillane went down injured (or was he looking for his contacts lens?) and when Michael O’Hehir (simply the best commentator of all time) said “well, I think he’s going to get an Oscar for this one!” to when Mikey Sheehy pegged a goal back. The hair stood on me, as we discussed the ups and down of that final. In the end, it just simply wasn’t to be.
It’s 26 years since Roscommon were in an All-Ireland semi-final, and it was Meath who put us to the sword (0-15 to 1-11). Memories bring back Derek Duggan (who finished with 1-8) dummying Terry Ferguson and hitting the onion bag with that famous drop goal at the Hill 16 end, (which sailed past Meath goalkeeper Michael McQuillan). Unfortunately, the unflappable Brian Stafford (aka: Staffo!) kept the scoreboard ticking for Meath. He just couldn’t miss, even if he tried, that day. That evening, the bus landed back to Tommy Cox’s in Rooskey, and what could have, should have and would have, were all discussed. I think in the end, eventually everything in life becomes a good old cliché.
Sunday presents an enormous opportunity to get into the last four. Roscommon have no mental baggage. We’re a young team, play the game with no frills, and we have a forward line that can score goals, and guess what, goals win football matches. I asked a good friend once “does winning really matter?” and he said “sure if it didn’t matter why keep the score?” Obviously, the game has changed so much from 1991 (never mind 1980). Mayo are a very experienced team, but troubled by serious self-doubt. They’re likeable in one sense, they keep coming back, but they’re also like a child who has got kicked in the stomach one too many times, disaster prone. It’s like the sky falls in on them, and it’s always irreversible. There is just a banality to them now I feel! I am getting bored!
Kevin McStay’s management ability was up for judgement in this year’s championship. If he breaks a 26-year wait and gets Roscommon into an All-Ireland semi-final, he should ask to be buried upside down, so all the critics can kiss his ass. The famous college American basketball coach John Wooden said something in that regard, when he was put under the scalpel. I certainly believe Roscommon can get Mayo down to the anxiety-inducing period of the game (the last 5-10 minutes). After that, it’s up to the players really. It’s what is sometimes called ‘mental belief’. We all sentimentalise in life, and I’m sure that every Roscommon person would like to be sentimentalising in 20 years’ time from now, to a victorious Roscommon win in Croke Park on Sunday 30th of July, 2017 (some trivia: the exact date England won the World Cup 51 years ago).
I heard the door shut, and I looked around and seen the fresh froth of my new friend’s pint descending down the inside of his pint glass. He never said goodbye, but maybe I became too self-absorbed in my (Roscommon GAA) thoughts from him, and I was just spaced out, and he got bored. I finished reading Brolly’s interview. It was a tough read, honest, emotional, but somewhat dispiriting on Irish life and GAA (which all have just seemed to have evolved a bit too quickly for Joe, since Derry won the All-Ireland in 1993). Sometimes you have to be very careful who you give the freedom of air too. It’s the observation of human comedy in life that makes us laugh or cry, and I was laughing, trust me, at the absurdity of it all. I looked up, and Liam Aherne looked at me, with that ever-pleasant smile. “Same again Brendan?” “Certainly, the West is awake Liam you know.” “Oh, it certainly is buck! up the Rossies!”
* Brendan McHugh (Dublin-based), proud Rooskey, Roscommon man.