Over the years, we, as a group of anglers, have favoured September as the time best suited to our needs. Some of the other lads go on family holidays during August to exotic places such as Turkey, Minnorca and Skegness, so September is fine. It is not too close to the summer shutdown and not so close to winter that the weather is unpleasant. In fact the first time one mate came over with us, we were sat without our shirts in blazing hot sunshine. He thought it was like that all the time! I can categorically assure you, it is not. As usual I got burnt and as usual nobody believed I had been to Ireland. I had to tell them a cock and bull story about the Copacabána de la Skegness before they believed me.
Around September time the All Ireland Football Finals and the Hurling Finals are being contested at Croke Park, Dublin. Every village we pass through has it’s county colours displayed somewhere or other. Galway for instance will have maroon and white pennant lines draped across the road via telegraph poles or just dangling from a television aerial. Flags on poles are tied to drainpipes or aerials. Cavan fans had painted a workman’s hut half in blue and half in white and the quarry rock next to his hut had “Up Cavan” daubed on it in six foot high blue and white lettering.
My favourite county, Roscommon, play in blue and yellow and in 1980, they did the unbelievably unimaginable and unthinkable. They got to the All Ireland Football Finals! The whole county from the beginning of the Roscommon road at Athlone right up to the Galway border at Ballygar was dripping with blue and yellow. This sort of thing had not happened for donkeys years so everyone was up for it. When it comes to final appearances Roscommon are not as prolific as such as Meath or Kerry, and as a consequence the rural Roscommon folk who were not familiar with Croke Park and Dublin would make the most of this one off.
I remember my first visit to Wembley to watch my team Sheffield Wednesday play Manchester United. Wednesday last played there in 1966 (or was it 1066) so we were going to enjoy it come hell and high water. Who knows, we might never get there again in my lifetime? (As it turned out, we went 5 times in 4 years). Roscommon’s experience was every bit as unique to the younger people of the county as Wednesday’s first Wembley experience was to me.
My friend Nonie has twin girls, Francis and Ann, who were in their early teens at the time. They went along to Croke Park that day dressed up in blue and yellow everything, carrying blue and yellow flags, banners and almost anything else that they could carry. Even though Rossie lost to Cork the whole county was experiencing a euphoria not dissimilar to that of the papal visit albeit on a much smaller scale. The girls came back obviously disappointed but not downhearted. They had experienced a great day out, in a massive crowd. It was something they would never forget. Highlights like this make up your childhood memories.
They will most likely never return to Croke Park for such an event ever again. They are both married with children and a different set of priorities. That wonderful day out at Croke Park however, will be etched in their memories forever, such was the excitement generated by two girls so young on this momentous occasion. In the bar all we heard about for a week was the things they had seen, the flags, the banners, the people and the whole experience.
Winning the Sam McGuire Trophy however is of far greater significance for the players. The players become respected pillars of their society and some move on to become politicians, such is their high public esteem after becoming an All Ireland winner.
I invested 50 pence on a blue and yellow windscreen visor which proudly proclaimed “Rossie for Sam”, (named after Sam McGuire a founding member of the GAA). I drove around Sheffield with this on my little blue Mk 1 Escort for quite a few years, confusing everyone who passed and enjoying doing so.
Most years as we approach Dublin from the west on the evening of the final, we meet fans returning from Croke Park back to their towns and villages with their colours trailing from their car windows and aerials. One year Offaly and Galway got to the final and both sets of fans had to use the same road to get back from Dublin. There was a solid line of traffic from Kinnegad to Dublin, a winding snake lasting 60 miles. Chaos!
Over the last few years some of the less fancied counties have got into the final, such as Mayo, Down, Donegal and Offaly. The so-called big boys, Meath, Kerry, and Dublin have had to sit back and watch these emerging forces compete. This is heartening because you never know miracle of all miracles; Roscommon may one day again grace the hallowed turf of Croke Park and this time win on it. At most football grounds each terrace has a name, such as the Spion Kop at Hillsborough and Anfield, the North Bank at Highbury, the Jungle at Celtic and even the Sud Kurve at Bayern Munich. Well so Croke Park has Hill 16, formed out of the rubble left from the G.P.O. which was shelled by the British while trying to extricate the brave rebels during the 1916 uprising. Nonie’s two little girls were on Hill 16 during Roscommon’s visit and they will ever forget it.
Meanwhile back in September 1943, total war was raging in Europe. On the Russian front the Germans were withdrawing hastily from the Ukraine, slaughtering Russian peasants, men, women and children, by the thousands as they retreated. They had suffered crushing defeats at Kharkov, and at Kursk after losing the biggest tank battle ever, then losing Smolensk at a cost of over a million soldiers. The U-boat Wolfpacks had resumed their North Atlantic offensive, sinking 156,400 tons of allied shipping during September. Meanwhile Europe’s soft underbelly had been pierced, and the British Airborne had taken Taranto. Rome was declared an open city and Mussolini was rescued by the Germans (who wished they hadn’t).
Roscommon were also preoccupied in 1943, busy winning the All Ireland final as the picture hanging in Golden’s Bar testifies. They won it in 1944 as well. Perhaps this is not a fair analogy and that it was all a long time ago, but life had to go on. Even German football teams were playing on, whilst their soldiers were busy trying to hold back the Red Army in Byelorussia, kicking the Italians out of the way to get at the British in southern Italy and slaying innocents in Eastern Europe. FC Gelsenkirschen-Schalke 04 for example had some of their best years during the years of Nazism.
One day Rossie will win it again and hopefully I will be there to see it. I dearly wish it to happen just for my friends in that little village of Castlecoote. I am sure they will. It all comes to those who wait, so they say. Mind you, Sheffield Wednesday have been waiting since 1935!