Back door blues for Roscommon

Connacht Senior Football Semi-Final  Sligo               0-13 Roscommon    2-5  Roscommon’s senior footballers slumped to one of their most disastrous championship defeats in their long history at Dr. Hyde Park last Sunday when they stood by and watched as Sligo sped past them in the final quarter to deservedly win the game and thus gain a place in the 2007 Connacht final against Leitrim or Galway.   Roscommon led by six points three minutes into the second half and were looking good to score an easy win but Sligo were having none of it and as the Roscommon challenge withered and died the Yeats County men hammered over point after point. Indeed there was only one team in it over the final twenty minutes. In fact if Sligo had their shooting boots with them this defeat would have been even worse for Roscommon such was their superiority in that second period.   I have attended almost every championship game played by Roscommon in the past thirty years and I cannot recall a worse defeat. Since the game on Sunday there have been serious questions raised by many Roscommon fans about the management of the team and while some of those questions may be legitimate it is fair to say that the management of the team were not playing on Sunday.   The players themselves did not perform and as we have often said here in the past, to win championship games senior players need to stand up and be counted and to lead the team – to take the game by the scruff of the neck – and when it came to the crunch on Sunday Roscommon (with the exception of Seanie McDermott) had no-one to do that.   In contrast Sligo had several leaders, not least the experienced Eamonn O’Hara who dictated the play at midfield and poked and cajoled his colleagues into that mighty drive in the final quarter which took them past a flagging Roscommon.   I saw Roscommon training on a couple of occasions in the week running up to the game and as far as I could see they were flying, which makes it all the more puzzling why they were so flat on Sunday last. It looked as if Sligo were by far the fitter team as the game wore on. Roscommon must have left their fitness in the Algarve. The qualifiers now beckon but I’m afraid that if last Sunday’s effort is repeated Roscommon fans will have a long summer ahead without inter-county championship football to look forward to.   It was hard to believe that this was the team that we saw hammer Offaly and Cavan in recent league games. In fact last Sunday’s game was almost a carbon coby of the league game against Leitrim which also turned in the final quarter as Roscommon failed to close the deal.   The story of the game has been well told at this stage elsewhere but for the record Sligo started well and were three points up through Kieran Quinn and Mark Breheny (2) before Ger Heneghan got Roscommon’s first point from a free in the 13th minute.   Roscommon then enjoyed a reasonable amount of possession in the second quarter and points from Karol Mannion and Heneghan saw the sides level by the 24th minute. Roscommon then got a huge boost with a well-taken goal in the 34th minute. Gary Cox made a good run down the left wing before cutting inside. He drew the Sligo goalkeeper Philip Greene before passing to Mannion, who finished with aplomb. Sligo grabbed a point in injury-time from Sean Davey which was Sligo’s first score in 29 minutes of play. Half-time score was Roscommon 1-3 Sligo 0-4.   It got even better for Roscommon on the restart as Ger Heneghan placed Cathal Cregg in the second minute and the Western Gaels man blasted the ball into the Sligo net off the underside of the crossbar for a quite brilliant goal. A minute later Ger Heneghan scored a close-in free and now Roscommon were six points up and cruising.   However it was all downhill from there as Sligo realised that Roscommon were losing their grip on the game and accordingly they rallied brilliantly. O’Hara stomped around the middle of the park as if he owned the land there – and his colleagues responded.   Mark Breheny kicked a mighty point from 40 metres and in the 5th minute sub John McPartland should have goaled when put straight through by Sean Davey but his shot went too high and over the bar and a pointed Breheny free in the 6th minute had the Roscommon lead down to two.   Roscommon were struggling now and with Stuart Daly gone off injured the cracks began to appear in the Roscommon defence. Gary Cox kicked Roscommon back into a four-point lead in the 11th minute but incredibly that was to be Roscommon’s final score of the game.   Sean Davey and Brian Curran kicked three great points between them to narrow the gap to a single point by the 18th minute and the huge Sligo following were on their feet. Roscommon were on the ropes now and Sligo moved in for the kill. They made it difficult for themselves with some bad wides but sub Kenny Sweeney finally levelled the game with 10 minutes to go and now the initiative was with Tommy Breheny’s men.  Breheny kicked the visitors into the lead with a huge 50-metre point in the 29th minute and although Roscommon had a couple of half-hearted efforts in the final couple of minutes (including a bad wide from Michael Finneran) it was Sligo who finished in style with Curran landing the insurance point in stoppage time.   Sligo were the deserving winners and will now face Leitrim or Galway in the Connacht final. For Roscommon it’s hard to know where they go from here. They have spent over six months in hard training and despite that they were totally outclassed last Sunday.   Too many of the Roscommon players were simply not good enough on the day and while there were a couple of substitutions made in the second half it was very harsh on John Tiernan and Cathal Cregg to be taken off as at least three other Roscommon forwards deserved to receive the call to the line before them.   The return of just two points from play in the entire game tells its own story and that kind of return will never win any championship game regardless of the opposition. Sligo will be delighted at their excellent win but in truth they are a mediocre team who will do well to advance any further in this championship.   It’s now off to the qualifiers and the hope is that Roscommon get some kind of a favourable draw because a repeat of last Sunday’s performance will mean another early championship exit. Roscommon: Geoffrey Claffey; Seanie McDermott, Anthony McDermott, Paddy O’ Connor; Stuart Daly, David Casey, Richard Dooner; Seamus O’Neill, Michael Finneran; John Tiernan, Gary Cox (0-1), Cathal Cregg (1-0); Derek Connellan, Karol Mannion (1-1), Ger Heneghan (0-3, frees). Subs: A. Murtagh for Daly, E. Kenny for Tiernan, D. O’Gara for Cregg, D. Keenan for Dooner. Sligo: Philip Greene; Charles Harrison, Noel McGuire, Ross Donovan; Paul McGovern, Michael McNamara, Johnny Davey (0-1); Eamonn O’Hara, Kieran Quinn (0-1); Brian Curran (0-3), Mark Breheny (0-4, 3 frees), Sean Davey (0-2); David Kelly, Philip Gallagher, Adrian Marren. Subs: J. McPartland (0-1) for Marren, K. Sweeney (0-1) for Gallagher, G. McGowan for Kelly. Referee: Jimmy White (Donegal).  Footnote: On Monday afternoon I learned of the tragic death of Stephen Nolan, the young Western Gaels player who lost his life in a car accident on Monday morning. What happened in Hyde Park on Sunday is unimportant in comparison. I extend my deepest sympathy to his family and friends. Match at a glance Man of the match: Seanie McDermott was by far the best Roscommon player on veiw but the award has to go to Sligo midfielder Eamonn O’Hara who turned back the clock with an inspirational display at midfield. Weather: A perfect day for football. Cloudy but warm with little or no breeze. Crowd: 11,000 approximately. The crowd generated a good atmosphere but it was Sligo who were celebrating at the end. Entertainment value: The first half was very poor but the match livened up in the second half and Sligo kicked some excellent points in that period.  Referee: Jimmy White of Donegal had a fairly good game. Any mistakes he made were on both sides and there wasn’t much controversy. Wides: Roscommon 9 Sligo 15 Yellow cards: Sligo 1 (P. McGovern) Roscommon 0.