GOAL-den opportunity missed!

Offaly win thriller as Roscommon rue missed chances

 Eirgrid All-Ireland U-20 FC Final

Offaly 1-14 Roscommon 1-11

Roscommon missed their goals – and their overall goal. Missed goal chances and ferocious Offaly tackling were key to Roscommon’s heartbreaking defeat in Sunday’s exciting All-Ireland U-20 final.

That’s the assessment of Roscommon manager Liam Tully, as he reflected on a disappointing end to a memorable campaign.

“The (goal) chances we missed were vital. Fair play to Offaly, they defended well at times but it just didn’t happen for us. Offaly worked hard to hold on to their lead all through. We showed good character to come back a couple of times during the match but we gave the ball away a lot really”.

He continued: “The fact that we gave the ball away a lot was down to Offaly’s tackling. They had huge desire out there today…sometimes we dwelt on the ball too long and were caught in possession”.

In the clash of the neighbours in this unique All-Ireland final it was Offaly who prevailed by three points, and on the balance of play deservedly so too. However, when Roscommon players, management and fans look back on this thrilling decider at Croke Park they will know that it was only fine margins that separated them from the victors.

Put simply, Offaly didn’t miss as many chances as Roscommon did. The Leinster champions also made less mistakes, and that all added up to the three-point win for the Faithful county.

All credit to Roscommon. They were not playing well but they refused to lie down. At one stage in each half it looked like Offaly would pull away, but Liam Tully’s men clawed their way back into the game and the outcome was in doubt until the very last whistle.

  But any analysis of this final would have to point to Roscommon missing three clear goal chances in the opening 11 minutes of the game as being of crucial importance. If any of the three opportunities had gone in we were looking at a different game. It is hard to win an All-Ireland final when such gilt-edged chances are missed. In contrast, Offaly kicked a number of excellent points, and when their only really clear goal chance came in the 50th minute, Jack Bryant stuck it away.

Roscommon’s attack, which had been so effective in every championship game up to the decider, was not firing, and only Adam McDermott and Ben O’Carroll carried a significant threat to Offaly throughout.

Up the other end of the field the Offaly front three of Cormac Egan, Jack Bryant and Aaron Kelleghan accounted for 1-8 of their total. When you add in a brilliant display from wing half-forward and captain Cathal Donoghue, whose fielding was spectacular, it gave them the edge all through.

  In terms of tactics Offaly were probably nervous about Roscommon’s ability in the middle of the field and as a consequence they conceded the Roscommon kick-outs which went short, and dropped Oisin Keenan-Martin back as a sweeper in their own half-back line.  Offaly themselves kicked out long for the most part and relied on Cathal Donoghue to field or secure possession.

Played before a crowd of 22,000 and in a fantastic atmosphere, this was a superb game of football. Offaly led by three points to no score after only nine minutes, with Morgan Tynan (free), Cormac Egan and Jack Bryant on target. By that stage Roscommon had already missed two great goal chances. In the 6th minute Ben O’Carroll played a brilliant pass inside to James Fitzpatrick who was clean through, but his low shot was saved by Sean O’Toole. Less than 90 seconds later Darragh Heneghan screwed his low shot outside the post when it seemed easier to score. They were to prove very costly misses.

Even allowing for those opportunities being squandered Roscommon were back level by the 12th minute, with points from Daire Cregg, Adam McDermott and a Ben O’Carroll free.

Then it was Offaly’s turn to dominate and they whipped over four unanswered points by the 28th minute. But just when you thought Roscommon were in trouble they were able to summon a defiant response. Converted frees from Daire Cregg and Ben O’Carroll saw the half-time margin down to a very manageable two points. Offaly 0-7 Roscommon 0-5.

Aaron Kelleghan opened the second-half scoring with a fine mark taken from 30 metres, but Roscommon were back to within a point when Daire Cregg kicked a great score from 30 metres and then converted a long-range free.

Donoghue was beginning to dominate the aerial exchanges and Offaly now had their best spell of the game. Points from Morgan Tynan (free), Cormac Egan, Jack Bryant, Donoghue and Aaron Kelleghan opened up a six-point gap by the 46th minute and now Roscommon were in trouble.

After the second-half water break Daire Cregg and Roscommon’s best player, Adam McDermott, pointed to keep their team in touch, but then the killer goal arrived in the 50th minute. Sub Keith O’Neill did the damage with a brilliant run and when the ball broke to Jack Bryant he kept his head before blasting past Conor Carroll.

The Roscommon subs were doing well and a great point from Charlie Carthy saw the margin down to six with seven minutes left. Then Roscommon were handed a lifeline when Adam McDermott cut through and fired low to the Offaly net and suddenly there was only one score between the teams.

With four minutes to go, another sub, Jason Doory, fired over and now the gap was just two. But the huge effort that Roscommon had put into their revival had taken its toll and Offaly steadied the ship. When Morgan Tynan pointed a 35-metre free in the first minute of injury-time they had done enough and their first title at the grade since 1988 was on its way down the M4 and M6 to Tullamore for the winter. Jason Doory had a half-chance in the dying seconds but the ball was cleared and that was it.

It was a battling performance from a very brave and courageous Roscommon team but they will be the first to admit that this was a display that never reached the heights that we had seen in Castlebar or in Cavan.

Colin Walsh and Patrick Gavin were the pick of the defence while Keith Doyle and Jack Lohan never really got going against the brilliant fielding of Donoghue in the centre. Up front Adam McDermott was Roscommon’s best player while Ben O’Carroll also had a great match and subs Charlie Carthy, Jason Doory and Enda Crawley also caught the eye.

It was a magnificent occasion and a wonderful advertisement for football at this level. But it was also a chance for Roscommon to win an All-Ireland title. Those chances do not come along too often and there will be regrets after this loss.

Still, the team have been fantastic in this campaign and with many of the players underage again in 2022 we have much to look forward to. The big trick now is to hold on to these talented young players and develop them for the senior grade. We need them badly.