Slick Rossies into Connacht Final – after first-half scare
It’s hard to know where to start analysing this bizarre game of championship football which was played in beautiful summer weather at Dr. Hyde Park on Sunday.
Roscommon went into the game as the hot favourites but when referee Joe McQuillan blew the half-time whistle the Roscommon players trooped off eight points down (2-8 to 0-6) and with a mountain to climb. It was 2015 at Markievicz Park revisited, only twice as bad. Mistakes by the home side had been punished ruthlessly by a determined visiting side and many of us watching knew that unless Roscommon came thundering into the second-half exchanges with all guns blazing, another embarrassing championship defeat was staring the Rossies in the face.
But, whatever was in the half-time cup of tea in the Roscommon dressing-room certainly worked as the home side set about reducing that Sligo lead from the resumption of play.
Senan Kilbride fisted home a goal after 22 seconds, by the 49th minute the sides were level (2-10 apiece) and Roscommon went on to score two further goals – and could have scored at least two more. An eight-point deficit was turned into a nine-point win. I have never seen that happen in the championship to any Roscommon senior team, and I am a long time going to Roscommon matches.
So, what changed? In the first half Roscommon were hesitant, they handpassed the ball far too much and turned over possession a total of 18 times. To add to that, the Roscommon kick-outs were very poor and with Sligo’s Niall Murphy, Pat Hughes and Adrian Marren in flying form, every Roscommon mistake was punished. However in the second half a number of things happened that swung the match Roscommon’s way.
The goal after 22 seconds of the restart was crucial in kick-starting the revival, and the arrival of Neil Collins shored up the defence and gave Roscommon a platform. The Castlerea man turned in a barnstorming display which lifted his colleagues – and the crowd too. The arrival of Enda and Donie Smith brought a sharpness to the attack that wasn’t there in the first half. Roscommon played more direct football and it paid off in spades.
I wonder when was the last time that Roscommon scored 4-10 in one half of championship football? If it has happened I certainly can’t remember it. In the end it was a satisfying win and an emphatic passage to the Connacht final.
The fact that Sligo ace Adrian Marren was shown a black card just before half-time was also a help to Roscommon as he and Pat Hughes were wreaking havoc on the Roscommon defence in that first period.
No Roscommon follower should be getting carried away after this win. There is a mountain of work to be done before July the 10th. Roscommon’s kick-outs did not work, especially in that first half, and that will have to be sorted out. The defence was hesitant at times and it wasn’t until the arrival of Neil Collins that the Sligo scores dried up. Midfield was once again a problem area and we are still looking for a settled partnership. Up front, the full-forward line of Senan Kilbride, Donie Shine and Cathal Cregg were out of sorts on the day and it took the arrival of the Smith brothers to get Roscommon over the line in that final quarter.
On the plus side, Niall McInerney had a very solid game, as did Seanie McDermott and John McManus, and with Neil Collins dropped from the side during the week, the Castlerea defender came on and showed that he will be a hard man to leave off the first 15 on July the 10th. David Keenan played well in unfamiliar surroundings at midfield and kicked three fine points from play. Ciaráin Murtagh and Conor Devaney were the pick of the starting attack and the final return of 4-16 cannot be argued with.
This was one of the most open games of championship football that I have ever seen. Blanket defences were nowhere to be seen as the sides slugged it out score for score. You can be certain that things are going to get a whole lot more difficult after this. At the end of the day Roscommon are where they want to be.
They are in the Connacht final now and into the last 12 in the country at worst.
In January of 2016 the aim for the year was for Roscommon to survive in Division One and to reach the Connacht Final. Both those aims have been achieved now.
Let’s see where we can go from here. Galway and Mayo will battle it out on Saturday night next. I expect Mayo to be waiting for Roscommon in Castlebar on July 10th.