Wednesday 7 December 2016

Sinead Kissane: Roscommon, Rossi and kicking points in the dark at Dr Hyde Park

Published 03/07/2015 | 02:30

He probably doesn’t know it, but Paolo Rossi had a key role in the nickname that now attaches itself to Roscommon
He probably doesn’t know it, but Paolo Rossi had a key role in the nickname that now attaches itself to Roscommon

Do you have a second? I really want you to meet Paddy Joe Burke. He is the Roscommon supporter who was sitting at home watching the 1982 FIFA World Cup on TV when he had a light-bulb moment.

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Imagine if Italy striker Paolo Rossi was from Roscommon, he wondered. The Rossis from Roscommon has a bit of a twang to it, doesn't it?

The next time Paddy Joe went to a Roscommon Gaelic football match he started shouting "Up the Rossies!" Maybe it was the exotic sound, maybe it just sounded right but "The Rossies" caught on.

I wonder is Paolo Rossi aware of how he inspired this.

Paddy Joe has the perfect habitat to feed his love of the Roscommon football team in his barbers shop in Roscommon town. A great day in the barbers was a day recently when there were seven people in the shop but nobody needed their hair cut. They were all there just to talk football.

Being his own boss means Paddy Joe can wear his Roscommon jersey whenever he wants. He even wears it to Mass on Sundays.

Earlier this week, he went to the Aviva Stadium to watch AC/DC play. What did he wear? His Roscommon jersey of course.

Getting stuck in traffic jams travelling to GAA games is some fans' version of Highway to Hell. But Paddy Joe? He loves it. He loves the energy and excitement as supporters clog up towns on their way to games. The taste of melting ice-cream and the smell of melting tar are all part of the experience for him.

He loves the fretting that goes on - the fear that you're going to miss the start of the game, but you never do. He loves it when you arrive at the turnstiles, when you have to keep your manners and remain calm, but you're only dying to get into the ground.

He loves checking the programme once he gets in - especially the subs' bench - and by the time the players run out on to the pitch he knows exactly what number each sub is wearing.

Paddy Joe gets "goose-pimples at the soles of my shoes" when he hears the national anthem. And then the roars of support for his team: "Come on the Rossies!"

I wonder what Paolo Rossi would make of it all?

There's dedication to your team and then there is Paddy Joe's dedication to the Roscommon team.

Coming up to midnight on the night of December 31, 1999, Paddy Joe went to Dr Hyde Park. He brought a candle, a football and a radio with him. Why?

He brought a candle so he could "shine a light into the next millennium". He brought a football so he could become the first person in the new millennium to score a goal and a point at Hyde Park. And the radio, well, that was just to make sure he had the right time.

So you get the picture here. Paddy Joe is easily one of the most passionate fans I've ever met. He's been to every county in Ireland supporting Roscommon. The GAA really is part of who he is.

So you can also imagine the extra bit of hope Paddy Joe would have had when it looked like this could be a stand-out year for Roscommon.

In April, they pocketed their third title in 12 months, winning Division 2 to add to the Division 3 title they landed last year.

At the start of the year, manager John Evans felt the spike in anticipation from the Roscommon public.

"They breathe football and it fires right back at you, like where I come from in Kerry," Evans said. "You just can't avoid the passion, nor the expectation. That brings pressure, but focuses you too."

Top up the league success with the FBD League title in January, which included a win over Mayo in Castlebar. Throw in Evans' public statement after winning Division 2 that Roscommon could become All-Ireland contenders and it really was heady times for Roscommon going into the Championship.

But then they hit the buffers against Sligo. There was a slow extinguishing of hope for a Connacht title as Roscommon underperformed in the semi-final.

Sucked

It looked like the team had sucked and swallowed their own hype.

Did Paddy Joe's faith waver? Not at all. He put the defeat to Sligo down to a blip. "The best motorways in the world have a pothole," he rationalised.

Tomorrow it's Cavan away in the qualifiers. And Paddy Joe does what he always does before a Roscommon game, irrespective of what's gone before: he gets excited.

"The whole town of Roscommon is moving with footballs," he declares. This week - even if it is something as mundane as mowing the lawn - Paddy Joe's way of thinking is that this will the last time he will mow the lawn before Roscommon's game with Cavan.

He will do a few hair-cuts tomorrow before hopping into the car, jersey on, favourite CD on and drive to Cavan. It's all about getting into the bowl, he tells me. The bowl? Yes the bowl for the draw for the next round of the qualifiers.

If Roscommon win, he will sit beside the radio on Monday morning and listen intently for the moment when Roscommon is called out. And then the Rossies could be on the rise again.

With Paddy Joe's limitless faith in his county, I think even Paolo Rossi would be impressed.

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