There are, as we know, few certainties in life. But here’s one I prepared earlier: today’s Eirgrid All-Ireland U-20 football final was always going to be an entertaining, freeflowing game.
Both counties have a proud GAA tradition, both tend to play the game with a certain swagger, plus underage football mercifully manages to remain uncontaminated by the negativity which, with some exceptions, has infected the senior grade.
For the record, Roscommon lost this afternoon’s exciting final to an excellent Offaly team. Mind you, the only man busier than the Offaly goalkeeper was the camera person tasked with filming Shane Lowry’s every move.
Offaly won by 1-14 to 1-11, after a pulsating game which had neutrals purring about the lovely attacking play and absence of cynicism.
Lowry, one of the best golfers on the planet – and all round good guy – watched his native county’s return to glory with family and friends in Croke Park.
Thousands of his fellow county folk were present too, as were thousands of Roscommon supporters. This was an eagerly-awaited occasion, a showdown at GAA HQ between friendly, neighbouring counties. It was such a big occasion for the players, their families and supporters of both teams. Tyrone’s misfortune (a Covid outbreak in their senior panel led to the Tyrone-Kerry senior semi-final being postponed) meant Roscommon and Offaly supporters could attend in their thousands.
The scene was set, and the teams did not disappoint. As I said at the outset, it was always going to be a cracker. It was always going to be open, attacking, pure, devoid of cynical play. It was Gaelic football as it should be played. It was always honest and open and captivating, at times it was exhilarating.
One of the saddest sentiments you can express as a fan is the old ‘I hope they don’t rue those misses’ one. I had a sinking feeling early on today. Roscommon, playing beautifully, carved Offaly open twice in the opening eight minutes, but the two goal chances were missed. At least Roscommon came from 0-3 to 0-0 behind to draw level, but they were making hard work of it, Offaly marginally more clinical.
After the first water break, Offaly moved up a gear, all style and directness, warning signs in green, white and gold. When they went 0-7 to 0-3 ahead, they suddenly began to look as imposing as Lowry in full swagger in the middle of a fairway. Ominous for the Rossies. ‘I hope they don’t rue those misses’ territory in our worried minds. In a bizarre reflection of their great toil and enterprise, Roscommon had now gone 15 minutes without a score. But our lads are full of heart. Two points closed the gap to two, and at half-time (Offaly 0-7 Roscommon 0-5) this game was winnable for the Rossies.
We all took a breather. On Twitter, neutrals poured praise on both teams. No tortuous ball retention tactics here. On 35 minutes, Roscommon were just one behind. Perfectly placed to strike for home. Instead, an Offaly tsunami. This superb team moved to a new level, firing over five unanswered points in nine minutes. It was the winning of the game.
Jack Bryant’s goal on 49 minutes seemed to kill the game, Offaly now seven in front (1-13 to 0-9). Roscommon had begun to be turned over too easily, nerves at play, the pressure telling. But our young heroes rallied, as against Down. Within six minutes, Roscommon had it back to three points, Adam McDermott’s goal meant we could dare to dream.
Roscommon pressed for an equalising goal, but a rattled Offaly held on, winning by 1-14 to 1-11.
There is nothing quite like that empty feeling in your heart when your team loses a big one on a big day. We travelled with such hope. God knows how awful that feeling must be for the players and management. But now, even just a couple of hours on, I can only feel immense pride (well, that and frustration over those missed goal chances). The outpouring of support and admiration for both teams from neutrals who watched on TV, from national media personnel who were present, has been very heartwarming. The consensus is that Offaly and Roscommon played a beautiful game in a wonderful, freeflowing way. Offaly deserved their win, and it is easy to be happy for that proud county and its success-starved people. Roscommon gave it everything and leave the stage with heads held high.
We are proud of our young Rossies. With Offaly, they lit up Croke Park today. They went close. They gave it everything. Well done to Offaly and well done to Roscommon too. They did us proud today, and the future is bright for them.