Friday, March 27, 2020

By Kevin Egan (an Offaly man exiled in Dysart)

Given the very small border shared by the two counties, plus the fact that the counties have only met in the championship twice in total Roscommon and Offaly isn’t exactly on the same level as other cross-border rivalries. It certainly wouldn’t be anything like as fiery as Cavan vs Meath, Tipperary vs Kilkenny or Galway vs Clare, when you consider that just two clubs – Pádraig Pearses and Shannonbridge – are on the border. For those who know the lie of the land in that part of the world, you’ve to travel a long way to from Shannonbridge into the parts of Cloonfad that actually have any people in them, plus for most Pearses folk, Galway games are the big show.

As a Ferbane native, ten miles from Shannonbridge but six miles from the Westmeath border, I grew up revelling in the fact that from 1935 to 2004, Offaly never lost to Westmeath in the championship, and just two league games (out of 25 total clashes) went the way of the Lake County in that time.

Of course, a side effect of being unable to resist the urge to revel in this record every time I met a Westmeath person in the pubs and night clubs of Athlone meant that most of my girlfriends tended to be from the Roscommon side of the border – hence over time, the Roscommon rivalry became a lot more significant. Now, as a St. Aidan’s club member with a St. Brigid’s wife, all at a time when Roscommon football is on a higher plane than Offaly, it’s nice to think back to an era when the two counties threw up some very good encounters.

March 3rd 2002, League Division 1A – Roscommon 1-15 Offaly 2-11 in Dr. Hyde Park.

Oh boy. I feel like I should be talking to a therapist about this one.

I travelled with my then-girlfriend’s three brothers to this one, and brought my own brother for moral support. We were two of about 50 Offaly people on the terrace in the Hyde, and probably the only two wearing tricolour jerseys.

The three lads – good Pearses men, who’ll know who they are reading this – spent much of the game in a state of amusement at some of the Offaly names. Basil Malone, Marius Stones and Neville Coughlan all togged out for the Faithful side.

Roscommon came into the game having edged out Cork and taken a hammering from Tyrone, while Offaly lost narrowly to Donegal and drew with Dublin, so this was “fork in the road” stuff. An Alan McNamee goal got things out to a great start, but it was nip and tuck most of the way through the game, with Paul Noone at wing back and Seamus O’Neill at midfield excellent for Roscommon.

Donie Ryan, a friend of mine from the Doon club, rattled in a goal with five minutes to go to put Offaly five up, but a sensational finish from Roscommon saw them draw close, then Jarlath Egan levelled, and Nigel Dineen kicked a winner.

It was real sliding doors stuff – Roscommon reached a league semi-final, but would have missed out if they only took a point from that game. Offaly got relegated, but would have stayed up if they got a point from the Hyde. Me, I had to face into a long drive home, and the pain of knowing I was going to be hearing about this for a while.

July 5th 2003, Qualifiers Round 3 – Roscommon 1-20 Offaly 1-15 after extra time in Cusack Park, Mullingar.

Francie Grehan of Roscommon and Ciaran McManus of Offaly in action in the 2003 qualifier between the two counties. Picture: INPHO/Andrew Paton

 

There’s a backstory to this one too. My usual companions at Offaly games were both attending a wedding in the Hodson Bay Hotel. I offered to come in and whisk them away, and only one of the two – the one who didn’t live in the same parish as the bride – accepted the offer. We felt good about Offaly’s chances here, though I remember distinctly tipping up the draw to my work colleagues in Paddy Power at the time. 8/1 was a big price about any game between these two counties, but I was too loyal to back it myself. We were feeling good.

The atmosphere was electric, the weather was warm and the intensity was even warmer, but the day was all about Frankie Dolan. 0-12 in total, including a line ball, a ’45 and three from play – the Brigid’s man was sensational. 17 years later I’ll grudgingly accept Roscommon were the better team, even though the smash and grab seemed to be on when Paschal Kelleghan equalised with a goal from his first kick of the ball in injury time. Ciarán McManus also had a chance to sneak it when he shot from 55 metres out with a free, but his effort tailed wide.

There was a sense of grievance too – Ray Cox was sent off for Roscommon very late on, and it had no affect as Roscommon were able to go back up to 15 almost immediately. Yet Jimmy Grennan’s yellow card from normal time carried over, and his second yellow in extra time left Offaly a man short.

Jimmy’s now an electrician in these parts, so I’m sure he’s moved on. I have too – just about.

March 21st 2004, League Division 2A – Offaly 1-13 Roscommon 1-6 in O’Connor Park.

Oh how we needed this. The pain of the previous two years was still raw, but this was the type of performance that this Offaly group was capable of. It was one of the most complete Offaly displays that had been seen in some time, and it came in a game that turned out to be a promotion decider. Ciarán McManus was at his sublime best at midfield, the home attack threatened from all angles, unlike Roscommon who offered nothing outside of Frankie Dolan and Karol Mannion, and even Dolan wasn’t as good as he could be.

The Roscommon half back line of Francie Grehan, Eamon Towey and John Rogers held their own, but outside of that it was a rare one-sided game between these counties in this era.

April 15th 2007, League Division 2A – Offaly 1-16 Roscommon 4-11 in O’Connor Park.

To this day, this was one of the most gruelling days I’ve had supporting Offaly. There have been worse days, but it’s not often you watch your senior footballers and hurlers concede ten goals in hugely consequential games.

The day started in Nenagh, where our hurlers played a relegation playoff against Limerick and lost out by 6-20 to 1-18. Enough said about that, except that even if we hurled well, Limerick were a decent side at this time, as evidenced by the fact that they reached the All-Ireland final that year.

There were no All-Ireland winners in Tullamore, but a closer game was expected in what was a massive fixture. The leagues were about to change from 1A/1B/2A/2B to 1/2/3/4, and both Offaly and Roscommon started the day knowing that finishing in the top two spots and getting into Division Two the following year was possible, but defeat could lead to dropping all the way to Division Four. Too this day, I’ll argue that Offaly were slightly the better team, but a few weak links defensively were exploited ruthlessly. Gary Cox was sublime at centre forward, Ger Heneghan ran riot and every time Offaly got into the game, Roscommon seemed to pull a goal out of somewhere.

One of them came from a tidy young wing forward that was relatively unknown. 13 years later, Cathal Cregg is still scoring key goals for the Rossies.

March 7th 2010, League Division 3 – Offaly 2-14 Roscommon 2-13 in O’Connor Park.

This one was important in hindsight more than anything. As it turned out, Roscommon would have avoided relegation and Offaly would have dropped to the basement division instead of them if the Rossies had picked up a win.

That looked extremely unlikely with ten minutes to go, when Niall McNamee’s tour de force (1-8, 1-5 from play) was the difference between the teams, with Offaly 2-14 to 1-9 in front. A John Rogers goal was one of very few highlights for the Rossies in the first three quarters of the game, but then they rallied and when Cathal Cregg (that man again) found the net, a dramatic finish ensued.

Of course, later that year Roscommon went on to win a provincial title, a source of much frustration for yours truly. It’s not that I begrudged Roscommon the win, but when you lose to Meath in the Leinster championship and then win two games in the qualifiers before being edged out by a Down team that went all the way to the All-Ireland final in Croke Park, watching the Rossies win a provincial title by beating London, Leitrim and Sligo ain’t easy, particularly when you have evidence that the two sides were at roughly the same level!

My in-laws didn’t see it that way at all.

March 16th 2014, League Division 3 – Roscommon 3-19 Offaly 2-4 in Dr. Hyde Park.

Sadly there’s no room left to include this one….

 

 

 

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