PAUL HEALY reviews ‘Behind The Gates,’ AIB’s online documentary on Roscommon senior footballers’ eventful season…
‘Even our own people have given up on us’
Roscommon haven’t yet kicked a ball in the 2017 championship. The scene is being set. We see footage of former Mayo player David Brady telling Sunday Game viewers that it’s hard seeing his neighbours struggle. A headline appears on screen, addressing Roscommon’s presumed plight: ‘A mass exodus meant championship expectations were low.’
And Gay Sheeran’s ‘I want a Roscommon man on the sideline’ radio outburst is of course resurrected.
But it’s a Mayo man who’s on the sideline. Kevin McStay speaks to camera.
“Outside our bubble, even our own people have given up on us…a little bit sad, but I’m going to try and turn that into anger.”
The ‘fly-on-the-wall’ documentary provides a limited but still fascinating insight into the Roscommon camp. Conor Devaney, revealingly, speaks of their determination to atone for last season. “We have to have a good summer…personally I would like to make amends…the team would.”
Roscommon beat Leitrim easily but produce a Jekyll and Hyde performance against Meath in a challenge. It infuriates McStay. A picture of McStay is emerging; protective of his players and amiable, also straight-talking and passionate. Expletives here and there every now and again.
Criticising the players’ body language in the second half of that challenge game, McStay says: “We went from a high to bullshit…I’m not happy with that second half…I mean that was not acceptable.”
There’s more work to be done.
Later, a team gathering, and the Roscommon players are asked to share why they play the game. What’s it all about? What drives you? Enda Smith breaks down when he talks of his brother, Cian. Cian won an All-Ireland Minor medal with Roscommon in 2006. Subsequently, and devastatingly, he was diagnosed with cancer. He’s doing well now and it’s clear that he’s a huge inspiration to his brothers in the Roscommon set-up, Enda and Donal.
“The reason I play is 90% for him” says Enda, Donal adding that “he’s our best supporter.”
‘Hammer and tongs’
Part 2 is dominated by training footage and the management trio announcing their Connacht Final team selection to the players.
Selector Ger Dowd says to camera: “I really believe in that group…and I know that Liam and Kevin do too.”
As goals fly in during training, Kevin McStay assures the players that they are empowered (by management) to go for goals, adding that Roscommon will need two or three three-pointers in the Connacht final.
A trial game follows and it is clear it will have quite a bearing on the selection of the team. Everyone knows what’s at stake. “It’s flat out, hammer and tongs” says Seanie McDermott.
Fifteen guys get good news, more don’t. Trials and tribulations. But all for the cause.
‘The best moment… it beats everything’
As the Club Rossie bus heads to the Connacht Final, players are on mobiles/ipods, Kevin McStay is reading the sports section of the Sunday Independent!
Passionate speeches in the dressing room. It’s the most fascinating part of the documentary, this partial insight into what goes on inside the dressing room doors.
Liam McHale to the players: “We’re gonna be f**ked tomorrow…but when you wake up…for three seconds you don’t know where you are…then you’ll realise we’re Connacht champions.”
McStay: “We’re on the cusp, we need to deliver now. This is the team that’s going to take Roscommon forward for six, seven years. We need a break, that break is today.”
At half-time, Roscommon are unexpectedly seven points up.
McStay is surrounded by his players, arms linked in a circle in the dressing room. He warns them not to have any regrets at the final whistle.
“Another goal and they’re f**ked!”
In the second half of the Connacht final, Roscommon continue where they left off. They get another goal and Galway are…f**ked. A famous win. The fans invade the pitch. Joyous scenes as players and management embrace. Families and friends swarm around the Roscommon heroes. Enda Smith is overcome, shaking his head.
“The best moment….it beats everything, that…(I’ll) remember that for life.”
Great scenes follow as the bus stops at Pearses, in Knockcroghery, and finally in The Square in Roscommon. Bonfires, flags, whooping and roaring, an emotional outpouring. We’re Connacht champions.
‘A learning curve… positive season overall’
I guess we have to watch part four. Actually, it starts and finishes with positive vibes. It’s bearable! Players look back on the Connacht final win, McStay emphasises that the squad is two games from an All-Ireland final. He’s not saying they’re going to get there, but he is planting seeds, encouraging guys to live in the moment.
“Where can this bring us? Who knows? We’ve a young team with outrageous energy.”
The action moves to the team hotel on the day before the quarter-final with Mayo. A reflective Liam McHale is quietly confident. The next day, more impassioned speeches in the dressing room. McStay says “we’re going to show the country today.”
And they do, racing into a seven-point lead before being caught by Mayo. Mixed emotions at half-time. Big stage, big stakes. McStay rips into some players about not being on top of the Mayo kick-outs. He’s furious. Back out for the second half. Big stage, big stakes. Back and forth it ebbs between the neighbours. In the end, an epic Donie Smith free secures a draw for Roscommon. Mixed emotions in the dressing room – again.
We move on to the replay. Big calls. Team changes. Fintan Cregg (left out of starting fifteen) is disappointed but philosophical. Absence of ego is the team’s mantra. The slogan is prominently displayed in the dressing room. McStay tells his players that we got a moral victory last week but there’s no effin moral victories today. He wants a “f**king outrageous first quarter” backed up by an even stronger second quarter.
We know what happened. Roscommon had a disaster, Mayo were rampant. Game over by half-time. In the dressing room, we see Ger Dowd addressing despondent players. The contest may be over but he wants a second-half performance built of pride. “The score doesn’t matter…this jersey does!”
The players fight to the end but it’s a lost cause. A hammering. A rough, tough end to a great season. In the dressing room, despondent players stare at the ground, clutching water bottles and lost dreams. Silence reigns.
Ronan Stack says it’s been a positive season overall. Enda Smith says it’s a learning curve. The players are under no illusions: this (the Mayo performance against Roscommon) is the very high level they aspire to.
The documentary finishes with a flashback to the highs of the summer. Championship 2017. How was it for us?
We see images of cheering fans, Roscommon scores, players celebrating.
And the cup. The Nestor Cup. It’s there, won in 2017. It’s there, with those players, embedded in those images, for all time.
* Readers can view the documentary ‘Behind the Gates’ on AIB.ie/GAA social media and website as well as YouTube.