A familiar feeling…

“You’d be sick of this” a Roscommon supporter said to me as we took that not unfamiliar long walk from the Hyde on Saturday – and I could only agree with him.

Much earlier in the day, I happened to see the modest hero of 2001, Gerry Lohan. His two goals – the second arrowed past despairing Mayo bodies, with virtually the last kick of that Connacht final 23 years ago – prompted wild celebrations in the stands, and later in town. As if being punished for over-celebrating, we haven’t beaten Mayo at home (in the championship) since that day, the wait extended further after last Saturday’s relatively closely contested latest instalment.

Even as they lost a third successive championship game, missing an opportunity to claim what would have been a confidence-boosting win over one of the top teams in the country in recent years, there were some positives for Roscommon. The forward-line didn’t exactly reproduce the form of the first half against Dublin, but our sharpshooters had their moments; 1-15 was a decent tally. Most encouragingly, Roscommon competed for the entire 76 minutes or more; this was a welcome reversal of a trend whereby Davy Burke’s team have faded badly in games in 2024, and/or been overrun by opposition that has unloaded a formidable bench. While Roscommon did fall six behind late on, they were – to all intents and purposes – competitive for the entire game, as one might expect they should be. And Roscommon can legitimately argue that the key score of the game, Mayo’s 60th minute penalty, should never have been granted.

The opening half was entertaining, with some fine scores from both teams, although Mayo were notably off with some of their shooting from time to time. While there was just over 8,500 people in the Hyde on a beautiful, warm day, the atmosphere was reasonably lively as the Connacht rivals traded scores. It was 0-8 apiece at the half-time break, Niall Higgins and Brian Stack providing leadership for the Rossies. (The first half had featured quite the show of frustration by the Mayo management – led by an animated Kevin McStay – over a disputed sideline call. It got the crowd going, and maybe that was part of McStay’s strategy).

Roscommon were slow to get going in the third quarter and Mayo, with the breeze at their backs, began to get on top, befitting their status as favourites. It was, I felt, one of Roscommon’s better displays in a thus far very disappointing season, but once again there were frustrating periods when the home team slowed the game too much, players not being offered sufficient options by colleagues.

Mayo are too resilient, experienced and efficient not to (usually) punish hesitancy and passiveness. More accurate with their shooting in the second half, they edged ahead, looking likely winners as a keen contest evolved.

With ten minutes to play, and Mayo just two ahead, the home team still had hope. Then Ryan O’Donoghue jigged into the danger zone, intent on scoring or creating a goal, before being deemed to be fouled. Whatever about that decision, replays show that the Mayo ace took far too many steps, and accordingly should have been penalised. The same player tucked the penalty away.

It felt like game over, but Roscommon rallied impressively. They had strong claims for a penalty (possible foot block). Falling six behind when Donnacha McHugh palmed Mayo’s second goal in on 69 minutes, Burke’s team kept attacking, refusing to accept that all might be lost. I suppose a six-point deficit can have the effect of removing shackles, freeing players into a state of abandon. Conor Cox reduced the lead to three when a penalty was awarded to the home team. A late scramble followed, Ultan Harney pointing. Two points between the sides now, but the referee’s whistle dashed any lingering Roscommon dreams.

No question, Mayo had the edge. Indeed if their finishing had been more ruthless, there would have been no need for that very nervy finale, the Mayo bench below me decidedly on edge as Roscommon players bore down on goal in a bid to locate that unlikely escape route.

Mayo were worthy winners. Eoghan McLaughlin had an absolute stormer for the green and red. Roscommon’s Chieftain, Enda Smith, had some good moments, but looked out on his feet once or twice and left the pitch injured towards the end.

As their manager noted afterwards, Mayo are in a pretty good position. Roscommon? The jury will start to shuffle back in after group game number three, where a not to be underestimated Cavan await. The championship clock is ticking. Will Roscommon’s season collapse – or ignite – in just over a week’s time?