Cavan calling! It’s win or bust for Burke’s men

All-Ireland SFC Group 2
Mayo 2-14 Roscommon 1-15

There were just two points between the teams on this, the third occasion that they met this year, but it was a familiar story for Roscommon as their winless championship run against Mayo at Dr Hyde Park will now extend to at least a 24th year in 2025.

For neutrals, this was an incident-packed, very competitive and enjoyable game, but in the cold light of day the analysis will conclude that Mayo deserved to win it. Roscommon’s late surge almost paid off, but overall Kevin McStay’s men were just about the better side. However, they almost rued missing a number of clear goal chances throughout the game and some of their shooting was poor on this occasion.

From Roscommon’s perspective, this was a reasonable performance. The full-forward line never got as much latitude as they did against Dublin the previous week. Mayo reacted by selecting Padraig O’Hora to mark Conor Cox and he did a good job as Cox didn’t score from play. Elsewhere, Roscommon played in fits and starts but were never in command at any stage.

Brian Stack, Eoin McCormack, Niall Higgins, Robbie Dolan, Enda Smith (first half) and Daire Cregg all played well for Davy Burke’s men on the day. The selection of Conor Hand to replace Dylan Ruane from the start was a surprise. The St Brigid’s youngster was withdrawn at half-time and was replaced by Keith Doyle.

This latest defeat means that Roscommon, despite having lost three championship games, will have a final chance of redemption against Cavan the weekend after next. That will be a winner-takes-all contest.

This game was played in brilliant sunshine, Roscommon having the aid of the breeze in the opening half. The sides were level no less than seven times in that period, with both teams kicking some fine scores.

Splendid efforts from Donie Smith, Ciaran Lennon, Robbie Dolan and Enda Smith saw the Roscommon fans on their feet, although it must be said that Mayo had more of the play and their eight first-half wides told its own story.

Mayo could have put clear water between the sides at the break when Darren McHale burst through in the 34th minute, but from point-blank range he fired into the side netting. It left the teams on level terms going into the break, 0-8 apiece.

Ryan O’Donoghue was always a threat for Mayo, and he came into the game more on the resumption. By the 50th minute Mayo led by two (0-11 to 0-9) when Conor Carroll made a superb save to keep Matthew Ruane out. Two minutes later the Roscommon goalkeeper converted a ’45 to narrow the gap to one.

The final quarter was incident-packed. In the 60th minute O’Donoghue was fouled on his way towards goal and referee Barry Cassidy pointed to the spot. It looked like the Mayo attacker had taken too many steps but the penalty was given and the Belmullet man fired home.

Roscommon were now under pressure and with just two minutes to go Mayo went six points up when a sweeping move ended with Donnacha McHugh fisting the ball to the net. Mayo 2-13 Roscommon 0-13.

Roscommon came with a late surge. In the 70th minute sub Dylan Ruane was fouled, and Conor Cox put away the resultant penalty. Mayo swept downfield and another goal looked odds-on but Tommy Conroy elected to fist over the bar.

The game finished in a welter of excitement. Roscommon had claims for a second penalty when there appeared to be a foot block on Daire Cregg but the referee waved those appeals away. Then Mayo sub Fergal Boland received a straight red card after linesperson Maggie Farrelly reported him to the referee for an off-the-ball incident. Mayo manager Kevin McStay claimed after the game that it was a case of mistaken identity.

There was still time for Roscommon to score two points from Donie Smith and sub Ultan Harney but the clock eventually ran out and Mayo had hung on.

There were some crumbs of comfort for Roscommon following this latest defeat, most obviously the fact that it was an improved display. However, the sight of a clearly distressed Enda Smith limping off the pitch in injury-time with a nasty looking injury will not have improved the mood of Davy Burke and his selectors ahead of that crucial clash with Cavan.

So, after a lot of huffing and puffing, Roscommon’s championship season now comes down to 70 minutes against Cavan next weekend. It’s win or bust now.