Impressive Roscommon take title

Paul Healy

If a certain drinks company did ‘Inspirational performances by an individual in a National Football League match during a pandemic when much of the spotlight is invariably on his brother…’ – then, oh, you know the rest. (Well, younger readers may need to go to Google).

On Saturday, Donie Smith had one of those ‘Kid in the schoolyard’ days – he could do almost nothing wrong.

It’s Donie’s brother – Roscommon’s rampaging and silky-skilled captain, Enda – who’s been deservedly getting most of the media (and opposition) attention in recent times, but here was a welcome reminder that it’s double trouble for opponents any time the brothers from Boyle are at their brilliant best.

Enda played his familiar captain’s part in a fine win for Roscommon – meanwhile, Donie was unstoppable.

The match didn’t quite reach the heights of the recent game against Armagh, but this was another very assured and slick Roscommon performance. There may only have been two points in it at the end, but Roscommon were on top throughout, Cavan playing a doomed game of catch-up. Victory sealed both promotion to Division One and the Division Two title.

The game featured many moments of individual class from Roscommon’s elusive forwards, but the win was mostly built on a well drilled team (many of them not regulars) engaging a tried and trusted game plan. Even without several key players, Roscommon played with fluency, pace and confidence.

If Roscommon aren’t quite breathing down the necks of the top 5/6 sides in the country, they are unquestionably closing the gap between them and the elite, building with some momentum now on the steady progress of recent seasons.

The strength in depth of the squad is burgeoning right here and right now – rich dividends are likely to follow if that panel remains in place over the coming few years.

A beauty of a point from Diarmuid Murtagh was an early highlight here as Roscommon started with slick passing moves and lots of confidence. It soon became the Donie Smith hour…his free-taking a delight. Further (not much) back, Enda was orchestrating the mood music, and it must have sounded grim for a game Cavan team for whom Halloweeen came early. Cavan weren’t without their promotion hopes, yet ended up being plunged into Division Three.

Roscommon always looked capable of getting in for a goal, their link-up play that bit sharper than the home side’s. A lovely Ciarain Murtagh point just into the second half opened up a four-point lead (0-8 to 0-4). Then, that great servant Cathal Cregg marched up the middle with the calm of a man who didn’t expect to be stopped until he had done what he came to do – in this case, pop over yet another career score.

On 46 minutes, Roscommon struck with the killer instinct that Cavan must have been wary of. A rapid break had goal written all over it as Roscommon ventured forward, backpeddling Cavan defenders fearing the worst. Donie Smith made good ground before switching to Cian McKeon who crossed into the path of Enda Smith, who parried to the net with relish. It was made in Boyle, for a national audience! Roscommon 1-10 Cavan 0-7.

Cavan plugged away with great endeavour, and they were to close the gap to two. A late (Cavan) goal chance was dragged wide. Before the end, Donie Smith added two peaches of scores.

Goalkeeper Colm Lavin engaged in one or two phases of play with defenders which were not for the faint-hearted, but overall he was accomplished…and with six consecutive games without conceding a goal, it’s kudos to Colm, the defence and the team as a whole.

* On 64 minutes, one of those moments of class I spoke of, this one from Enda Smith.

A Cavan attack ended when a Roscommon defender punched the ball clear. Enda was lurking with intent. The ball was in the open. A nearby Cavan man was favourite…he stretched his leg out as if casually recovering a child’s toy from under a chair. In a blink, Enda stretched out his right foot and spun the ball backwards at speed, leaving the Cavan man staring at thin air…where he was certain a football had just been. In the same movement, Enda flicked the spinning ball up into his hands, before breaking away with the prize. If Ronaldo did it, millions of social media viewers would be applauding (while screaming ‘handball!).