Nicky Rackard Cup SH Final: Roscommon 2-12 Armagh 1-14
The board said one minute of injury-time. That minute had just passed when Roscommon sub Johnny Coyne was fouled about 22 metres from the goal at the Davin Stand end of Croke Park.
It was definitely the last chance saloon for Roscommon. They had battled back to get to within two points of Armagh but their brave effort, part of it with just 14 men, looked like it had fallen short. There was however one last throw of the dice.
Micheal Kelly has been one of Roscommon’s foremost hurling stars over the past decade. The Four Roads man has given everything to the cause. There have been far more bad days than good ones as Roscommon hurling slipped further and further down the inter-county pecking order.
The team captain and inspiration placed the ball on the Croke Park turf and stared at it intently. There were eight Armagh players between the ball and the goal. Micheal ran, lifted and struck. He struck oh so sweetly too, and the ball flew hard and high into the rigging.
It was a sensational goal. On the puck-out, referee John O’Brien sounded the final whistle. Roscommon had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and their star player and captain had done it too. Who says that dreams don’t come true? Against all the odds, Roscommon had done it.
What a way to win a final. What a way to lose it too. But there had been signs all year that the 2015 Roscommon hurlers were going to do something special. Despite a poor enough league campaign, every time I spoke to Justin Campbell (manager) he was quietly confident that the players were putting in the required effort.
The team was improving with every game. The work that trainer Noel Larkin was doing with the team was paying off. There were a couple of bogeys laid on the way, like beating Monaghan and Tyrone. But one thing that was very evident was that there was a tremendous spirit within the group – and it stood to them on Saturday last.
Armagh were the hot favourites to win this final. They had won two Nicky Rackard Cups in the previous three years and had been playing at a higher level in the league. When they came with a scoring burst in the second quarter, it looked like they might pull away.
But the truth is that Roscommon were never out of this contest. Their defence was tigerish and the full-back line of Liam Kilcline, Peter Kellehan and Ian Delaney were heroic at times. Micheal Kelly battled hard as usual at centre half-back. Johnny Moran was having probably his best-ever game in a Roscommon jersey.
Jerry Fallon kept the scoreboard ticking over with frees and subs Cathal Kenny and Johnny Coyne made a huge contribution. Armagh went five up at one stage, but you never got the feeling that the game was gone from Roscommon. Even when Cathal Kelly got a straight red 14 minutes from time, Roscommon would not relent. Jerry Fallon could always point a free.
The word ‘defeat’ was not a word that Johnny Coyne and Johnny Moran would entertain. Then when Captain Fantastic Micheal Kelly got his chance he took it…and how. The celebrations were wild, and rightly so too. There were tears of joy. It was a pleasure to be there to share those moments out on the pitch just after the final whistle.
There is now a responsibility on the players and those who look after hurling in Roscommon to build on this victory. If Roscommon can beat Armagh then they can also beat Mayo and get into the Christy Ring Cup. That is where Roscommon hurling belongs. For far too long in recent years the team have languished in the relative backwaters of the NHL Division Three and the Nicky Rackard Cup.
With Justin Campbell and Noel Larkin leading the charge off the field and with people like Micheal Kelly leading on the field of play, the chance is there to restore Roscommon to former glories. That’s for another day though. Those of us who were there to see it will long remember this win, that finish, that free, that goal. Well done lads!
See also ‘Key moments’ on this website.