Caught between a Rock and a hard pace…



It’s probably not the best week to quote that famous Mark Twain line about golf – “A good walk spoiled” – but I was reminded of it in Croke Park last Saturday.

  This, unfortunately, was a good evening out which was spoiled somewhat by the fact that a football match was taking place.

  I am of course, being tongue in cheek: Roscommon were completely outclassed, but they battled on bravely, and the morale-denting defeat does not undo the good of what went previously this season.

  I could have joined the ‘hacks’ in the press box, but instead a number of us gathered high in the Cusack/Davin Stand areas. Every time you visit Croke Park you are wowed by the splendour of this magnificent stadium. Rossies were few and far between. The restaurants and bars are a stunning backdrop to the actual pitch and seating areas. It’s luxury all the way at Croker these days. One can only assume that the designers of the original Croke Park over a century ago would be spellbound if they saw it now.

  With a relatively small crowd (about 36,000) in for the Super 8s’ double-header, the atmosphere was nothing special. At half-time in the Dublin/Roscommon game, fans surged to the bar. As the second half resumed, many of them remained behind the spectacular ‘glass walls’, watching the match from the bar, the one-sided nature of the game draining the afternoon of its promise and potential.

  Of course we hadn’t expected a Roscommon win, but we had hoped Anthony Cunningham’s team might have been able to live with the super Dubs longer than transpired. In fact we were level at 0-3 apiece after ten minutes or so, though even by then, the powerful running of the men in blue was ominous. I loved Diarmuid Murtagh’s confident, brash early point from way out on the right wing, and felt – at the time – that Colin Compton could have tried for a goal in Roscommon’s first attack (he fired over for a point). In fairness, the ‘Sunday Game’ highlights suggested he probably made the right choice.

  Dublin moved up the gears and soon Roscommon were in trouble. Still, we cut through them a few times, Killoran dragging a goal chance wide, Enda Smith lighting up the game with a surging run and pass to Murtagh, the latter trying to palm to the net when it might have been wiser to gather the ball. Already, midst our goal misses and the relentless Dublin surges, a sense of a long evening. Their pace is amazing. Pace, power, physicality and great skill. Dean Rock on fire. Yeah, caught between a Rock and a ‘hard pace’. When Conor Daly was sent off just before half-time, we wanted someone to tell us it was all a dream.

  At half-time, the Dublin fans were indifferent to it all. They weren’t critical of Roscommon’s display, moreso they were just going through the motions, casually analysing another routine demolition job. It’s quite dispiriting for neutrals, for non-Dubs. We prepared for the second half with heavy hearts. An early Dublin goal, and soon Gavin’s giants were seventeen ahead. Roscommon rallied and played some lovely football. Conor Cox was heroically fighting against the tide. Some of his points were beauties, but in a way it was like poking a giant with a twig. Credit also to Conor Hussey, scorer of three points. Roscommon tried gamely to keep the blue-eyed monster at bay, but our dismal fate was not in question. And so, with Cork – pipped earlier by Tyrone – we departed from this year’s All-Ireland Senior Football Championship, save for the final Super 8s fixture next Sunday week (v Cork).

  It’s been a good season for Roscommon. Saturday’s gruelling outing at HQ was a ruthless reminder of how much further we still have to travel. Of course this Dublin team is an exceptional yardstick. It’s hard to see their gallop being halted; they are magnificent.

  Our lads need to hold their heads up. We are Connacht champions and moving in the right direction. Saturday may have been hard, but we’ve had our super moments this season.

  Back in Croker…fancy bars, tempting menus, state-of-the-art furnishings, elevators…the delights of 21st century super-stadiums, of which Croke Park is one of the best. Around the corner, a GAA Museum in which the feats of our great teams and heroes of the past are celebrated in glorious nostalgia-tinted black and white. In truth, nothing spoiled. Any evening in Croke Park is a good walk, a walk in the shadow of greatness.



Shane (and his granny) steal the show…



Move over Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and Maura from Love Island – Monday’s front pages belonged to a modest man from Offaly.

  I texted one of my brothers on Sunday: ‘It’s hard to believe that the most talked about golfer on the planet today – the Open champion – is such an ordinary guy, from GAA heartland, in a rural area about 40 minutes up the road’. (Thankfully my brother’s into the golf and knew what this rambling text referred to).

  Into the golf? All of Ireland is ‘into the golf’ this week after Shane Lowry’s sensational feat. Come to think of it, that tribesman in an Amazon rainforest who made the news this week (‘Uncontacted tribesman, bare-chested and carrying a spear’) has probably been googling ‘Clara’ and ‘Lowry’ since Sunday.

  There are two reasons why we’ve all gone Shane-crazy. On a golfing/sporting level, it was a magnificent feat…the Offaly man defeating the world’s best by six shots, burning up the course with a record score on Saturday and then holding his nerve in testing weather conditions on Sunday. The second reason is because he is the ultimate nice guy.

  Lowry is the most ordinary of men (well, except for his golfing prowess). Long before last week, the nation had taken him to its heart. If he wasn’t Shane Lowry, he’s just the type of ordinary guy you’d expect to be beside you in your living room, the pub or on the golf course, cheering Shane Lowry on. If you follow me.

  It’s obvious that Lowry is the product of a typically decent, grounded Irish family, indeed one that is steeped in Offaly GAA. His parents Brendan and Bridget obviously made huge sacrifices in support of their son’s passion for golf. And what a star turn this week by Shane’s granny, Emily Scanlon, who gave priceless media interviews, most notably to Ciaran Mullooly and Joe Duffy of RTE.

  My favourite Emily quote (there were many) came when Joe Duffy asked if she had ever flown to the US to watch Shane play.

 “Fly to America? You wouldn’t get me on a plane…if a plane arrived at the gate this minute I wouldn’t go to Kilbeggan on it!”

  It’s been obvious for a few years that Shane Lowry is a special talent. It’s wonderful to see him win a major. This is a heartwarming story. I suspect there is a lot more to come too.