Out for a walk in Rooskey, we’re pleased to see significant activity on the river, not to mention a large number of campervans at the facility overlooking the Shannon on the Roscommon side of the bridge.
On this beautiful afternoon, holiday-makers on the cruisers are in good form, as well they might be. We reach what are probably acceptable levels of jealousy while watching the familiar routine at the locks: rope your boat up, swig a beer or wine, smile and interact with fellow tourists, wave at locals, enjoy the magically slow pace of life which cruising on the Shannon offers.
We enjoy the atmosphere for maybe 15 minutes. Once the lock keeper has their work done, the cruisers are free to…cruise on. Four young lads on one boat are in a merry mood. They thank an elderly couple on an adjoining boat for all their help and advice, while waving a friendly goodbye to us.
As their cruiser begins to exit the lock into the glorious, inviting expanse of water, one of the lads is in the mood to address the audience. Almost certainly a river novice, he’s been doing some research. Holding a beer in one hand and the rope you tie the boat up with in the other, he cries out: “The Spanish will NOT take our fish!” His friends laugh, we smile. Suitably encouraged, he adds: “And don’t even start me on the French!”
Simon Coveney, watch your back.
On a long walk today, I saw an outbreak of normality in a modest but pretty front garden. Two small children zigzagged from toy car to toy something else. In the brilliant sunshine, their grandparents toed and froed, watching every tiny step with care and pride, while trying to play down any impression that they were on Cloud 9. It was like summer days are meant to be. While it was lovely to fleetingly witness this scene, it made me think of the grotesque price tag attached to the pandemic, of all that has been lost these past 16 months.
It’s not easy to set aside four hours or so to watch two Euro 2020 games the same evening – particularly as we’re enjoying beautiful weather – so I’m scrambling between recording the football, checking scores on Twitter, pausing the TV, and just generally making a hames of it!
With 80 minutes gone and Spain 3-1 up on Croatia, I decide to abandon what will inevitably be a tippy-tappy finale. I leave the room, locate my laptop and begin to do some work for the Roscommon People.
That’s when Modric’s Law kicked in. Incredibly, Croatia, inspired by their veteran maestro Luka Modric, scored two late goals to take the game into extra-time. Spain were stunned, but the favourites showed great resolve to strike twice in extra-time, winning a classic by 5-3. On Twitter, someone (not unreasonably) wrote: “Now France v Switzerland will be an awful match”.
Under pressure to get some work done, and probably hurting because I’d missed the day’s football drama as it unfolded live, I decided to record the less appealing France v Switzerland. Hopefully my recording wouldn’t clash with Eastenders or Sister Wives. By 9.15 or so, I just had to check in. France had come from 1-0 down to ease 2-1 ahead. I used to dislike Paul Pogba because he can be such a lazy sod, but now I’ve come to love his audacious skills. Suddenly he scoops a long-range shot into the net, a wonder goal which has surely sealed it for a team that’s dripping in talent. 3-1. Pogba’s celebration is a reminder of a famous one by another French show-off, Eric Cantona, many years ago. Pogba stands, arms folded, accepting the acclaim of mere mortals. Then he dances (on the Swiss grave). Party time. Game over.
Not quite. Just after I’ve left the room again (I need to work away from the TV) Switzerland channel their inner Croatia. I really do need to stick with the live soccer. Like Croatia, Switzerland also score two late goals, stunning France, taking the game to 3-3 and extra-time. By now I’m back viewing again. It’s high drama, glorious end to end football.
The dreaded penalties. I detest penalty shootouts. Heroic teams should not see their dreams die because of this cruel sporting version of russian roulette. The Swiss won the penalty lottery. They were great, but the French didn’t really deserve to go out. It must have been riveting TV for those who stuck with it.
Last Friday I met a restaurant owner (in an adjoining county) and sympathised with his 16-month plight (while appreciating that we have all suffered). “I can’t understand how dozens of people can pop into Lidl and we can’t have people in here” he replied, with the resignation of a man by then well used to crushing disappointment.
It’s heartbreaking to see the hospitality industry being dealt another huge blow today. Not alone will indoor dining not return next Monday, our despairing restaurant owners and publicans haven’t even been given a ‘new date’. This is the industry that has been hit hardest; they need as much support as possible.
Later on Tuesday
England qualify for the quarter-finals of Euro 2020 with a 2-0 victory over Germany. The English media can be smug and over the top, but I’m happy for this decent group of English players. I’m happy for their fans too. Raheem Sterling scored the first goal, his third of the tournament. Then he watched in horror as his stray pass almost gifted the Germans an equaliser. Sterling literally fell as he watched Muller’s subsequent miss. Minutes later, Harry Kane wrapped it up. England just cannot get out of Europe!
It’s probably many decades since there was such a lowkey build-up to a Connacht Championship opener for Roscommon footballers. Roscommon town centre is still undergoing surgery. Normally, flags would flutter here and there in Main Street, locals would stop and chat about our prospects. Currently we have limited access to the town centre; we can barely assess the flag count! And meeting people for a chat remains a casualty of Covid.
Of course the main reason for the lowkey build-up is the fact that expectations have been lowered due to a lacklustre league campaign. It wasn’t even stop-start; it was stop-stop. Four league losses in four outings has certainly dented the sense of anticipation that prevailed before GAA resumed.
Roscommon were very poor against Galway and Armagh, but I was quite impressed with our display against Dublin at the Hyde, and more than quite impressed with how we performed against Kerry in our second home game.
I believe in this squad of players and have no doubt they are much better than the performances against Galway and Armagh suggest. We have a strong squad, one that’s graced by a number of quality forwards. However, slow build-up play is not getting us anywhere, and I suspect supporters would like to see Roscommon pressing more in their opponents’ half, and moving the ball with more pace when in possession. Playing ‘football as chess’ is all very fine, but maybe we need to combine ‘the modern way’ with some good old-fashioned ‘go at them’ spirit, marked by passion, pace and pressing. We have an 8-page preview today. Best of luck to Roscommon on Sunday.