At 5.29 p.m. on October 13th, 2019, it ended. That was the moment when referee Marty Parker blew his final whistle to signal the conclusion of this year’s county final but, more significantly, the end of all the years of yearning for Padraig Pearses. In Woodmount, Moore, Taughmaconnell, Creagh and every one of the adjoining townlands, they can rejoice — and rejoice they will.
The club that was founded in 1962 and was named after the leader of the 1916 Easter Rising can now take its place at the top table of Roscommon football. Pearses have always belonged among the elite, but following the end of their hurling famine two years ago and now their first-ever football title, they can look all-comers in the eye as equals.
Every person who was in Hyde Park last Sunday will have their own takeaway moments but the introduction of two players in injury-time stood out for this observer. As the clock wound down, Seán Fahy and Niall Finneran came on — it was symbolic and appropriate that they were on the field when the final whistle blew.
By Noel Fallon
Pearses had lost seven finals before last Sunday. Fahy and Finneran had soldiered through so many of the bad days. On so many of those days, Fahy was Pearses’ go-to forward.
As for Finneran, it is scary to realise that 21 years have elapsed since he was the stand-out player on a Pearses team that went toe-to-toe with Roscommon Gaels in a pulsating county minor final in Ballyforan. The Gaels won, but only after extra-time.
Along with the 2006 thriller between Elphin and Clann na nGael, that 1998 epic was probably the best county minor final I can recall. A number of the Gaels team went on to quickly add senior championships in 1999 and 2001, but last Sunday the wheel finally came full circle for Finneran.
If my memory serves me right, Liam McNeill was the Gaels’ minor team manager all those years ago. He has been, and remains, an incredible servant to his club. McNeill and his management team have poured their hearts and souls into this team over the last few years. The players too have given their all, some travelling across continents to represent their club. The pain and upset etched on the faces of young men who are tremendous ambassadors for the Gaels club was one of the indelible — and sadder — images of this county final day.
The Roscommon town team have come so tantalisingly close to the Holy Grail over the last three years — a narrow defeat against St. Brigid’s two years ago, a last-gasp one-point loss to Clann in last year’s semi-final, and now coming up three points short against Pearses.
However, this defeat was more clear-cut than the other two. It is to the Gaels’ credit that we had such a grandstand finish because for much of this match Pearses were the better team.
Yet, paradoxically, even though they trailed by nine points early in the second half and were still six down until Richard Hughes’ precise shot nestled in the bottom left corner of Paul Whelan’s net as the 58th minute ticked into the 59th, the Gaels will harbour regrets.
Whelan’s marvellous reflex save from Kieran Kilcline in the 54th minute didn’t seem overly significant at the time. Pearses were eight ahead and looking comfortable. The save was in the ‘sums up the day for both teams’ category. Yet, as a 13-man Gaels team strove for a last-gasp equalising goal it was Whelan’s save that gave them breathing space.
Incidentally, the commentary team on TG4 were somewhat bemused by the double sending-off which reduced the Gaels to 13. Like many people at the match, they were somewhat perplexed how Bryan O’Gara and Cian Connolly could have been singled out from the melee.
In the Gaels’ final attack, Richard Hughes’ hanging lob invited a decisive touch from either friend or foe. Tim Lambe, who worked tirelessly for the Gaels, was lurking but it was Whelan who diverted the ball away from the square with, appropriately, the lion-hearted David Murray pouncing to take the ball away from the danger zone.
Coming on top of their heroics with Roscommon, it has been a momentous year for Murray, Niall, Conor and Ronan Daly, and Hubert Darcy. Niall Daly has been deservedly nominated for an All-Star award. Murray should have been nominated too. Ronan Daly received the Fahey Cup along with Niall Carty, one of the classiest footballers Roscommon had produced in the last 15 years. But last Sunday it was the youngest member of their county contingent, Darcy, who was the Woodmount-based team’s focal point.
After a promising opening, the Gaels became laborious in their build-up play. It meant that ball was slow getting to Peter Gillooly, who looked dangerous but was invariably double-marked when the ball came to him. The high ball paid greater dividends when Mark Nally was introduced.
In contrast, Pearses moved the ball swiftly to Darcy who was his team’s North Star. Their first goal was the essence of swiftness, slickness and simplicity as Darcy laid the ball off to Conor Payne who played a one-two with Paul Carey before slotting home. For the second goal, teenager Carey lofted a perfectly-weighted hand pass to Darcy who drove the ball to the net from close range.
For much of the second-half Pearses were in control. Yet, as invariably happens with a team or a sportperson on the cusp of their first title, they wobbled when in sight of the finishing line. However, crucially, Pearses finally got over the line. After all the near misses, that was what mattered.
On the way home we see some members of the Roscommon 1979 national league-winning team strolling back towards Hannon’s Hotel. They have opted to walk rather than take the gleaming Club Rossie bus. The 1979 team were honoured as the jubilee team last Sunday on the 40th anniversary of their swashbuckling league triumph.
In the mind’s eye, I remember being part of the throng that greeted that band of heroes when they returned to The Square in Roscommon as a late Monday night passed into an early Tuesday morning. Among their number are some of the greatest footballers to ever play for Roscommon.
As long as football is talked about and written about in this county they will be remembered, but that story goes ever on. A new milestone was reached in Roscommon football last Sunday at 5.29 p.m. — one of the county’s foremost clubs took its place on the mountain top.
It’s a triumph that will never be forgotten in Woodmount and a moment that nobody will begrudge them.