Tributes to Earley set the right tone for day of destiny
THERE were extensive tributes to the late Dermot Earley in yesterday's Connacht final programme and as Roscommon supporters hung around in happy little groups long after the end of the game, they might even believe that their former hero had pulled a few strings from on high.
He would certainly have enjoyed a wonderful day for Roscommon who started out in Connacht as fourth fancies behind Mayo, Galway and Sligo. Now, they head for Croke Park as champions after a performance which left team manager Fergal O'Donnell thrilled.
He had captained Roscommon to their last Connacht senior title in 2001 and managed the minors to All-Ireland glory in 2006, underlining the key role he has played in the county's fortunes over the last decade.
"I'm delighted for all the lads but for the older ones in particular. They've been through a lot but they stuck at it," he said.
Kevin Walsh enjoyed many great championship days as a Galway player but had to endure the agony of losing a game by a point.
"No complaints. Roscommon were better on the day. We found it hard to win possession for long periods but seemed to have sorted it out in the second half," he said. He wasn't happy with referee, Jimmy White who played only two minutes' stoppage time in the second half.
"I couldn't understand that. If games are supposed to be 70 minutes long, then they should be 70 minutes," he said.
Ger Heneghan described it as "an unbelievable day" and pointed to Roscommon's battling qualities as a main source of inspiration.
"We were desperate to win that game and that got us over the line in the end. The belief within the team kept growing all the time. Sligo are a very good side but we never let them dominate us. It's a very emotional time for us," he said.
O'Donnell reflected on how Roscommon left Castlebar in despair after losing to Mayo last year. Roscommon also struggled in the league, dropping to Division 4, but worked hard for the championship and saw things come right. There will be little time for celebrations as they look ahead to the All-Ireland quarter-finals.
"We need to be right for that. We have a lot of work to do but we're delighted to be taking it on. The lads stuck to the game plan today. Even when they were under pressure in defence, they didn't concede many frees which was great," he said.