Cork afloat – gallant Roscommon in danger of sinking

National Football League Division Two Cork ………………………………………………………………… 1-14  Roscommon ……………………………………………………… 0-15 Paul Hickey  The look of thunder on John Maughan’s face after Eugene Murtagh’s final whistle in Kiltoom last Sunday spoke volumes. The Roscommon manager’s bitter disappointment was justified, for he had just watched his team take a very significant step in the direction of relegation, having ‘almost’ battled evenly with a pumped up Cork team for seventy minutes in an engaging National League fixture. ‘I don’t think that that was the way to lose a game. We had several opportunities in both halves where we should have taken our scores. We gave away a soft goal on a cheap turnover and we were punished. If you want to say that it was an experience then maybe it was, but I’m very disappointed’ a morose Maughan told the media scrum that congregated around him at the end of the game. He is right too. It wasn’t the way to lose a game. Roscommon played energetically and at times with great exuberance on Sunday but failed at the crucial stages of the game to cope with the determination of Cork’s will. The result leaves Roscommon with just one point after three league matches and, while the optimists among us will talk about what a great experience playing against last year’s All-Ireland finalists was for our young team, the reality is that Roscommon could have won or at least drawn this game. As it was, however, Cork’s ugly hoof-and-pedal-hard-after-it strategy secured the two vital points that were at stake. Roscommon will now spend the rest of the spring attempting to fight off relegation. Maughan’s frustration is surely shared this week by his gallant players who, notwithstanding the final score, can hold their heads high after this game. It can be argued that keeping last year’s All-Ireland finalists to two points is a great achievement for a young team. Defence counsel could also, with some justification, point to the ‘victory at all costs’ message that was surely given by Cork manager Con Counihan to his players as they finally returned to competitive action following a tiresome episode of GAA politics that was played out in front of the eyes of a largely  unsympathetic nation. Those of us who saw the game, who watched the points elude Roscommon so agonisingly, and who know that this Roscommon team is too good to compete in division three of the 2009 National Football League, cannot be so positive. Hope is the worst of all evils, for it prolongs the torments of men. Roscommon should have left Kiltoom with at least a point. Had they not allowed Donncha O’Connor to score a crucial goal in the 61st minute, and had they coped better with the wind-assisted Cork avalanche in the final phase of the first half, they would have. They would have done so despite the failure of Roscommon’s management to devise a plan to stymie Cork’s primitive style of play. What follows is not a reflection on the players who lined out at full-back and centre half-back for Roscommon last Sunday. Anthony McDermott is a talented and composed full-back who is a credit to his club and who is an important player for his county. Enda Kenny is one of the most talented young footballers in the province and he will be a central figure on any Roscommon team that meets with success in the next decade. Yet Roscommon allowed Cork to pump high ball after high ball into Pearse O’Neill and Michael Cussen in Kiltoom. The supply line to gigantic Cussen should have been cut off either at midfield or by a defensive sweeper. Kenny, who twice in the first half fielded superbly and whose passing and attacking forays were flawless, should not have been exposed alone to the experienced and imposing O’Neill. More than any other player O’Neill was the driving force in the critical period before half-time that saw Cork score four unanswered points and establish a lead that they retained until the end of the game. Last Sunday in Kiltoom is in the past now. Looking forward to the remainder of the National League, there were some positives last Sunday on which we can focus. David O’Gara played excellently at left half-back. Roscommon captain Seanie McDermott performed competently in the half-back line and then in the full-back line. Enda Kenny made two fine catches and one great foray forward. Karol Mannion and Mark O’Carroll performed quite well at midfield. Gary Cox atoned for a poor wide in the first half with a good score from play and otherwise played well on the wing. Ger Heneghan and Senan Kilbride did reasonably well in the corners. Most importantly for those with their eyes cast towards the summer and the Connacht Championship, Frankie Dolan and Jonathan Dunning showed glimpses of