Roscommon’s high-flyers thwart Armagh

PAUL HEALY: View from the Stand

‘Keith Doyle had to pull a goalbound opponent down at the expense of a black card… nobody near me argued with Doyle’s decision’

As I drove past Dr Hyde Park at 11.45 am on Sunday, there were a couple of hundred Armagh supporters queuing in orange-coloured huddles outside the main entrance, with dozens more weaving their way along the Athlone Road in the direction of the stadium.

As a veteran of the art of Timing Getting To The Game Just Right, I briefly imagined appearing on Mastermind…specialised subject: ‘The psyche of sports followers who go to games very, very early’.

I’m incapable of seeing the attraction of being at a GAA ground almost two hours before throw-in. There was no appetiser on Sunday, in the form of a junior fixture. Nor was Rihanna in town. But those Armagh fans were out in force good and early. I guess the logic is…get a good seat, inhale the ambience, open the bag or box of goodies/treats.

Probably the latest I’ve arrived for the start of a major game – as opposed to getting there after throw-in – dates back to 1993. It was the day of the All-Ireland Senior Hurling final in Croke Park; Kilkenny v Galway. I had a press pass, but for some reason was in two minds on that Sunday morning as to whether to go or not. Let’s say the game was at 3 pm. At around 12.50 pm, I finally decided to head off from Roscommon town.

It seemed like madness, but it wasn’t. The roads were extremely quiet (all right-thinking supporters had left hours’ earlier). Getting into Dublin (on the old, pre-motorway roads) was easy. Near Croke Park – the earlier traffic congestion now replaced by tranquillity – I found a parking space. A quick skip along Jones’ Road, a flash of the press card, a jaunty walk into the bowels of the Hogan – with nobody around – brought me to the steps leading to the press area. I took my prime seat as the players completed their pre-match parade.

Last Sunday’s game had a cagey start. In the stand on the Athlone Road side, the Roscommon fans were worried. “Armagh are bigger, stronger…moving the ball quicker” was the consensus. A few hardy Armagh lads engaged in banter with the home supporters over a call by the ref. “Never a free!” said a Rossie, to mock surprise from the Armagh-ites, who begged to differ. “Arra ye’re watching too much soccer” the Rossie added.

Roscommon finished the first half with a welcome flurry, some respite from Jason Duffy’s one-man show. Armagh led 0-8 to 0-7 at the break.

The second half was mighty entertainment, a fiercely committed Roscommon going up several gears. Ciarán Lennon’s first-half block had spectators gasping. In the second half, Keith Doyle had to pull a goalbound opponent down at the expense of a black card. It seemed a very fair exchange. Nobody near me argued with Doyle’s decision.

Conor Cox might have saved us an anxious finale late on, but the Armagh ‘keeper dived to flick the ball off course, adding unnecessary drama (for home supporters). Several times the superb Roscommon defence thwarted dangerous Armagh attacks. Roscommon won by three, this one built on great heart, skill, and composed game management.

The Armagh lads around us – who might have been there from 11.45 am – shook hands with home supporters, giving credit where it was due. On the pitch below, Roscommon’s high-flyers part-disappeared under a sea of young admirers. If they were on Mastermind, specialised subject: ‘Happy days in the Hyde’.