Seamus Duke on Sport – 5th of May


U-21 Championship bows out in style

The last ever All-Ireland U-21 football final was won by Dublin in fairly convincing fashion in Tullamore last Saturday and it brings to an end a competition that I have had great time for in its 53-year history.

  It has been a great grade of football for Roscommon and we have had great success in that competition over the years. Roscommon won nine Connacht titles and were beaten in the provincial final an incredible 18 times over the years. In addition, we won two All-Ireland titles (‘66 and ’78), and were beaten in four finals.

  Some of the football that we saw in the U-21 grade was fantastic. The players were almost at senior standard yet there was none of the cynicism that you often see at senior level. Many of the games were open and attacking high-scoring affairs.

  Over the years there were many matches that will remain long in the memory. I don’t recall our first All-Ireland win in the 60s but I can certainly remember being in Dr. Hyde Park in 1978 when we defeated Kerry by a point in front of a massive crowd. Younger readers will also remember reaching two All-Ireland finals in recent years only to run into two outstanding Dublin teams. But one game that noone who was there for will ever forget was the Connacht final in 2015 in Tuam when Roscommon pipped a super Galway team to win by 3-14 to 3-11. The football played by both teams that day was scintillating and it was heart-stopping stuff right to the final whistle. Another great memory was the All-Ireland semi-final against Cork in Portlaoise a few years ago, which was another epic.

  I know that all these things move on and next year we will have an U-20 competition there to replace it. One thing is for certain: if the new competition gives us all as much as the old U-21 competition then we will be well satisfied.

Club championships throw-in this weekend

This weekend the senior football and intermediate football championships begin for another year and the battle for the Fahey Cup looks the most open in many years.

  I see several teams in with a realistic shout. St. Brigid’s are still the team to beat but Pearses, Roscommon Gaels, Western Gaels, Strokestown and Clann na nGael all have a chance this year.    

  There are comprehensive previews elsewhere this week but my choice if they get their act together are Clann na nGael. It is surprising that they are in Group 2 but they can reach the quarter-finals and go on and win it if they can get their best team out on the field.

  The same would apply to Pearses and Roscommon Gaels who I would rate next best. But there is a huge amount of football to be played.

  In the IFC, the same situation applies. My fancy would be Oran but again they have to get their best team out on the field. On their best day Oran are an excellent side but Tulsk, Fuerty, Michael Glavey’s and St. Dominic’s will also have a say. I will also be watching Creggs. Even though they are just up from the junior ranks it will be interesting to see how they get on at this level. If they get their best team out and stay free of injuries they could be a surprise package to go well.

  I love the start of the championships. I know that they are lopsided and after round two next weekend we will have to wait a number of months for round three but let the action begin!

No better GAA man than Donie

I have a tribute piece to Donie Shine elsewhere in the paper this week but if there was a better GAA man in the country than Donie then I’d like to meet him. He was an infectious character and although he has very strong ideas about how the game should be played and how the GAA should be run he was never arrogant or pushy with anyone. He was marvellous company and a gentleman to the bone.

  Apart from the meetings, matches and the few pints in the pub, many a long chat was had in the company of his wife Lil before matches in Dr. Hyde Park and elsewhere. I am known to go to matches very early and be in good time and Donie and Lil were the same and we chatted about the prospects for the game ahead and the state of the GAA in general usually in his car at the back of the stand in Dr. Hyde Park.

  Everyone will have their own fond memories of Donie, who was not only a Clann na nGael and Roscommon GAA legend, but a lovely man as well. To Lil and Donie, Mark, Clodagh, Karen and Susie and to his brothers Pat, Michael and Enda to all his extended family, all those in his beloved Clann na nGael and his huge number of close friends who are heartbroken at his passing I want to extend my deepest sympathy.

 The massive crowds from all over the country who attended the removal, requiem mass and burial were a testament to the popularity of the man.  I have seldom seen such an outpouring of genuine sadness and total respect. They just don’t make them like Donie Shine any more. A dheis De go raibh a anam dilis.

Hurlers face second relegation this year

The Roscommon hurlers bowed out of the Christy Ring Cup with barely a whimper last Saturday at Dr. Hyde Park and despite some reasonable performances this year, the reality is that at the moment Roscommon are not good enough for the Christy Ring Cup and too good for the Nicky Rackard Cup.

  It’s been a seesaw situation between the two in the past number of years. There are probably about eight divisions in hurling and even though the secondary competitions like the Ring, Rackard and Meagher Cups have been a great idea, there are divisions within divisions and to see a team getting a heavy beating like we witnessed last Saturday night is not serving any worthwhile purpose at all.

  The lads who were there put in a huge effort and should be commended but it is also a reality that there are many more players who could have been on that Roscommon panel who are not prepared to commit to the cause for one reason or another and that’s a pity.

  There is one last game left, a game against Mayo to avoid dropping down to the Nicky Rackard Cup next year. It is a game that Roscommon are capable of winning. It would be a very bad year for Roscommon hurling if we were to be relegated in the league and championship.

One year on from New York…

As a lot of people reminded me over the weekend that this week last year a lot of us were in New York to see Roscommon play in the Connacht championship and it is hard to believe but the championship will begin once again this coming Sunday in Gaelic Park when Sligo are the visitors this year.

  I still get the shivers thinking about the match last year when New York were probably unlucky that they didn’t actually win the game. That result and New York’s performance has sounded alarm bells in Sligo and my information is that they have trained hard and will be well prepared for the match. It might not be plain-sailing but I expect Sligo to win fairly easily.

AJ and Klitschko put on a show

I am not a huge boxing fan but I was lucky enough to see the fight at the weekend between Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko and what a clash it was. This was a proper fight with both men down on the canvas before Joshua knocked out the resilient Ukrainian in the 11th round after an exhilarating fight.

  In several quarters it has been described as the best heavyweight title fight in many years. But even more than the fantastic fight what I liked was the genuine respect between the two men before and after the fight. There was none of the usual trash talking and name calling that we see before every single fight in the professional game nowadays. It is possible to be respectful and mannerly and fill a 90,000-seater stadium as well. Conor McGregor and friends take note.

  I didn’t see the Katie Taylor fight as it was held much earlier in the evening but according to all reports she will shortly be a world champion. It is great for her, for women’s boxing and for women’s sport in general. But her achievements have not received much in the way of coverage so far. Maybe it’s because the women’s boxing scene is not nearly as as big as the men’s, and in truth it’s hard to get too excited about it so far, but maybe that will change in time.