Heartbreak at HQ

Armagh advance as Rossies rue nightmare first half

All-Ireland SFC quarter-final
Armagh 2-12 Roscommon 0-12

Roscommon’s Daire Cregg leaves the pitch devastated after Roscommon’s loss to Armagh in last Saturday’s All-Ireland SFC quarter-final in Croke Park. Pic: Bernie O’Farrell

Roscommon’s championship season ended in disappointing fashion in Croke Park last Saturday when Armagh prevailed by six points in the first of the All-Ireland SFC quarter-finals, and in truth the Orchard County looked the likely winners for most of the game.

However, it must be said that Roscommon missed a number of scoring chances, particularly in the first half with five wides recorded in that frustrating period and four more efforts kicked into the goalkeeper’s hands. It was a day to forget for the Roscommon attack which had performed so well against Cavan and Tyrone.

Overall it was an eminently forgettable game of football between two ultra-cautious teams who were determined not to surrender possession. As it turned out, Armagh were stronger up front and they got the vital scores when they needed them.

From a Roscommon point of view things couldn’t have gone much worse in the opening half. Inside the opening 15 minutes they lost two of their most experienced players, Davy Murray and Ultan Harney, to injuries. Then Ruaidhri Fallon was harshly sent to the line in first-half stoppage time (on a second yellow).

In addition, Daire Cregg, Diarmuid Murtagh and Donie Smith, who had terrorised the Tyrone defence just a week previously – kicking a collective 0-11 on that occasion – could manage only a single point between them on the day.

On a dull, overcast day, the tone of the game was set early on as both sides flooded their defence when they were out of possession. The ball went laterally and backwards as both teams were reluctant to commit to attack. There was only one point in the opening 15 minutes, a score from Armagh’s Conor Turbitt after just 25 seconds. It was a tough watch.

With Davy Murray and Ultan Harney already off the field, Armagh started to make inroads on the counter-attack as the game progressed. The Ulster side scored an opportunist goal in the 19th minute when defender Barry McCambridge played a one-two with Turbitt and blasted the ball past Conor Carroll, off the underside of the crossbar. The same player fisted the ball over nine minutes later, Armagh now 1-3 to 0-1 ahead. Conor Cox had been Roscommon’s only scorer up to that stage with a point from play in the 20th minute.

Roscommon’s Daire Cregg in action during last Saturday’s All-Ireland SFC quarter-final against Armagh in Croke Park. Pic: Bernie O’Farrell

Cox added a 30th minute free, and when Niall Higgins kicked a fine score in the 34th minute Roscommon were very much back in the game. Then, in first-half stoppage time, referee Martin McNally decided that Ruaidhri Fallon’s tackle on Rory Grugan merited a yellow card. Ten minutes earlier he had been booked for a tackle on Tiernan Kelly, and now he was off. It looked a very harsh sanction from where I was sitting.

Conor Cox’s converted free on the call of half-time left only two points between the teams at the break, Armagh ahead by 1-3 to 0-4.

Roscommon hit the ground running on the resumption and two fine points from play from Eoin McCormack and Dylan Ruane levelled the scores. Unfortunately for Roscommon, that was as good as it was going to get. Armagh had brought on Stefan Campbell in attack and he and Oisin Conaty took over after that point and the Ulster side started to pull away.

‘Man of the match’ McCambridge, Conaty (2), and Campbell (2) all tacked on points for Armagh in the third quarter. Roscommon captain Brian Stack was inspirational for his side on the day, but with a misfiring attack he was always fighting a losing battle.

In the 52nd minute the killer blow was delivered by Conor Turbitt. Conor Carroll’s short kick-out to Niall Higgins was turned over and the Armagh forward took full advantage and drove home his side’s second goal. It was a matter of playing out time after that, with Armagh now set for the semi-finals.

There was still time for the magnificent Stack to score the point of the game after a lung-bursting run from the St Brigid’s man in the 64th minute. Points from Conaty (2) and Turbitt (a free) completed the Armagh scoring while Conor Cox’s late pointed free was of consolation value only.

It was a pity for the big Roscommon following that the team could not follow up the superb attacking display that we had witnessed against Tyrone. But Armagh are not an easy side to play against.

For Roscommon, Brian Stack was superb all through and he looks back to his best form. Substitute Dylan Ruane also played well, as did Niall Higgins and Conor Cox, but many of Roscommon’s celebrated players just did not perform on the day.

Now the reality is that the next time we see the team in action will be in the FBD League in January. If Davy Burke is the manager at that stage – and he says he wants to stay – he will have to build again from Division Two. Hopefully a more direct playing style will be adopted with a view to paying dividends in the major league and  championship games next season, especially given the attacking talent that is on the panel.