Sport GAA

Friday 19 October 2018

Titles mean just as much in the backwaters, even if outsiders don't care

"(Pearses) had some excellent management teams in place, including the former Portumna manager Frank Canning, but there was always something missing." Stock photo: Sportsfile

Dermot Crowe

Pearses End 30 Years of Pain! So read the headline in the Roscommon Herald proclaiming Padraig Pearses senior hurling champions after a three-decade wait. As reigns of penury go, you'll have heard of worse.

But in the time between winning in 1987 and last Sunday's return to the summit they had lost eight county finals.

There was a three in a row tucked in there, from 2006-08, and during the recent past Four Roads were usually their main tormentor, in that they lost more finals to them than any other club. Four Roads won eight on the bounce up to 2015, but last Sunday they lost to Pearses by seven points.

A video of the celebrations that carried, sleeplessly in some cases, from Sunday into Monday shows the jubilant Pearses players and followers dancing and singing in the Birchgrove in Ballinasloe, which is a few miles away across the border in Galway. The Birchgrove is also their main sponsor.

In the years they came up short, losing by every which way possible, they tried everything to change their luck. Psychologists came and went, defeated and broken men. And last Sunday they won with a bunch of young fellas, nine of the starting team under 22.

Roscommon's hurling final can't compete for public attention with big club games in counties like Tipperary, who had their final televised on the same day, or the decider in Clare which this afternoon sees Clooney-Quin partake for the first time in 73 years when they face Sixmilebridge. But they all bleed the same and feel identical joy and anguish.

"We were the bridesmaids for far too long," says Padraig Dooley, who was on the Pearses team that won in 1987, and captain of the losing team in 2002. He lists off defeats with little effort or relish, like the one in 2007 when they lost by six points to five to Four Roads despite their opponents having a player sent off.

They had some excellent management teams in place, including the former Portumna manager Frank Canning, but there was always something missing.

Dooley spotted an obvious handicap, a shortage of homegrown talent, and became involved in developing their underage structures. Some of their earlier teams were too reliant on players from outside the parish and the county, with Dooley himself originally from Cappataggle in Galway.

The club's first championship win in 1984 relied on a late goal from Gerry Burke, who had come from St Rynagh's and would manage the team that won their second title three years later before success dried up.

To be there to see a team backboned by young homegrown players winning last Sunday will stay with Dooley for a long time.

"It was unbelievable the emotional and the celebrations," he says. "I'd say they are still going on. It has lifted the hearts and souls of people, and the bonfires on the way home were testament to that. The whole place was lit up."

The final took place in Athleague, which meant the journey home entailed driving through Four Roads.

"It was a slow progression," admits Dooley, "and a noisy one - I think they understood that too themselves. They expected it."

The chief scorer in the final, Daniel Glynn, is just 19 and doesn't seem like the sort to be haunted by past shortcomings and what history is telling him.

In the final he shot 0-15 of their 1-20, with five of those points from play. At half-time they led by five points, and when a goal from Four Roads arrived four minutes after the interval the lead was down to just two points. But this time their nerve held.

Entering the final quarter Oisin Kelly flicked home their only goal and they kept a safe distance from there on. But even seven points up, the mind plays strange tricks when you have seen a team repeatedly beaten over the years.

Their followers yearned for the final whistle. And with the final blast came the pitch invasion, a happy ripple of red and white moving across the pitch.

It mightn't be the centre of the hurling universe but for Pearses on Sunday last there was no place like home.

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