Parish spirit, community pride (and painted sheep)

The participating parishes and villages were so quiet on Saturday morning, it was as if time itself had stopped.

  In Rooskey, the flags flew proudly all week, evidence to any passing stranger that something communal, something special, was in the air.

  The days before a county final – in this case, a replay – are strange, with excitement and dreams of victory being man-marked by fear of grim stuff perhaps coming to pass.

  When you qualify for a county final, you face the glorious possibility of being written into the pages of history – and the sickening possibility of being edited out. Glory or heartbreak awaits.

  As county final day nears, pride of place manifests itself more than ever. The village is elevated to new levels of beauty. The GAA pitch seems to grow in stature, now, more than ever, fulfilling its role as a symbol of proud tradition and indomitable parish spirit. The people, at home and abroad, are united. There is just one conversation, and any other talk is just a nervous diversion from the possibilities and secrets of the coming weekend. The barns and sheds have been decorated, even the sheep have been painted. It’s county final week.

  The serenity, excitement and tension that prevailed in Rooskey/Kilglass in recent weeks was replicated in neighbouring Kilmore and in Oran and Creggs. It was the same for St. Brigid’s and Padraig Pearses, the clubs facing off in this year’s senior club final. We become obsessed with the intercounty GAA story and its cast of characters…Roscommon’s highs and lows, Mayo’s never-ending dance with their masked destiny, Dublin’s remorseless march. But club football truly is the heart of the GAA, a reality underlined by the thrills and spills of October 2016 on Roscommon fields.

  Saturday came and revealed its secrets. Past generations would have been proud, I think, of the story told in Strokestown. Pride of the parish, devotion to the club, commitment to one’s own, all this was greatly in evidence in raw, stark, honesty. The men who have inherited the jerseys which they in turn will pass on gave it everything they had.

  The heartbreak fell heavily on Oran. This was sport in its unforgiving, even cruel, guise. Eight points up at one stage, two ahead within sight of the final whistle, hands almost on the cup, the thoughts of some fans understandably already turning to blaring car horns, great celebrations and years of basking in hard-won glory. But the resilience that had brought Kilmore back into the game did not desert them in those nervy closing minutes and they drew level with a composure that left no one in any doubt about where the momentum lay in extra-time. Kilmore duly finished the job in style.

  With Kilmore crowned as intermediate champions, their neighbours Kilglass Gaels sought their own glory. Creggs, however, had a famine to confront and their hunger would not be denied. The sides were inseparable the first day out; now Creggs fashioned a more comfortable victory than pundits could have foreseen. A great day for the Creggs warriors, a tough one for a gallant Kilglass.

  On Sunday, Padraig Pearses experienced sport’s rollercoaster ways again. With a few  minutes remaining, the club, seeking a first ever senior title, were level with St. Brigid’s. There was the tantalising scent of history in the making. But it was not to be, the pursuit of history not helped by a crucial loss of possession in midfield, or, to use the modern parlance, a turnover. Great champions are usually unforgiving when they can smell blood, and two clinical goals by Frankie Dolan’s team sealed the win and killed off the seeds of a shock before they had any chance to grow.

  It was a great, honest weekend on the pitch for and by Roscommon GAA, utterly untainted by the six red cards, the football from the heart, full of honesty, raw endeavour, passion and pride. It seems ridiculous that the Kilmore heroes were dragged back into battle in the Connacht Club Championship within 24 hours, their boots barely unlaced or their breath drawn after more than 80 tough minutes of combat with Oran.

  Moreover, Kilmore had to deal with the much-lamented passing of the great gentleman and great Gael, Frank Dennehy, their club president and also president of Roscommon GAA. Frank, who was a valued friend going back to my own days in the Roscommon Champion, is remembered elsewhere in this week’s People. The timing of his passing was poignant.

  To Kilmore, Creggs and St. Brigid’s, the spoils; Oran, Pearses and Kilglass will walk this path again.

  October on the Roscommon GAA fields, a great month (the hurling replay to come)…with fine weather, good crowds, a flurry of draws, suspense and special moments, all the clubs involved doing their parishes and villages proud. This was not Croker in September, which has its own merited status. This was club football raw and honest, this was the pride of the parish, loyalty to tradition, each dressing room emptying everything on to the pitch, the spirit of their own place there for all to see. Frank Dennehy would have approved – it was his type of GAA.