End of the fairytale

ESB All-Ireland Minor Football quarter-final Laois                1-13 Roscommon     1-11  After almost two years and eleven championship games played against the cream of Ireland’s minor footballers Roscommon’s All-Ireland dream is over for 2007 after Fergal O’Donnell’s brave team were knocked out of this year’s championship by an impressive Laois side at Semple Stadium, Thurles last Saturday.   It’s to Roscommon’s great credit that there was only two points in it at the final whistle but the truth of the matter is that Laois were the better side and deserved to win the game.    To have won here Roscommon would have had to have taken all their chances which will not happen in any game and two very good goal chances – one in each half – were spurned by Roscommon. Those goals were needed if Roscommon were to compete against this excellent Laois team.   There were also other factors. Kevin Higgins was not himself at midfield and John O’Loughlin of Laois took advantage to dominate as the game’s best player.   Donie Shine was clearly unfit. Nevertheless when he was carried off with an ankle injury in the middle of the second half Roscommon were robbed of a player whose mere presence was an advantage to his team on the day.   All that having been said Roscommon were overwhelmed by the Leinster champions in the third quarter and while they fought back bravely in the final five minutes of play it was not good enough to turn the situation around.   On a day of defeat, there were some brilliant Roscommon performances. Full-back Neil Collins was majestic against Conor Meredith, who had scored 3-3 in the Leinster final. It was Collins’ best display in a Roscommon jersey and he must be another one for the future. James McKeague was his usual battling self and he gave everything as he battled away bravely against a strong Laois attack.   Colm O’Neill had a mighty game at midfield and although Kevin Higgins was not at his best young O’Neill ran and fielded brilliantly and is fast catching up on his older brother Seamus as a midfielder of real substance.   Up front Alan O’Hara was the star turn and was unlucky that his return wasn’t 1-3 instead of 0-4. He was excellent all through, as was Darren McDermott – but as I said above Laois were just that little bit too strong overall and they deserved to edge it.  The first half was brimful with fast, skillful football. Roscommon were first off the mark when Alan O’Hara pointed from play after a great pass from Paul Garvey and a minute later Darren McDermott pointed a 20-metre free after James McKeague was fouled. However Laois always looked dangerous when going forward and they scored two points in a row to level matters.    Giant wing-forward Donal Kingston (free) and Kieran Lillis pointed to leave it all square before Colm O’Neill scored a fantastic point in the 19th minute after good work from Paul Garvey and Niall Carty. Laois were level with a minute when Conor Meredith scored a 13-metre free after he himself had been fouled.   Then in the 14th minute Roscommon missed a great goal chance. O’Hara found himself inside the Laois cover but he was leaning backwards as he shot and the ball blazed over  the bar and within a minute Laois were level again when Meredith fired over from play from 25 metres.    Laois midfielder John O’Loughlin, who was beginning to dominate, scored a great point in the 19th minute. In the 21st minute O’Hara kicked a close-in free wide for Roscommon but Kevin Brady levelled the scores again after a good catch and run from Donie Shine.   With five minutes to go in the half impressive Laois wing-back Zac Tuohy raced up the centre to score but an O’Hara point on the run from close range ensured that the sides left the field level at 0-6 each at the break,  Roscommon’s huge following giving their team  a standing ovation as they left the field.   Roscommon began the second half well and within a minute they missed another great chance of a goal.    Paul Garvey was clear and when his shot was blocked it fell to Donie Shine who was dispossessed and finally Darren McDermott’s shot was blocked away and cleared by the Laois defence – all in the one passage of play – and although there was a long way to go it was to prove a crucial miss. However Donie Shine cracked a 55-metre free over in the 2nd minute but Laois took over after that.    Meredith levelled again with a 20-metre free in the 5th minute and Roscommon were struggling from thereon. In the 8th minute Shine was stretchered off with a serious ankle injury and Alan Duffy replaced him. O’Loughlin then gave the Laois men the lead in the 9th minute and Roscommon were on the back foot.   Kingston booted over a great point in the 10th minute after a mazy run and when Damien Lowry and Kingston (free) scored points in the 15th and 16th minutes, Laois had crept into a three-point lead. Then the decisive score arrived with 13 minutes left on the clock.      Tuohy and O’Loughlin combined to place the ball in front of Kingston 30 metres from goal  and the Laois man skipped around Niall Carty before planting the ball in the Roscommon net to give his side a six-point lead.  Credit to Roscommon, they never gave up and Tuohy and Darren McDermott exchanged points to leave the lead at six points by the 34th minute.    Roscommon were fighting for their lives now and they began to get some joy. McDermott scored a close-in free and Darragh Lennon followed up with a point from play to leave four in it with three to play.   O’Loughlin stopped the Laois rot with a super point from play in the 31st minute and with time running out referee Michael McGann from Clare awarded Roscommon a penalty following a foul on sub Leon O’Connor and the St. Brigids man dusted himself down and scored the resultant spot-kick.    It was however too little, too late and the final whistle arrived shortly after the ball was kicked out. It was a brave effort fromn Roscommon but it was just not good enough in the day against a very strong and skillful Laois team.   Roscommon followers rightly gave their  players and management a standing ovation as they left the field. It has been a fantastic two years with the Roscommon minor team who have competed against the best teams in Ireland,, showing massive skill and  determination and it shows what can be done if the right structures are put in place.    The people of Roscommon owe these young players and their mentors a huge debt of gratitude for the pleasure that they have brought over the past two years. Let’s hope we see a lot of these great young players in the future. Roscommon: Darren O’Malley; Niall Carty, Neil Collins, Paul O’Grady; Jack Sharkey, James McKeague, Eamonn Bannon; Colm O’Neill (0-1), Kevin Higgins; Paul Garvey (capt.), Donal Shine (0-1), Kevin Brady (0-1); Alan O’Hara (0-4), Kevin Cummins, Darren McDermott (0-3). Subs: Alan Duffy for Shine, Niall Brogan for Brady, Darragh Lennon (0-1)  for Bannon, Leon O’Connor (1-0) for Cummins. Laois: C. O’Shea; R. Kehoe, J. Mulhare, J. O’ Connor; K. Lillis (0-1), C. Boyle, Z. Tuohy (0-2);  S. Ramsbottom, J. O’Loughlin (0-3); D. Lowry (0-1), D. Kingston (1-3), B. Smith; J. Doyle, C. Meredith (0-3), E. Kelly. Subs: B. Seale for O. Connor, B. Glynn for Lowry. Referee: Michael McGann (Clare).  Match at a glance Man of the match: On the Roscommon side the outstanding players were Neil Collins, Colm O’Neill and Alan O’Hara and for Laois Zac Tuohy, Donal Kingston and Kieran Lillis were top class but the best player on the field was the Laois midfielder John O’Loughlin who was brilliant throughout and who scored three great points into the bargain. Weather: The weather was ideal for football -overcast and warm. The match was played on a super pitch. The venue might have been far away from some parts of Roscommon but Semple Stadium has a fantastic surface. Crowd: The were 3,000 people at the game and at least 70% were from Roscommon. They gave their side a standing ovation at half-time and full-time. However where were the 16,000 that were in Ennis last September? I know that it was a Bank Holiday weekend and that Thurles is a long way from parts of Roscommon, but it was a disappointing  turnout overall. Entertainment value: Top class. This was a right good game of championship football played between two skilled teams and some of the play was right out of the top drawer. Referee: Michael McGann of Clare did not have a great day and in the view of this writer let a lot of Laois fouling go unchecked. He also stopped the play on a number of occasions on both sides to award the ridiculous ‘black card’ to players.