FINAL FLOURISH! Late scoring spree leads to Croke Park

Eirgrid All-Ireland U-20 FC semi-final

Roscommon 2-13 Down 1-10

A magnificent return of one goal and five points without reply from the 54th minute saw this fiercely determined and well-drilled Roscommon team into the All-Ireland final following a pulsating semi-final played at Kingspan Breffni Park last Saturday night.

Leading by 1-9 to 1-6 after seven minutes of the second half, the momentum seemed to be with the Ulster champions, but Liam Tully and his selectors brought on a number of subs who reinvigorated the Roscommon challenge and they took the game to Down in what was a sometimes chaotic finale that extended to 10 minutes of injury-time.

Roscommon’s attacking prowess was always a factor, and when the Primrose and Blue side succeeded in getting the ball into their forwards a score was usually the outcome. It was a brilliant overall team display and now Roscommon players, management and followers are preparing for a unique All-Ireland final next Sunday against Offaly in Croke Park. What an occasion that will be for both counties.

The incessant rain cleared in time for the throw-in but the surface was difficult for the players. Nevertheless they served up a thrilling spectacle for the 1,500 crowd. Down were first to strike with points in the opening eight minutes from Danny Magill and John McGovern, but Roscommon could have had two goals on the board at that stage, James Fitzpatrick and Adam McDermott both hitting the Down crossbar with snapshots from distance.

The goal Roscommon were threatening to score arrived in the 10th minute. James Fitzpatrick exchanged passes with Conor Lohan before arrowing an unstoppable shot into the top corner. Roscommon were on a roll now and Daire Cregg in particular was magnificent, scoring three super points from play, while the movement of Ben O’Carroll and Adam McDermott was causing the Down rearguard plenty of problems.

   Down were a threat going forward and the tactic of their goalkeeper Charlie Smyth in repeatedly coming out the field was adding to their attacking options, although that aspect of their play was to cost them very dearly later in the game.

In the 25th minute Patrick Gavin could have scored another Roscommon goal but a last-ditch block on the line by Ryan Magill saw the ball flash over the crossbar.

Down struck for a superbly worked goal in first-half injury-time. Ryan Magill made another excellent interception and powered forward with the ball. He released Shealan Johnston at just the right time and the latter made no mistake, firing past Conor Carroll. It meant that the Mournemen went in ahead by 1-7 to 1-5 at half-time.

A fine point from Ben O’Carroll on the restart reduced the gap, but when Ruari O’Hare and Danny Magill added points to the Down tally by the 37th minute, it looked like it was going to be their day.

Roscommon battened down the hatches and the subs that were brought on lifted the team. In the 41st minute Robbie Dolan could have grabbed an opportunist goal but his flick was just too high and went over the bar. A minute later Daire Cregg kicked another mighty point and the margin was now down to one.

It was breathtaking stuff now as both sides battled desperately for the upperhand. Roscommon captain and full-back Colin Walsh, who was playing well all through, now came to the fore as time and time again he won vital interceptions, fielded superbly and made last-ditch tackles. It was an inspirational performance from the Oran man and his stature grew as the game moved towards its conclusion.

Down goalkeeper Charlie Smyth kicked a long-range free just after the second water break in the 47th minute to leave his side ahead by 1-10 to 1-8, but incredibly, it was to be their last score of the game.

Daire Cregg and Patrick Gavin pointed to level the match by the 56th minute and now the big Roscommon following were on their feet. A minute later Adam McDermot scooted in along the endline and grabbed another splendid score. Roscommon were now looking good.

As the game slipped into extra-time Down captain and playmaker Shealan Johnston was shown a red card for a high tackle on Colin Walsh, the exchanges now feisty. James Fitzpatrick extended the Roscommon advantage as the board showed there would be six extra minutes. In the 5th minute of injury-time sub Charlie Carthy kicked another mighty point (from 40 metres) and now Roscommon were three to the good.

Down now had to go for broke, and all 15 of their players were in the Roscommon half looking for the equalising goal they needed. But with Down ‘keeper Charlie Smyth 80 metres from his own goal, Roscommon won possession and Adam McDermott had the simple task of rolling the ball into the empty net. Game over.

The game meandered on for a further four minutes and the Down players became increasingly frustrated, and their midfielder Tom Close was red-carded in the final minute for a tackle on Daire Cregg.

Roscommon had done enough and the final whistle brought unconfined joy as players, management and supporters celebrated a magnificent win.

It was a super team effort with many leaders coming to the fore on the day, none more so than the aforementioned Colin Walsh. Daire Cregg was also superb, kicking five super points, James Fitzpatrick was always a threat while Ben O’Carroll was a bundle of energy. Ruaidhrí Fallon and Patrick Gavin also caught the eye all through. Subs Sean Trundle, Charlie Carthy and Jack Lohan also made valuable contributions.

After the disappointment of losing the minor final on Friday night this was the boost that was needed in the county. Another display from this team like the ones we saw against Mayo and Down and who knows where it might take us. It’s time to bridge the gap back to 1978. Roll on next Sunday.