A bird’s eye view…as football returns


The Hyde was strange on Sunday, which was, of course, to be expected. In the main stand, the presence of the media and County Board personnel signalled a welcome socially distanced return to match day. Above us, a chorus starring crows, gulls and other birds. It was a distraction at first, but we got used to it.

It’s odd being at an inter-county game when there are no spectators present. You hear the birds, you hear the coaches’ instructions, and you even hear the silence.

To our right, the Dublin subs sat, serious specimens, a stark reminder of the might of that squad. Below, on the pitch, the six-in-a-row All-Ireland aristocrats go through their devastatingly well honed paces. How they maintain their hunger is remarkable.

Above the Dublin subs, Willie Hegarty and the TG4 commentator sang their song of joy – reflecting an excitement for the return of football that instantly reminded one of the enormity of what was taken from us.

There was one man standing, leaning in fact – as well he might – in the stand on the Athlone Road side. One man, one stand. It was poignant to see the Hyde almost completely deserted.

It was an enjoyable match, featuring some super football. Roscommon played really well. It was 0-3 apiece after just eight minutes; even the crows were impressed.

In the 11th minute, a terrific, flowing Roscommon move had goal written all over it. Time seemed to stand still as the ball was crossed to an unmarked Diarmuid Murtagh, but his palmed effort struck the woodwork when it looked easier to score.

The difficulty when playing Dublin is that no matter how well you play, it’s unlikely to be enough (to get a win). Dublin are masterful at taking their chances, punishing errors, remaining patient. They were typically clinical. Roscommon did so many things well on Sunday, and our players will have learnt much from the experience.

By half-time, Dublin led 1-12 to 0-9. There was frustration in the Roscommon ranks with a penalty award to Dublin. By game end, the Dubs had been awarded three penalties. The new rule which was central to this is likely to prove very controversial; I won’t be surprised if it’s history soon.

Early in the second half, the birds were ‘challenged’ by some persistent baa-ing (I’m pretty sure it wasn’t booing) by sheep in a nearby field. Another of the background noises we wouldn’t hear if there were a few thousand fans in the Hyde.

As Cormac Costello arrowed points over for fun (he finished with 1-13), Roscommon’s fate was sealed. But the home team battled well, closing the gap to four, scoring some delightful points along the way.

A second man had now appeared in the stand on the Athlone Road side, but he was perhaps thirty feet from the other man. (Both were accredited). An advertising hoarding with the words ‘WB Yeats’ separated them; that’s as poetic as the scene became.

“Cox-y, make sure the next time” Anthony Cunningham bellowed as sub Conor Cox saw an attempt for a point drop into the ‘keeper’s hands. When a Roscommon forward misplaced a pass, he looked to the skies in despair, like an art collector who had lost a valued item and was now wondering how long it would take to get it back.

The third penalty – for a foot-block – seemed a daft call, as Niall Daly was definitely socially distancing at the time. Spare us from such wayward refereeing this summer. A team’s dreams could die in an instant.

Rather than try for a goal, Cormac Costello sheepishly kicked the ball over the bar, reminiscent of an embarrassed parent returning a fifty euro note to a relative’s pocket, insisting that it was far too much for their toddler.

By the final whistle, it was magnificent Dublin by nine, with Roscommon heads held high. We departed the Hyde, grateful for the return of football, magnanimously leaving the crows and sheep to enjoy the rest of the day, and whatever else the summer will bring.