Paul Healy’s Week – 18th March

Paul Healy on answering Ireland’s call at the Aviva; a day out in Donegal, savouring the Fairytale of New Roscommon…and how the Healy-Raes evoked the spirit of the Marx Brothers when they hooleyed to the Dáil…

Most of my viewing over the years of top rugby internationals – or indeed top club games – has been done from the armchair.

But, when possible, I have tried to get to games in the flesh. The soccer internationals have their own built-in buzz; the GAA is of course truly special – rugby’s big match days have their own unique atmosphere too.

When I finally got to a Munster game in Thomond Park a few years back, it did not disappoint. It was an icy cold evening, but that merely enhanced the atmosphere.

I attended my first rugby internationals in Lansdowne Road back in the 1980s. The atmosphere in the bars before and after kick-off was always wonderful. You get craic and camaraderie between rival supporters at rugby internationals that you will not experience with soccer.

Of the games I attended as a teenager, the stand-out one was Ireland v Scotland in 1982. The great Ollie Campbell kicked all 21 points in a victory for Ireland which secured the Triple Crown. It was probably the high point of Ollie Campbell’s career as a top sportsman. The low point (which he may not recall, or at least claim not to) came when he called into our pub in Rooskey.

The year was 1984, and my family were running Kevin’s Bar in the centre of the village. I can only assume that Ollie Campbell was a commercial traveller at the time (rugby was still an amateur sport). He was very friendly and stayed for an hour or so. But there’s no room for sentiment in sport; I wiped the floor with him on the pool table, beating the great Ollie Campbell 2-0.

He never seems to mention that bruising experience when reflecting, in interviews, on his career highs and lows. I can only assume that it’s still too raw.

Anyways, the great Ollie was accurate when it mattered, as against Scotland in that 1982 Triple Crown clincher.

In more recent years, I’ve enjoyed the odd trip to the Aviva, including for Brian O’Driscoll’s last home game for Ireland. That was against Italy, in 2014. On Saturday, I was back in ‘the Aviva’ and, once again, Italy were Ireland’s opponents.

It was a beautiful day, worthy of summer. It was a ridiculously early kick-off time; 1.30 pm. Thank you, television chiefs/rugby powers-that-be.

I can assure you it did not suit our travelling gang of three to be sampling Guinness in a fashionable ‘rugby pub’ at 12 noon, but the early kick-off was beyond our control and left us with no option.

A brisk walk to the stadium had us in our seats by just after one o’clock. Our ‘leader’ had a spare ticket, due to there being a non-runner.

Our leader generously tried to off-load the ticket, vainly looking around for a Rossie, or even someone from Mayo or Galway. Alas, no forlorn fan was located. So our leader gave the ticket to a Garda, suggesting that she might find a deserving home for it closer to kick-off.

The stadium and playing surface looked superb. The atmosphere was great…a fusion of colour, noise and fervour.

President Higgins, who received a warm reception, looked sprightly. But you wonder does he get fed up with the relentless call of duty. It wasn’t the most glamorous of the season’s games either, but, as ever, Michael D. had complimentary tickets. (Then again, so did I – thank you to our group ‘leader’).

Ireland scored from their first attack, and that set the tone for a clinical, often thrilling display. Italy weren’t up to much on the day. Ireland’s handling was top class and there was a ruthlessness about their attacks.

It turned into a one-sided game that won’t feature prominently in the history books. But I was glad to be present to see perhaps the best try of the 2016 Championship, and probably one of Ireland’s best ever scores.

Just before half-time, Ireland produced a wonderful, free-flowing move involving several players and some brilliant, breathless passing, ending in Jamie Heaslip crossing.

Meanwhile, a young man appeared and sat beside us. His story was one that summed up the different aspects (bad and good) of human behaviour. He had been approaching the stadium, with a friend.

He had two tickets in his back pocket. Alas, someone stole them (example of bad human behaviour). Stung but unbowed, the forlorn friends bought one replacement ticket and were then fortunate enough to receive the spare ticket which my friend had handed to the Garda (example of good human behaviour).

We revealed to the man now sitting beside us that our party had given the ticket to the Garda. He was amazed, and grateful.

Of course the man could have been making some of his part of the story up (example of bad human behaviour), but we gave him the benefit of the doubt (example of good human behaviour, on balance).

Back on the pitch, the tries mounted up. To our right, six Italian supporters with six very colourful hats continued to smile in adversity. To our left, two men dressed as St. Patrick discussed Ireland’s tactical prowess.

We left with a few minutes to go, well satisfied with Ireland’s commanding performance. It was still a beautiful day.

