Tommy Carr hunkered beneath a large umbrella at Pearse Stadium last Saturday, but he may as well have placed a colander above his head for all the sanctuary it provided. Try as he might, the sheets of rain found a way in.
John Maughan sat beside him watching Galway beat Tyrone, just a couple of former Roscommon managers getting soaked in Salthill. The locals passed little heed, ex-Rossie bosses rarely find themselves in the soft seats around those parts.
Carr was appointed Roscommon manager in September 2002, a year after his spell in charge of Dublin had ended abruptly. He was going from the top table to the pool table.
A few months earlier, the Roscommon footballers had become national news fodder following the infamous naked pool-playing incident in a Derry hotel. The panel was subsequently disbanded.
“The whole thing had kind of imploded, so we had to go through a process of re-establishing a panel and a relationship between the players and the county board,” recalls Carr.
“I don’t mind saying it, there were some wild boys on the Roscommon team at the time, you could say wild or you could say strong-willed, strong-headed.”
Carr was often like a fireman walking around the place, bucketing water on mini blazes while players followed behind with overflowing jerry cans to spark them off again. But boy could some of them play. In Carr’s first year as Roscommon manager he guided them to an All-Ireland quarter-final – along the way they beat Cork, Leitrim, Offaly, and Kildare.
Carr remembers one moment during the Offaly game when Frankie Dolan stood over a sideline ball. The seconds were ticking away and Roscommon led.
“I said, ‘Frankie, kill it, put it dead’. I wanted him to put it out over the endline,” says the former Dublin captain. “What does he do, he sticks it over the bar, turns and says, ‘Is that dead enough for you?’ It was as good a point as I’ve ever seen from a sideline, it was a bit like Maurice Fitzgerald in 2001.”
Ah, the iconic Maurice Fitz point. Carr was the Dublin manager that afternoon. What more can he say about it at this stage? It happened, he was there.
The tale of how his time in Dublin finished has been regurgitated often over the years. The short version is a vote on his position by club delegates returned a 46-46 outcome. It left then chairman John Bailey with the deciding ballot. Just hours beforehand, the pair had met in the Red Cow Hotel where Bailey assured Carr of his backing. But later that night, Bailey, who passed away in 2019, voted for a change of management. They never spoke again.
“What do I feel about all of that now?” says Carr when asked about how events transpired. “I have mixed feelings about it, maybe it was the right thing, maybe it wasn’t. I think the difficulty for me is in how it was done, meeting me and having those positive conversations, then that night the casting going the way it did.”
A year later Carr was on his way to Roscommon.
“I never felt there was much of the anti-Dub thing around,” he says. “But they did operate from a kind of complex, ‘We’re the small guys, nobody really respects us, f*ck the rest of the country, we’ll show them’.
“And they played like that, it was innate in them. Every now and then you’ll get a Roscommon team that comes with such an attitude, and the current team is like that.
“It seems to be in their DNA, it’s not that they feel inferior but they kind of say, ‘Oh right, that’s what you think of us, that’s fine, let’s see.’”
But in the spring of 2005, after losing league games to Fermanagh and Monaghan, a small band of experienced Roscommon players started to shake a few branches. Carr didn’t wait for the leaves to fall. He yanked up the roots himself.
“We wanted to do certain things and move the training on a bit, take it up another level,” recalls Carr. “But some of the boys had been there too long and didn’t want to go with it.”
Prior to a meeting of the players, which was to be attended by Stephen Banahan, Carr gave the then chairman his resignation.
“These guys were the leaders of the group, it would be different if they were subs pi**ed off they weren’t getting a game. I needed those guys to be on-board, so that’s how it ended in Roscommon.”
While all that was going on, Carr was the father of four young kids – all of whom have now grown up to be exceptional sporting talents in their own right.
Elizabeth (28) is a triathlete with aspirations of representing Ireland at the Olympics, Gareth (24) is a scratch golfer and has played for the Westmeath senior footballers, Simon (23) is Ireland’s number one-ranked tennis player, and Vicky (21) is a key player on the Westmeath women’s football team.
Simon, who is currently rehabbing a hip injury, has been on the road touring since he was 16, railing against a system not structured to see Irish tennis players excel. In 2020 he climbed to just outside the top 500 in the world.
“The life is tough,” says his Dad. “The loneliness of it. It comes back to the individual psyche, for an Irish tennis player coming up against a German or Australian, whose father has been coaching them since they were kids and who have had a team of people travelling with them since they were 12.
“Whereas he’s thinking, ‘I’m on my own, I have to book my own flights, pack my own bags, organise to get a rub somewhere,’ all those things. And I think that probably gets to you at some stage.”
Given all Tommy Carr has achieved in Gaelic games, a special moment arrived in 2021 when he was coach with the Westmeath women’s football team. The Lake County won the All-Ireland intermediate title that September, with Vicky playing at midfield.
And it is coaching more than management that interests him more these days, though there has always been a feeling Carr might eventually return to a Dublin set-up to add a new ending to that particular chapter.
“Of course, if somebody came to me and asked, ‘Would you be interested in this?’ I’m not going to sit here and say I wouldn’t consider it.
“You are kind of at a stage now in life where there is nothing stopping you. You are calmer, in the past I might have been a bit OTT, all fire and brimstone, I’d be more measured now. If something challenging came up, of course you’d consider it.”
As fate determined, his last championship game as Roscommon manager was against Dublin, a 1-14 to 0-13 All-Ireland qualifier defeat in Croke Park on the August Bank Holiday weekend in 2004.
“On the Tuesday or Wednesday we started getting requests from players asking if they could bring their cars up and not travel on the team bus,” recalls Carr.
“They wanted to stay in Dublin, go out that night. I remember thinking, ‘We’re in trouble here, these boys have downed tools’. The expectation seemed to be that this would be our last game of the year so let’s have a bit of fun afterwards.
“I’m interested to see next Sunday when Roscommon come up whether that is the case or does everybody come on the bus together. I’d imagine it’s different now.”
Though certain calling cards remain. Roscommon created a classic siege mentality for their recent Connacht semi-final against Mayo, Davy Burke reaching for the reliable motivator: Everybody wrote us off.
“I’d say they were a bit disrespected during the week,” commented Burke afterwards. “I’m sure our boys weren’t overly pleased with all the talk.”
Burke might be a Kildare man, but it was a gambit straight from the familiar Roscommon playbook.
For their part, Dublin’s playbook has flipped back a few chapters this season, Dessie Farrell bringing back some familiar faces – not least Stephen Cluxton. It was Carr who handed Cluxton his Dublin senior debut in 2001.
“It was a big call to bring Stephen back because David O’Hanlon was doing very well,” says Carr. “Stephen is not going to be there forever. Part of the failure of managers is keeping guys too long and not developing what’s coming underneath, but it’s hard in this situation because you know Stephen is still going to produce the goods.
“So, is it the right decision to bring him back? Yes, for Dublin at this moment in time. But for two or three years? Perhaps not. But you deal with the now.
“Dublin have been very patchy so far, but they don’t get going until they get out of Leinster. It’s coming to the stage soon where we’ll know where they are at.
“But if Roscommon think they can set up defensively against Dublin and win by two or three points, that’s not going to happen, they will slowly bleed to defeat. They must create helter-skelter, make it a game of madness, chaos.”
It was once the only Roscommon way.