what may turn out to be a beautiful and fruitful partnership. The deployment of Dolan at centre-forward was to be expected following his performances for his club in the county and provincial championships of last year. John Maughan and his selectors are to be complimented, however, for installing Dunning at full-forward. The Clan na nGael man and Dolan are a potent duo: the former’s pace superbly complements Dolan’s vision and accurate passing. Dunning’s effectiveness in the first half was such that Cork switched Graham Canty and Ger Spillane after 20 minutes. Canty reverted to the inside line in the second half when the Cork half-back line sat deeper and deprived Dunning, Heneghan, and Kilbride the oxygen of space. The first 20 minutes were encouraging, however, and it is important to take note of these things. God willing, the summer will be fine, and the hard ground will enable Dunning to exploit the Dolan supply line to the maximum. The play The game was evenly balanced for the opening twenty minutes, and Roscommon fully deserved to be on level terms with their opponents after Frankie Dolan’s point in the 21st minute made it 0-5 to 0-5. Points from Conchur Mac Carthaigh and Donncha O’Connor opened up an early lead for Cork. Two points from the lively Dunning restored parity by the 11th minute. Dunning was instrumental early on – a one-two with Heneghan in the 13th minute put the Castlerea player in for a point that gave Roscommon the lead towards the end of the first quarter. Daniel Goulding got the first of his seven scores fifty seconds later.  Geoffrey Claffey was blamed by some for choosing to kick his kick-outs long and into the gale in the final few minutes for the opening half but he earned unqualified applause for two great saves in quick succession in the first half. The first parried away a thunderous shot from Pearse O’Neill on the quarter-hour mark; the second palmed a blazing effort from Goulding over the bar one minute later. Pearse O’Neill then preceded Dolan’s point with a good score after bursting up the middle through the Roscommon defence. Shannonside FM commentator Willie Hegarty’s likening of O’Neill’s run to the downhill full-throttle velocity of the Dublin-Westport express train was as apt as it was entertaining.  Cork’s purple patch ensued, disappointing as it undid the hopes of the 2,000 Roscommon supporters who were packed into the tight Kiltoom venue. Roscommon were outscored by 0-5 to a point during this period. A Heneghan free in the 33rd minute was the sole Roscommon score. Ger Heneghan, Cox, Senan Kilbride, and Cox again (a free) all scored for Roscommon in the third quarter, but two from O’Neill and two from Goulding kept the away side in front. Kilbride’s point was a peach: a left-footed effort that curled over from 35 metres justified his selection and delighted the patrons in the 45th minute. Jonathan Dunning could have done better in the 53rd minute when Cathal Cregg found him in space in front of goal on the 21-metre line, but he was swallowed up by Canty and Sexton. It was one of two ‘quarter-chances’ that Roscommon had for goals in the second half. Senan Kilbride had turned Kieran O’Connor in the 69th minute and was about to open out the throttle in front of goal when Murtagh blew his whistle and awarded a free. A free by Ger Heneghan preceded Donncha O’Connor’s 61st minute goal. It was a good goal from a Cork perspective, but it sickened the home supporters. An unfortunate turnover led to Cork feeding the deep-sitting Michael Cussen who off-loaded to O’Connor who was loitering in the Thierry Henry channel. The Ballydesmond attacker finished with the aplomb and coolness of Robbie Fowler in his heyday, and Cork led by six. Still Roscommon persisted, and four frees in the final minutes reduced the margin to two before the final whistle blew and Cork took the all-important two points. Cork: Alan Quirke; Diarmuid Duggan, Graham Canty, Kieran O’Connor; Nollaig O’Laoire, Ger Spillane, Anthony Lynch; Alan O’Connor, Nicholas Murphy; John Miskella (0-1), Pearse O’Neill (0-3), Conchur Mac Carthaigh (0-1); Daniel Goulding (0-7, 0-4 frees), Michael Cussen, Donncha O’Connor (1-1, 0-1 f). Subs used: Eoin Sexton (0-1) for Lynch (inj., 9 mins); Steven O’Donoghue for O’Leary (50 mins); John Hayes for Cussen (68 mins). Roscommon: Geoffrey Claffey; Paddy O’Connor, Anthony McDermott, Adrian Murtagh; Seanie McDermott, Enda Kenny, David O’Gara; Karol Mannion, Mark O’Carroll; Gary Cox (0-2, 0-1f), Frankie Dolan (0-1), Cathal Cregg; Senan Kilbride (0-1), Jonathon Dunning (0-2), Ger Heneghan (0-7, 0-5 frees). Subs used: David Keenan for Murtagh (34 mins); Conor Devanney (0-2, frees) for Cox (59 mins); Michael Finneran for Cregg (66 mins). Referee: Eugene Murtagh (Longford).