I was in Carrick-on-Shannon early on Saturday morning, having flown back into Knock from the Irish U-20 rugby match in Wales, for what is now known as the Connacht post primary football championship final — that is, the Connacht Colleges championship which St Jarlath’s have traditionally won.
The team bus from Summerhill College was the first to swing into the big car park outside Pairc Sean MacDiarmada and as the lads disembarked, all impeccably dressed in similar gear, it was noticeable that nearly all had big headphones on, bottle of water in hand, and the weight of the world on their shoulders going playing a football match.
Shortly afterwards the lads from Roscommon CBS swung in on the gravel in the Roscommon GAA bus — perhaps the most strikingly colourful team coach ever made — and most of their players also had grim faces, big headphones and the sort of look you would expect from a young lad being dragged off to the bog on a morning when he thought he might be heading to town.
In fairness, these lads put in a big effort and it was a big day for both schools, with Roscommon CBS winning their first title since 1998 on a day when both played the northern style of football of getting as many men as possible behind the ball. They were level 0-4 each at the break, it finished 0-8 to 0-7, there were just eight scores from play and there were 38 frees. Only at the final whistle did anyone seem to be enjoying himself and then, of course, that only applied to half of them.
Some of the most enjoyable sport I played was in school. We were lucky in Colaiste Einde in Salthill to fashion a football team together from limited resources— Corofin’s Frank Morris was the instigator — which went all the way and won an All-Ireland SFC ‘B’ title in 1981.
We, too, were serious about how hard we trained but they were giddy times. We would have worn headphones if we had them, the only bottled water then came from Knock or Lourdes, and the only bus was the one which brought lads in from Barna or Moycullen each morning.
The late Fr Christy Walsh was the President of the school then, a truly wonderful man, a philosopher, a psychiatrist, a priest, a principal and a poor racing tipster, all in one. I thought of him last Saturday when I saw the teams arriving.
We played St Finbarr’s from Farranferris in the All-Ireland semi-final in Askeaton in south Limerick. The team travelled in cars belonging to teachers or parents. Christy had a gang of lads in his ‘new’ car, a green Opel Kadett bought secondhand, which promptly broke down in Gort. He went in to the local parish priest, demanded the keys to his car, and took off again in a black Morris Minor which, impossibly, he drove slower than his own car.
He arrived in Askeaton not long before the game, a massive plume of smoke coming from the interior of the car before the lads dislodged, for he was an enjoyable smoker. The lads, trying to be serious about their football, declined his offer of a smoke on the way down.
We won the match and, I think, played far better and more attractive football than anything seen in Carrick last Saturday. And we were enjoying ourselves long before the game started.
SIGHT/SOUND OF THE WEEK: Joe Canning’s point from a sideline last Sunday. Welcome back.
THEY SAID IT: ‘I’m often asked how this Rangers team compares with the Lisbon Lions. I have to be honest and say I think it would be a draw but, then, some of us are getting on for 60,” former Glasgow Celtic great Bertie Auld in 1993 after arch rivals Rangers had reached the group stages of the Champions League for the first time. Ouch.
IT HAPPENED ON THIS DAY: 18th March 1949: Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins, world snooker champion in 1972 and ’82, was born in Belfast. He died there aged 61, in 2010 from cancer, having at one stage smoked 60 cigarettes a day.