Anthony Flaherty’s proudest days came draped in the primrose and blue of Roscommon, not least the 1984 Centenary Cup victory over Wexford.
That was hurling, however, and those games, more often than not, were played out in the mundane surrounds of Athleague.
Roscommon, lest we forget, is first and foremost a football county and when it came to their spiritual home, Dr Hyde Park, Flaherty’s role was no more than a spectator, though the memories are just as fresh.
The county hurling board chairman trawls back through the years and stops at 1978: “We’ll start there,” he says.
The Kerry U21 football team, littered with household names travelled to the Hyde for the All-Ireland decider. It was merely a case of turning up to collect the silverware.
The Rossies however, backed by a heaving home crowd, had other ideas.
“That was one of the best days there ever was at Hyde Park,” says Flaherty.
“There was a big crowd that day considering it was only an U21 game and they wouldn’t be as high profile as they are nowadays, but sure all of the people that were there were Roscommon people.
“They had their big name players, but we had an even better bunch, the likes of Seamus Hayden and Tony McManus. The celebrations after we won were unbelievable. We didn’t expect to win that day so when you win a game that you don’t expect to win, and beat a team like Kerry, people do tend to celebrate it for a good number of days!”
Given the county annexed the JJ Nestor Cup on only one occasion in the 1980s, Flaherty decides to skim over that particular decade, touching down in 1990.
Roscommon welcomed neighbours Galway in what was a hugely anticipated provincial decider, with 22,000 streaming through the turnstiles.
The rivalry between the counties was particularly strong at that time and Flaherty remembers the “good natured banter” when the Tribesmen rocked across the border.
“Eamon McManus (jnr) gave an exhibition in the 1990 Connacht final. He always gave his all in the Roscommon jersey.”
Roscommon returned to the Connacht final a year later, but a second day was required to separate the reigning champions and challengers Mayo, following a dramatic late free courtesy of Derek Duggan. All roads converged on Dr Hyde Park for the second instalment where Duggan would again grab the headlines.
“I was there that day and no one that was present could ever forget the game,” says Flaherty. “There was a huge crowd, 24,000 or something. People came from far and wide to watch.”
With matters tied three minutes out, Roscommon’s Joey Connaughton was fouled 32 metres from the Mayo goal. Duggan stepped up and delivered the county a second successive Connacht title.
Similar to the barren spell of the 80s, supporters of the primrose and blue would have to wait another 10 years before provincial glory propped its head in the Hyde, but Flaherty says it was well worth the wait.
“Frankie Dolan was sent off and Gerry Lohan got a goal at the death to grab the win against Mayo. Frankie was hugely passionate, and maybe sometimes he was too passionate. Both were great servants to Roscommon football.”
On the occasions when Roscommon weren’t involved, Flaherty would lend a hand as a steward at the ground. Never an opportunity missed to get in a game, regardless of the pairing.
Two particular games stand above the rest. Iconic afternoons in the history of football in the west.
Flaherty remembers the sea of green and gold that greeted Leitrim’s maiden win in 1994, surpassed ever so slightly by Eamon O’Hara’s goal surge 13 years later, bringing an end to Sligo’s 32-year title famine.
“The Sligo celebrations were unreal and they couldn’t believe they were capable of winning that game. They went in as underdogs and won it comprehensively. They really celebrated it!”
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