Croke Park glory…and British Army checkpoints

Former Roscommon star SEAMUS HAYDEN’S League memories…

When I started playing with Roscommon, we were spoilt at the time…we were in Division One for five or six years in a row. In a way we didn’t take the league that seriously, but still, the games were always competitive and it was great to be playing at that level. In Division One, you were always meeting All-Ireland contenders.

  Mind you, we always looked forward to the last game before Christmas (in those days the league started earlier than now). I have great memories of playing in places like Kerry and Armagh, if you got them in the game before Christmas it was always very sociable.

  In 1979 we won the National Football League. We had a great run, beating Kerry, Offaly and Cork (in the final) in the latter stages.

  All three games were played in Croke Park and they were three great opponents to overcome. The scoreline (0-15 to 1-3) would suggest that we won the final comfortably, but I saw it again recently and it was a bit closer for comfort than I had remembered!

  We came home that night and there were great celebrations, with bonfires from Ballyleague (Pat Lindsay of St Faithleach’s was our captain) into Roscommon town. I’d still be friendly with a few of the Cork lads from the 1979 final, mainly Dinny Allen and John Courtney.

  John was Dermot Earley’s right-hand man in the Defence Forces.

  As for other league games that stand out in the memory, I always remember one intimidating day in the Athletic Grounds in Armagh. It was at the height of The Troubles. It was a very intimidating spot. We had a few lads who were in the army – lads like Dermot Earley – and they were getting lots of attention. Likewise Pat (Lindsay) who was in the prison service. Needless to say they were men enough to handle it.

  We had great supporters. There were two lads from Elphin, they’d always be travelling in the car behind the players. ‘Up North’ when we went through a British Army checkpoint we’d always look back to see how the lads from Elphin had got on. When the man in the passenger seat waved his hat in the air we knew they were alright!

  Nearly forty years on, we’ve been up and down the divisions and now we’re in Division One again. I’m very happy with the current management set-up and we’ve a great bunch of players, but we have to be realistic about the scale of the league challenge. It’s a big step up. We’re facing seven teams who have All-Ireland winning ambitions. In terms of how we play, I’d like to see us getting the ball in faster to our forwards. But it will be a learning curve for everyone concerned.

  It’s an exciting time. There’s a generation of supporters out there who have no experience of following Roscommon to Division One games. So there’s a lot to look forward to, but for me, it’s all about the championship. We have no chance of winning the league. It’s all about the championship and our target should be a Connacht title.

  But of course the league is special in its own way and my memories of it are very fond ones. After all, we won it outright that day in 1979. It was great to win a national title. To this day I cherish the medal with pride.