A brief history
The first county convention took place in Boyle on January 23rd 1889. Clubs represented on the day were Crossna, Cootehall, Castlerea, Clonalis, Killaraght and Kingsland, Sheegora, Elphin, Strokestown, Ballinameen, Kilmore, Corlara, Knockarush (Boyle), Lowparks (Boyle), Owen Roes (Boyle) Democrats (Boyle) Tawnytaskin, Ballyfarnon and Callow, with apologies from Kilbride and Kilteevan. Jasper Tully was proposed as President (Chairman) with James Lindsay as Treasurer and GW Tully as Secretary.
Elphin William O’Briens dominated early proceedings but activities were dis-organised during the era of the Parnellite split but the GAA was re-established in the county at a meeting in Elphin on April 27th 1902. A first Connacht Senior Football Championship was won in 1905 and two more Senior Football titles came in 1912 and 1914 – either side of Roscommon’s only Connacht Senior Hurling title victory. In 1915 Roscommon was nominated to represent Connacht in the 1915 All-Ireland Senior Football Semi-Final where they lost out to Kerry and this was to be the county’s last All-Ireland Semi-Final appearance until 1943.
Lean times followed and the County Senior Footballers did not taste much success at Connacht level while the Hurlers reached a number of Connacht Finals but lost out to perennial rivals Galway. At Club level Strokestown and Donamon were the dominant Football teams while Tulsk Lord Edwards also captured two county titles. Roscommon Gaels led the way in Hurling winning 12 of the 20 Championships that were contested between 1913 and 1938. It has to be said that throughout all the “lean times” the county has always had success Handball players who have won All-Ireland titles on a regular basis. Paddy Perry, who won eight All-Ireland Senior Softball titles in a row in the 1930s. The successful promotion of Handball in Roscommon during this time was recognised at national level when TJ Caulfield from Castlerea, became President of the Irish Handball Association in 1938.
On the field, events of the early 1930s, including an appearance in the All-Ireland Junior Football Final of 1932 (following victory over Cork), showed signs that Roscommon Football was on the up. Roscommon was represented on Connacht Schoolboy (U14) panels and Roscommon Minor teams of this era gave a first taste of inter-county Football to many who would become legends of the 40’s. Boyle and Roscommon Town both won a number of County Minor Championships during the decade and the opening of the opening of the CBS in Roscommon gave players from all the adjoining Clubs the chance to play Football and Hurling together on a regular basis. The School won it’s first Connacht Hurling in 1938 while six students were part of the Roscommon team that won the All-Ireland Minor Football Final in 1939.
The All-Ireland win of 1939 began, what has been referred to as the “Six glorious years” and saw the county capture six Connacht titles at various grades, two All-Ireland Minor titles (’39 and ’41), one All-Ireland Junior (’40) and two All-Ireland Senior titles (’43 and ’44). Roscommon had become one of the big forces in Gaelic Football. (Incidentally, the “Primrose and Blue” colours, which the county is now synonymous were worn for the first time in 1943 Final in order to avoid a colour clash with Cavan – in previous year the Roscommon jerseys were blue with a yellow band around the middle).
In 1946 the team went close again; losing to Kerry in the All-Ireland Ireland Senior Final after a replay, while in 1947 they lost the All-Ireland Semi-Final to rivals, and eventual champions, Cavan. Roscommon County Board Chairman Dan O’Rourke also served as President of the GAA for a three year term between 1946 and 1949.
A short period of transition followed the Cavan defeat but boosted by a Connacht Minor win in 1949 and an All-Ireland Minor win in 1951 the Seniors won a Connacht double in 1952 and 53. The county Hurling team was also “on a roll” during this period, winning the Four County Junior Championship in ’46, ’48, ’49, ’51 and having great wins over Galway in the Connacht Junior Finals of ’52 and ’53 (although the 53 title was awarded to Galway following an objection). This success was due to a renewed interest in Hurling at Club level and the establishment of a Hurling Committee in 1946, which became the County Hurling Board in 1947. Athleague and Four Roads were the dominant Hurling Clubs at the time while Tarmon and St. Patricks Knockcroghery won all the Senior Football titles between 1939 and 1949 (with five and six wins respectively). Great Elphin and St. Comans sides emerged in the early ’50s.
The years between 1954 and 1961 did not yield much success for the Roscommon Football, with Galway being the dominant team in the province, including five in a row from ’56 to ’60. At Club level Elphin did three-in-a-row between ’55 and ’57 while St. Brigids did the double in ’58 and ’59.
Roscommon continues to dominate the Four County Junior Championship and won all the Championships from ’55 and ’67. Club Hurling was more balance with titles shared between Athleague, Four Roads, St. Comans and Tremane.
A great showing in the National Football League (reaching the final versus Kerry) gave Roscommon supporters renewed optimism ahead of the Connacht Championship and the faith was repaid by the players as they took the title. They lost to Offaly in the All-Ireland Semi-Final but that made them even more determined and they went a step further in 1962 where, sadly, Kerry put an end to the dream; winning by 1-12 to 1-6.
