Exciting finale whets appetite for April main course

PAUL HEALY – View from the Stand

‘The atmosphere generated by the huge crowd was now championship-like. Now, county loyalties and passions were elevated in hearts and minds and voices…’

Conor Cox and Enda Smith celebrate Conor’s goal which put Roscommon within one point of Mayo in the second half of last Sunday’s Allianz Football League Division One match in Dr. Hyde Park. Pic: Bernie O’Farrell

The first 20 minutes of Sunday’s Roscommon-Mayo game was painful viewing for home supporters. It was a different story for the visitors, who were purring.

If it was a boxing bout, a referee might have sympathetically looked Roscommon in the eyes and at least hinted at calling it off (of course they would have been wrong to do so, as Davy Burke’s team eventually roused themselves from that sleepwalking of the first quarter).

For home supporters, that opening phase of play was alarming. Mayo were well on top, exhibiting the swagger and composure shown in their handsome wins over Kerry and Tyrone. As they picked off some fine points, Roscommon responded with nervous play and impotent attacks. Mayo went 0-7 to 0-0 in front. For Roscommon, the ghosts of some sobering past meetings were circling.

Mercifully, the home team finally found their scoring touch, claiming four of the next five points, Mayo 0-9 to 0-4 ahead at half-time. Roscommon would have the decent breeze, and their pride, in the second half.

This, of course, is a very formidable and in-form Mayo side. Kevin McStay had started without Aidan O’Shea and Ryan O’Donoghue (among others), but Jack Carney and Cillian O’Connor were in fairly ruthless mood.

A poor first half showing was evolving into a very decent second period when Roscommon’s spirited fightback ran into trouble. On 48 minutes, the home team gifted Mayo a goal. What should have been a routine exit from defence ran into a roadblock when Colin Walsh’s pass was intercepted by Jack Carney. Worse, ‘keeper Colm Lavin – in keeping with the times we live in – had roamed from his front door. Carney goaled.

If Roscommon heads dropped then, Mayo might have won by a dozen. Instead, the home team – now eight points behind – tore into the daunting challenge. The last quarter was great sport.

Roscommon’s first goal came from a trademark Enda Smith run and finish. If only players would take a direct approach more often! A super goal. Tommy Conroy might have sealed it for Mayo, but his effort came off the crossbar, into the arms of a grateful defender.

Close to full-time, Roscommon still trailed by four, but had already achieved respectability. Then it got better.

Sub Conor Cox, who had contributed a mighty point from a free, added a great second goal. The atmosphere generated by the huge crowd was now championship-like. Now, county loyalties and passions were elevated in hearts and minds and voices, no matter how much the respective management camps might have wanted to play it coy ahead of April 9th.

Having put in a great second half, Roscommon were now just a point behind. Mayo were grateful for Matthew Ruane’s injury-time score, which put them two ahead. But there was late excitement to come. A high ball in fell to Ben O’Carroll, and the Hyde crowd drew its collective breath as he bore down on goal and released his shot. Diarmuid O’Connor’s block ended emerging notions of a fairytale ending.

Mayo were the better team, and should have won more comfortably. They deservedly claim the points, but must wonder at how they came so close to being pickpocketed in broad daylight. Roll on April 9th!