Character and class as Roscommon match Dublin in Croker opener

All-Ireland SFC series (Group 3):
Dublin 1-11 Roscommon 0-14

Diarmuid Murtagh gets the ball away while under pressure from Dublin’s Con O’Callaghan during the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Round 1 (Group 3) game between Dublin and Roscommon in Croke Park last Sunday. Pic: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

It’s a measure of the progress of this Roscommon senior football team this year that the overwhelming feeling leaving Croke Park last Sunday was that this was a missed opportunity to record a first championship win at GAA HQ in 43 years.

It was another magnificent display of disciplined, controlled and intelligent football from Roscommon, and save for a few crucial misses late on, a famous victory would have been claimed.

Conor Cox celebrates after kicking a late point during Sunday’s All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Round 1 match between Dublin and Roscommon in Croke Park. Pic: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Roscommon manager Davy Burke was hugely frustrated and disappointed at the end. Asked for his reaction, Burke said: “Huge disappointment, to be honest. We came here with a plan to try and get two points on the board and we didn’t do that, so we’d be very disappointed in there.

“With five minutes to play we were two points down, so it was good that we came out with a point I suppose. But look, we led for most of the way, conceded the goal and showed character afterwards”.

On a perfect day for football, Roscommon were sensational in the opening half. They ‘out-Dublined Dublin’ and played the game largely on their terms. Roscommon held on to possession and waited for the openings to appear, the players showing incredible patience and confidence as they frustrated the Dublin team and fans alike.

Burke explained that the plan was indeed to frustrate Dublin. “I’m not sure Dublin like other teams controlling the play. I think Kildare gave everyone the template there a few weeks ago…on how maybe to frustrate them a little bit. I thought we might be able to take that on another step, and we did for a while. Louth gave us all an exhibition on what not to do here against them. It worked for a lot of the time, but ultimately it didn’t work in the end”.

Two early points for Ciarán Lennon set the tone, and although Dublin did have points from Cormac Costello and Con O’Callaghan, Roscommon were dominating, and proceeded to build up a handsome lead.

In the 17th minute Mick Fitzsimons was given a black card for a foul on Diarmuid Murtagh and Roscommon responded by establishing a four-point lead with scores from Ciaráin Murtagh (free), Enda Smith, and Diarmuid Murtagh (another free).

There was one incredible passage of play late on when Davy Burke’s men held on to the ball for 5 minutes and 40 seconds. It drew loud boos from Hill 16, but the Rossies finished the sequence with a magnificent point from Ciaráin Murtagh to send his side into the break leading by 0-9 to 0-5.

Dublin were much better in the second half. They pushed up on the Roscommon kick-out, an approach that started to pay dividends. Ciaran Kilkenny and Niall Daly exchanged early points before Dublin got in for a crucial goal in the 43rd minute.

After Ben O’Carroll was caught in possession in the middle of the field, Dublin surged forward. James McCarthy looked to have been fouled but the ball spilled to John Small who bundled it home. Dublin’s best player, Cormac Costello, followed up with a point to level the scores at 1-7 to 0-10 and from there to the finish it was a frantic affair.

Ciaráin Murtagh and Costello exchanged points twice, and by the 63rd minute it was all square again, 1-9 to 0-12. The Dubs looked to have made a decisive burst for victory with points from Costello (a free) and Sean Bugler, and with two minutes of normal time to go they led by two.

But this Roscommon team would not hear of defeat. In the 69th minute Conor Carroll made a great save to deny sub Tom Lahiff, and in injury-time Roscommon sub Conor Cox landed a super free to narrow the gap to one. In the fifth minute of time added on Cox was fouled out on the left wing and stand-in referee Brendan Cawley awarded Roscommon a close-in free which was tapped over by Donie Smith, levelling the scores.

In the 77th minute Roscommon were awarded a free 55 metres from goal but Conor Cox’s effort skewed wide and the sides had to settle for a share of the spoils. In hindsight maybe it was a chance for Conor Carroll to have a go off the ground.

Indeed both sides had claims that they should have won it late on. Roscommon’s Donie Smith missed two chances he would normally score, while Brian Fenton and sub Dean Rock were off target for Dublin.

For Roscommon, Conor Carroll, Brian Stack, Niall Daly, Enda Smith, Ciaráin Murtagh and Ben O’Carroll were excellent, but the best player on the field last Sunday was Cian McKeon. He covered every blade of grass in Croke Park and his intelligent passing and support play was phenomenal.

Davy Burke sought to balance his disappointment with the encouragement he will take from his team’s performance.

“The Rossies haven’t won here since 1980 in the championship… there’s too much quality in that dressing room for that to be hanging over them, and I thought I’d be able to help them with that! But I couldn’t unfortunately!  You don’t get too many chances to beat top teams here. But we do think we’re improving. Our Connacht form and our Division One form showed that.

“We didn’t really know coming in how (far) forward we were because we had a five-week break and it’s hard to really know where you are. I think we showed that we’re still there, which is very positive”.

Teams & scorers

Roscommon: Conor Carroll; Conor Hussey, Brian Stack, David Murray; Niall Daly (0-1), Eoin McCormack, Dylan Ruane; Eddie Nolan, Enda Smith (0-1); Ciaráin Murtagh (0-5, 2 frees), Ciarán Lennon (0-2), Cian McKeon; Diarmuid Murtagh (0-3, 2 frees), Donie Smith (0-1, free), Ben O’Carroll. Subs: Keith Doyle for Lennon (46), Conor Daly for Ruane (48), Cian Connolly for O’Carroll (51), Conor Cox (0-1, free) for McKeon (64), Ruaidhrí Fallon for Nolan (64).

Dublin: Stephen Cluxton; Daire Newcombe, Michael Fitzsimons, David Byrne; Brian Howard, John Small (1-0), Lee Gannon; Brian Fenton, James McCarthy; Niall Scully, Seán Bugler (0-2), Ciaran Kilkenny; Paul Mannion, Con O’Callaghan (0-2), Cormac Costello (0-7, 2 frees, 2 ‘45s). Subs: Cian Murphy for Byrne (9), Colm Basquel for Mannion (52), Lorcan O’Dell for Scully (60), Dean Rock for Kilkenny (63), Tom Lahiff for McCarthy (69).

Referee: Barry Cassidy (Derry) first half; Brendan Cawley (Kildare) second half. (Cassidy retired injured at half-time).