It got better; there was complimentary yoghurt from Glenisk on the way out (I’m not saying this has anything to do with President Higgins looking so sprightly).


First of all, we loved the venue. It felt a bit like going back in time. The venue in Letterkenny was intimate, friendly, welcoming. The hill descent reminded me a little of Breffni Park. The weather was beautiful, the pitch tight, the crowd willing it to be an entertaining game.

I don’t mind admitting that I had my doubts, my fears for Roscommon. It would not have been a surprise if this fixture ruthlessly hacked into the ‘Fairytale of New Roscommon’.

This, after all, was mighty Donegal, a physically imposing team of proven winners, the team that mercilessly but magnificently squeezes opponents until they wilt and buckle. Surely Roscommon’s great run could not continue here, not against these warriors?

What followed was the continued glorious liberating of this Roscommon team. Had Roscommon won by, for example, 0-10 to 0-7, with seven of our points from frees, it would still have been a season-defining win; but that’s not what happened.

Roscommon won by playing a fantastic style of football, mastering the masters for much of the game. Only the consistent brilliance of Michael Murphy kept Donegal in touch.

Roscommon were irresistible in the first half. We led by seven, but worryingly, were hauled back to five just before the break. We scored the first two points of the second half, but Donegal, wounded warriors, fought back.

Roscommon responded with a timely goal, a great score from the wonderful, inspirational Cathal Cregg. It stunned Donegal, draining their resistance, reaffirming Roscommon’s remarkable superiority.

Roscommon are in great shape, every player making the right decisions, colleagues always in support of the man in possession, fitness and speed eye-catching, the ball moved at pace, kick-passing superb, score-taking arguably the sharpest in the country just now. What a heart-warming win it was.

The Donegal people were gracious, but stunned. The Roscommon fans were elated. Walking back to our cars, we felt like we were on a lap of honour.

A Donegal man out walking his dog (I presume it was his own dog) smiled when he saw our young son in a Roscommon jersey. It all felt very strange.

Roscommon, five-point winners over the team that Jim built. Letterkenny is a very pleasant town, but we faced a long journey home.

We set off in the direction of Glenties, embracing the beauty and the peacefulness, two more league points in our back pocket, pride in our hearts and – being honest – feeling more than a little bit of wonder at the intoxicating glory of Roscommon’s league campaign.

Healy-Raes in hooley on jeep (in other news, no Government)

I didn’t really want to look, but I did, and this is what I saw… It was some time after 2 pm I think, and we were being treated to informal ‘shots’ of the members of the new Dáil, shooting the breeze, well, chatting in little groups, in between bouts of not forming a Government.

You could see Michael Fitzmaurice in the bottom centre of your screen, leaning against a bench, like he was resting on a farmyard gate chatting to the farmer from up the road.

But he wasn’t chatting to the farmer from up the road, he was chatting to Shane Ross and John Halligan. These latter two are very able TDs, but neither of them possess the versatility of ‘Fitz,’ who recently got his hands dirty when helping out in flood-hit areas of the Roscommon…driving his JCB. That’s JCB, Shane, not ECB…

Later, on the RTE News, we saw Denis Naughten marching towards the Dáil with a bouquet of flowers, which, he quipped, was for the new Ceann Comhairle.

Denis was backing the favourite for the role, Maureen O’Sullivan, but she was subsequently beaten by the Fianna Fáil candidate, Seán Ó Feargháil, who probably didn’t get the flowers. We spotted new TD Eugene Murphy too.

He looked like he’d received media coaching from Senator Terry Leyden, because when Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin proudly unveiled his new-look team, Eugene had worked himself into a very prominent and camera-friendly spot, about two paces from his boss.

The three Roscommon/Galway TDs in the new Dáil were all to be seen, but they weren’t overdoing it, not like the Healy-Raes, who, true to form, arrived in a blaze of glory and mayhem, like some modern-day version of the Marx Brothers.

You will have seen their show-stopping arrival outside the gates of Leinster House, which culminated in Deputy Michael and Deputy Danny, standing on top of an old jeep, leading a music session, complete with accordion, singing, backing singers, clapping – and just enough yahooing to test the patience of any D4 types who were passing by.

Meanwhile, a daughter of Danny’s will succeed him on Kerry County Council. These guys are only warming up. Dáil debutante Danny, fresh from the hooley outside the gates, then went into the Chamber and made one of the best speeches of the day.

These guys have an edge, are almost throwing down a gauntlet to the rest of the TDs; in poker parlance, they’re saying…we’ll see your fine Dáil speeches and raise you a music session on the top of a jeep…