Ten years ago this week, the Roscommon footballers overcame Kerry in a replay to lift the All-Ireland minor title in Cusack Park, Ennis. Seamus Duke looks back on a momentous day…
Ten years ago, on Saturday morning, the 23rd of September 2006, I rose very early. The fact that the All-Ireland minor football final the previous Sunday between Roscommon and Kerry had ended in a draw meant that the teams were headed for Ennis for the replay. The fact that it was not in Croke Park and was a stand-alone fixture meant that Roscommon people could bring their entire families. It’s not every day that everyone will get in to see their county playing in a major All-Ireland final.
I didn’t realise it, but on that September Saturday morning ten years ago, thousands of Roscommon people felt as I did. The drawn match was so exciting and the fact that Roscommon had played so well all year meant that the people of the county had taken this team to their hearts.
What unfolded on that famous day ten years ago was as close to a spiritual experience as one can get when it comes to a sporting event.
Leaving the house shortly before 10 am that morning it was soon clear that something very special was happening. Even before we got to Ballinasloe there were lines of traffic – just about all of them ‘RN’ number plates – heading to the Banner County. Even at that hour the adrenalin was beginning to rush. The traffic got slower and heavier as we got closer. The cars made their way through Loughrea and on to Gort. I had never before seen so many Roscommon people on their way to a game!
We got to Ennis at about 12.30 pm that day and secured a parking spot. The town was a sight to behold. The residents of Ennis are used to seeing the primrose and blue (after all, they’re their colours too) but I doubt if they had ever seen so many people from another county in their town at lunchtime on a Saturday. There were Roscommon people everywhere; in shops, pubs and on the streets. Roscommon jerseys, flags, scarves and headbands were everywhere. It was as if the whole county had moved to Ennis for the day. There wasn’t a Kerry jersey in sight. It was quite incredible.
I was working with Shannonside Radio at the time and went down to Cusack Park before 2 pm (the game was not starting until 3) and my wife and kids made their way to the terraces. Even at 2 pm the ground was at least half-full. It was Roscommon colours on all four sides of the ground. You just got the feeling that something special was going to happen.
As the throw-in approached, stories abounded about traffic chaos on the roads into Ennis. Loughrea and Gort were chock-a-block as Roscommon fans tried to make their way to the game. At least 1,500 were to abandon their quest to make it to Ennis and the pubs along the way did a roaring trade as Rossies who unsuspectingly had left it too late to travel had to make do with watching the game on television.
When 3 pm arrived there were about 18,000 people in the ground and at least 15,000 of those were from Roscommon. The atmosphere was electric as Padraig Hughes, the Armagh referee, threw in the ball.
The stats of the game have been chronicled many times elsewhere and I will not detail them here. Roscommon were by far the better team but they only confirmed that superiority in the last ten minutes, with a series of well-taken points. I will never forget that final ten minutes when it finally dawned on us that Roscommon were actually going to win this All-Ireland title. I found myself getting very emotional as the final whistle sounded.
Thousands of Roscommon fans raced on to the Cusack Park pitch to acclaim their heroes: dancing, singing, roaring, and shouting. In the midst of the madness was Fergal O’Donnell, the man who led this magnificent team to wins against Galway, Mayo, Tipperary, Meath and now Kerry after a replay. Many tears were shed at the Tom Markham Cup was handed to the team’s captain, David Flynn.
An hour after the final whistle had sounded there were still thousands of Roscommon people on the pitch savouring the atmosphere. Barry Molloy, who had captained Roscommon minors to win the All-Ireland in 1951, was in the dressing room. One of our greatest ever players, Dermot Earley, was there too, a tear in his eye. This was one of the greatest days in the history of Roscommon GAA and it was even more exciting that there were so many people there to see it.
Eventually we got on the road home. The traffic was brutal, but we couldn’t have cared less. We tried a few short cuts that ended up adding at least 30 miles on to our homeward journey, but it didn’t bother us at all. The Rossies had won the All-Ireland!
On the way home I got a call asking me to do MC at the homecoming for the team in The Square in Roscommon town. What an honour it was. I will never ever forget the scenes in Roscommon that night.
The team were late coming back but in the nature of these things that would be usual and no one was complaining.
The Gardaí told me that there was ten to twelve thousand people on Main Street that night. What is even more remarkable was that the Heavens opened just as the open top bus carrying the team and the cup came into Main Street. Hardly one person moved. It was just one huge celebration. The rain poured down but it didn’t dampen the celebrations even slightly.
The people of Roscommon had travelled and they had seen for themselves, and now they wanted to welcome their young heroes home. It was a celebration to end all celebrations. What’s seldom is wonderful as they say.
It’s hard to believe that it is now ten years since that momentous day in September 2006. The day the Rossies moved to Ennis. It is a day that I (and I suspect many more from the county) shall never forget.