What scenes of celebration in Salthill on Sunday as Roscommon fans stormed the field in celebration of a first Connacht football title since… wait... 2017?
Hang on a minute. As GAA famines go, this doesn’t even count as a slight tummy rumble. Ecstatic, health-and-safety-endangering pitch invasions are understandable when you’ve just ended an epoch of desperate longing, along with talk of curses broken and scenes of old men crying uncontrollably.
But a second Connacht title in three years? That’s not a famine, that’s a good, square meal with second helpings. In fact, given that Roscommon also lost in two Connacht finals either side of that 2017 win, it’s possible to imagine an alternate universe where they have just completed a triumphant four-in-a-row.
Far from being Connacht’s lovable, plucky scrappers, we would instead be living in a primrose-and-blue hegemony. A fearful province would bow down before their Sheepstealer masters. The Rossies in Pearse Stadium would yawn at the prospect of another Nestor Cup.
Instead, not only did they invade the pitch after the match, they invaded the pitch during the match. That’s how excited they were at the end of 23 months of painful yearning.
There is of course, a simple explanation for all this: What might be derided as a bit OTT for other counties is perfectly acceptable for Roscommon. As Newstalk’s Nathan Murphy put it on Twitter: “They are the maddest of all the mad bastards.”
The Rossies are invading the pitch already, they are maddest of all the mad bastards.— Nathan Murphy (@nathanmurf) June 16, 2019
Take Roscommon superfan Paddy Joe Burke. You know Paddy Joe — barber-cum-jester, go-to man for TV crews looking for someone to hurroo dementedly about the Rossies, looks like a Status Quo roadie. Paddy Joe is actually considered a sober, serious, statesmanlike figure in Roscommon society; there, people think he should lighten up a bit, enjoy himself more.
This is a place whose noted sons include a goalkeeper nicknamed ‘Cake’, who was famous for impromptu charges up the field; a Hollywood comedy star who also — naturally — played minor for the county; and a politician named after the baddie in Flash Gordon.
But the mass exhilaration of the pitch invasion is not just for the mad bastards of Roscommon. There’s always something deeper going on when thousands take leave of societal norms and charge the playing field.
Victories in big GAA matches seem to encourage this collective unhingement and, as we’ve seen, some are more inclined to unhingement than others. The Dublin hurling folk were at it at the weekend, too, and no people who’ve ever felt downtrodden or had the jackboot of others upon their necks will be held back by the admonishments of stewards in such moments.
The pitch invasion is the storming of the castle keep after the siege has been won; the victory dance, the breaking of chains. Stopping them on All-Ireland final day correctly prevents Kilkenny people ambling onto the Croke Park field to casually note another success, but denies true moments of ecstatic release their full expression.
For Roscommon, beating Galway or Mayo in a Connacht final will never get old, despite their relatively successful recent record. They are very much of the ‘dance like no one’s watching’ approach to life. Question the location of their marbles all you want, but they have the right idea: Enjoy the good days because there are plenty of bad ones.
But last Sunday’s scenes did make the mind wander forward a week: If this is what Roscommon are like, how might Cavan people process victory in Clones next Sunday?
Sure, Cavan does not have the quite the same reputation for colourful doolalliness as the county that lies across Lough Allen and a narrow strip of Leitrim. A reputation for thrift precedes them. Neven Maguire is their modern ambassador. It’s hard to imagine Neven as a pitch invader. A nice leg of lamb with a red wine jus would be more his style.
But the two counties have much in common. Both enjoyed cherished mid-20th century heydays: Cavan winning five All-Irelands between 1933 and 1952, Roscommon’s only Sam Maguires coming in 1943 and 1944. Both suffered disproportionately from emigration.
Cavan went from being Ireland’s 13th most populous county in 1936 to its current rank of 20th. Roscommon went from 11th to 22nd in the same time (the connection between population size and GAA success has long been noted: Only Mayo suffered a comparable drop in that time. Go figure).
Also, both are, in their own way, absolutely, certifiably, stone mad about Gaelic football. Think of any person you’ve met from either county. Chances are your first conversational gambit would concern GAA, apart from Neven, who you’d definitely ask about the lamb, firstly.
At least Roscommon have had those intermittent days in Connacht to enjoy in recent years. It’s hard to believe that Cavan haven’t won Ulster since Mairtín Beag and all that back in 1997, a win that itself ended a 28-year wait. They haven’t been in a final since 2001. Even Antrim have made an Ulster final in that time.
Donegal know about the power of desperate longing on Ulster final day. They watched Monaghan people swarm around them on the Clones pitch in 2013, as if reclaiming that small piece of their territory occupied by other powers since 1988.
Desperate longing isn’t enough on its own, otherwise Mayo folk would still be nursing the world’s sweetest hangovers, but Mickey Graham has Cavan rocking right now. They’re playing great football, kicking the ball with confidence, lashing over scores with abandon. With Mullinalaghta, Graham pulled off far bigger coups than this one would be.