A Connacht Minor title in 1965 led to an All-Ireland U21 Championship win in 1966 and among the players that day was Dermot Earley, who also played on the Minor, Junior and Senior teams that year. Another Connacht Minor title was achieved in 1967 with an U21 title following in 1969. Members of these four teams combined to win the county’s first Connacht Senior Championship for 10 year with victory in 1972. The team went on to reached the National League and Connacht Finals in 1974. Elphin native Dr. Donal Keenan served as Chairman of the Connacht Council from 1970 to 1973 and at Congress that year he became President of the GAA for a three year term. On the Club scene Roscommon Gaels won back-to-back Connacht Club titles, while Castlerea St. Kevins, and later, Clann na nGael won County titles. 1974 was a great year for Roscommon Hurling when they defeated Derry to win the All-Ireland Junior Championship. Athleague and Tremane both dominated the Roscommon Club Championship throughout the ’70s and early ’80s.
Off the field Scór, or the Winter Activities Competition as it was initially known, was launched by the GAA in 1969 and began in Roscommon shortly after. The first All-Ireland was won by Elphin in the Tráth na gCeist in 1972 and a County Committee was formed in 1973 in a bid to further promote the competitions.
In 1975 Roscommon won the a seventh Connacht Minor title and this sowed the seeds for the All-Ireland U21 win in 1978. ’78 was also a great year for Ladies Football as the county team won the All-Ireland Senior Champions.
The Minor win was the beginning of the next “golden age” of Roscommon Football. The county won four Connacht Senior titles in a row between 1977 and ’80. This period culminated in the long awaited return to the All-Ireland Final in 1980 but once again the day ended in victory for Kerry. The Seniors did however collect one National title during this time; the 1979 National League. They also reached the League Final in 1981 but made a Championship exit to Sligo. The next All-Ireland appearance by a Roscommon team was in 1982 when the U21s lost to Donegal. Although the Seniors reached a number of Connacht Finals remaining Connacht Final victories of the ’80s came courtesy of the Minors in 1984 and 1989. Clann na nGael dominated proceedings at Club level, winning 10 County Finals in 11 years, seven Connacht Club Finals and reaching five All-Ireland Club Finals. Roscommon hurling enjoyed some of it’s finest hours during the 1983/84 season. The team were undefeated in the National League and gained promotion to Division Two. In the Centenary Cup (a once off, open draw competition) they were pitted against Wexford and they caused a huge upset by winning on a scoreline of 3-5 to 2-7. Despite a brave performance against Cork in the next round they were defeated. Four Roads took five County titles in the 80’s and their finest hour came in 1988 when they defeated Abbeyknockmoy to take the Connacht Club title. The County U16s defeated Down to win an All-Ireland title.
Defeats in the Connacht Senior Finals of 88 and 89 (after a replay) did not deter an improving Roscommon side and they made it third time luck in 1990, although they lost to eventual All-Ireland Champions Cork in the semi-final. The 1991 Connacht win was more difficult and it took a replay to over come Mayo. Meath were the opposition in All-Ireland semi-final and Roscommon were defeated by the narrowest of margins. Two Connacht Final defeats followed and a new team began to emerge in the late 90’s. Although they lost the 1998 Connacht Final to the eventual All-Ireland Champions Galway, after a replay, this game set down the foundations for the next win in 2001. A Connacht U21 win in 1999 along with two All-Ieland Junior titles in 1999 and 2000 introduced a group of new players to the County Senior side in 2001, where they claimed the county’s 19th Connacht title. They subsequently lost to Galway in the All-Ireland Quarter-Final. 2001 also saw the Roscommon Hurlers claim the All-Ireland Junior title. Just one more Connacht Final appearance occurred in the remainder of the decade although the team had two good runs in the qualifiers in 2003 and 2004.
As mentioned earlier in this piece throughout all the “lean times” the county Hurling and Football teams have experienced there has always been regular success in Handball, with Roscommon players capturing All-Ireland’s, and in some cases, World Titles. The success of the promotion and development of the games in the county was recognised at national level with Tony Hannon being appointed as President of the Handball Association in 2008. St. Comans received the All-Ireland Club of the year title in 2010 and Mount Talbot, a club which was formed in August 2009, received the award a few weeks ago. Scór has also been a source of All-Ireland titles in recent times as clubs from the county have won ten All-Ireland Scór na nÓg titles and three All-Ireland Scór Sinsear titles since 2000.
The final part of the story focuses on youth. In the early part of this century the County began a programme of development squads. The first products of the system reached the Connacht Minor Final in 2004. Additional squads were established and an All-Ireland Minor title followed on a great afternoon at Cusack Park, Ennis in 2006. Over the past five years Roscommon under-age teams have remained very competitive, reaching All-Ireland Minor Quarter-Finals in 2007, ’08 and ’09 and the All-Ireland Semi-Final in 2011. Players from the Development squads and Minor squads have progressed through the ranks and this has lead to Connacht Junior titles in 2006, 2008 and 2009. 2010 was one of the most successful years at adult level with the county winning the Connacht U21 and Senior Football titles. At Club level St. Brigids have been the dominant Football team in recent years while Four Roads have led the way in Hurling. The County Hurlers have also progressed over the past few years with the Seniors winning the Nicky Rackard Cup in 2007 and this year they took the Allianz Division 3B League title while the Minors reached the All-Ireland B Final.