If the rest of the league campaign is going to be like this, we’ll hardly have time to talk about Donald Trump over the coming weeks.
It was an exciting, emotionally draining, entertaining and topsy-turvy opener.
If a media organisation wanted to promote the potential thrills and spills of Division 2, a highlights package from this very first game would do the business – the ‘trailer’ would include a couple of excellent goals, further goalmouth drama, a game-saving stop by the Meath ‘keeper, great intensity (including some super blocks), a couple of flashpoints, a few fine scores from distance and, to finish, late, late drama as a last-gasp penalty levels the contest.
No wonder ‘Man in the Stand’ was gesticulating and cavorting with all the grace of a Dancing with the Stars contestant.
Man in the Stand? You know the man in the stand, you may even be one of them! The seasons come and go, the faces sometimes change, but the man in the stand – well, a particular type of man in the stand (sometimes ‘woman in the stand’ too) remains the most unforgiving of critics.
The man in the stand comes in all shapes and sizes, all ages, all temperaments.
On Sunday in Hyde Park, the diehards were out in force…there were many versions of Man in the Stand. And on Sunday, Man in the Stand got a surprise early season workout – he got to call on his full arsenal!
It was quite a match, a rollercoaster in the rain. Roscommon threatened to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory before dramatically snatching a draw from the jaws of defeat.
For the first 53 minutes, everything was going according to the script. Even Man in the Stand was quite happy; for all the world it looked as though we were watching the building blocks of a solid win being patiently piled up.
Roscommon had started brightly and even a tasty Meath goal couldn’t disrupt the home team’s momentum. The goal followed a mazy run and confident finish by Cillian O’Sullivan, the ponytailed prince of the Royals, who was as elusive as an eel in that first half. But Roscommon responded with a beauty of their own. The goal was a reward for creative thinking, a reminder of how free expression and ambition can still have a place in the game. As Roscommon moved with purpose up the right wing, Sean Mullooly gambled and foraged forward; Ciaråin Murtagh lofted the ball into his path and the Strokestown man lobbed the Meath ‘keeper for a goal of beautiful simplicity.
O’Sullivan and Mullooly had produced the type of goals that children score in their daydreams.
Although Meath finished the half with two points, Roscommon were in a very promising position at the interval; ahead by one, having played into a strong breeze.
Man in the Stand was content enough, and that’s about as good as it gets with him.
When Roscommon went five points clear after a dominant third quarter, a routine and welcome win looked on. My favourite comment from Man in the Stand during this period came during a particular Roscommon attack.
“Wrong man, wrong man…great score!”
The one concern was that Roscommon were missing chances, a few great points interspersed with barren attacks. More crucially, Meath goalkeeper Andrew Colgan prevented two goals, firstly parrying Enda Smith’s weak shot and then reacting sharply to divert Conor Devaney’s drive.
Roscommon lost Diarmuid Murtagh to injury, Meath introduced new blood off the bench, and suddenly the rhythm of the game began to change. With the Meath subs energising the Leinster team and the Roscommon midfield now marked absent, the home side’s five-point lead was dismantled in instalments. Suddenly, Man in the Stand was a new man, and a very vocal one. When all had been going well, he was muted enough; now, as a last-quarter crisis unfolded on the pitch, he had to step into emergency mode. The full arsenal came out – anger, frustration, irrationality, paranoia, and merely the smallest quantities of logic and fairness. Much of his emergency ire was directed at Roscommon’s ceding of power to Meath, but some was reserved for public enemy number one; the referee.
The usual fun, basically.
Meath were now relentless and Roscommon had completely lost their way. It came as no surprise when Roscommon conceded a second goal; with the ebb of the match as it was now, it felt as inevitable as a rock gathering snow as it slides down a ski slope.
Roscommon had now gone from being five points up to four down. A few Roscommon spectators made for the exit as gloom descended on the Hyde.
Although a few minutes of time added on remained, the die seemed cast, for Roscommon were all over the place. But, full credit to them, our lads dug deep, desperately trying to recover their rhythm, even as the clock and driving rain conspired against them.
As Meath resorted to fairly cynical pulling and dragging, sub Finbarr Cregg pointed a free. Three in it, only an unlikely goal would save Roscommon now. When Conor Devaney won a great turnover wide on the left, hope rippled through the stadium. From the ensuing attack, Cregg was hauled down. Roscommon had their chance. Substitute Donie Smith remained calm and produced a textbook penalty.
Like a judge who was about to convict the accused only to hear shock new game-changing evidence, Man in the Stand had been stopped in his tracks. As this penalty-induced contentment tussled with the receding frustration in his mind, he turned on his heels, pocketed the league point and made for the exits.
It was a lively afternoon in the Hyde. Both teams will feel they should have won; in the circumstances, even Man in the Stand probably feels a draw was fair enough.