Last-gasp Donie ‘banks’ replay!


“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

  That’s a quote from Nelson Mandela – and as I sat in the heavy traffic coming from Dublin last Sunday evening, one word kept coming back to me about this unbelievable battle that we had just seen – and that was ‘bravery’.

  There was bravery everywhere to be seen in Roscommon’s performance. There was the bravery of our young team who went into the cauldron of Croke Park against a battle-hardened Mayo team before almost 66,000 people. Despite being inferior in terms of size, experience, and strength and conditioning, they refused to bend the knee. Even the full-forward line, which had a bad day, battled to the finish. Some of the Roscommon tackling was ferocious as they put their bodies on the line to secure possession time after time, play after play. At one stage in the first half a 50/50 ball broke between Niall Kilroy and Aidan O’Shea. I and everyone else in the stadium winced when we saw the clash coming. Kilroy is 5’ 9”, O’Shea 6’ 4”. Both players fell to the ground. Kilroy shook himself and got straight up and continued on as if nothing happened. It was happening all over the field as Roscommon played as if their lives depended on it. I don’t think I was ever as proud of a Roscommon team leaving Croke Park. What courage, what bravery.

  The bravery wasn’t confined to the pitch. Kevin McStay and his management team showed unbelievable bravery too. After the match Kevin admitted that he hadn’t expected Stephen Rochford to put Lee Keegan on a man-marking job on Enda Smith. But if Keegan did stop Enda Smith and scored 1-3 in the first half, Kevin and his selectors pulled a masterstroke by moving Enda Smith into full-forward after half-time. Not only did Lee Keegan follow him, the Westport man’s influence on the game was much less in that second period and Enda Smith came more into the game as it wore on.

  It may not have been a classic in terms of the quality of football, but what a contest it was, especially in that rollercoaster of a second half when the result of the game was on a knife-edge for the last 25 minutes. It was chaotic, frantic, edge of the seat stuff as both sides tried to edge over the finish line, urged on by their fanatical supporters. In all the years that I have been going to Roscommon matches I have never seen such a crowd to support the team. The atmosphere was unbelievable. But what was most pleasing about this game was that Roscommon’s young team went toe to toe with Mayo and refused to bow. Now that they know they can match them, they know that they can finish the job on Monday next.

  On the down side, our full-forward line did not perform on the day and that is a worry. If you told any Roscommon supporter on Sunday morning last that Roscommon’s attack, with the exception of Fintan Cregg, would misfire and that our best player, Enda Smith, would be out of the game for long periods, then a lot of people would not have bothered travelling. But there were many other heroes last Sunday. Fintan Cregg played his best game in a Roscommon jersey. His first-half display was phenomenal and he scored as fine a goal as I have ever seen at headquarters. (Memo to The Sunday Game – he WAS going for it).

  Niall Kilroy was sensational. He covered every blade of grass on the park and never made one mistake in the 80 minutes of football played, which was a remarkable achievement.

  John McManus continues to improve. His tackling, distribution and coolness under pressure was so important to Roscommon in such a helter-skelter environment. Sean Mullooly was also a colossus and he is fast maturing into a class act. Tadgh O’Rourke was also so important to the team throughout – he goes about his work quietly but is so effective. There were also good periods for Niall McInerney, Brian Stack and Davy Murray.

  But every single player made a positive contribution at one stage or other. Even the players who were not doing well were getting in tackles, and were doing everything they could for the cause. Donie Smith came on and kicked a beauty of a point immediately and he lofted over that 73rd minute free from 45 metres out under the most severe pressure. A class free from a class player.

  But Roscommon showed their inexperience at times, especially in the final ten minutes when the wrong option was taken and the ball was turned over too easily. Too many times players were robbed of the ball when they could have recycled possession. But make no mistake: that game was there to be won and this learning experience for Roscommon will certainly stand to them in the replay. It also must be acknowledged that Mayo missed three late chances to win the game but they panicked and the pressure they were being put under told.

  This is a young Roscommon team but they are learning very quickly. Kevin McStay and his players now know that they have the temperament, the skill and the quality to play in Croke Park, They can deal with the hype, the pitch, the noise and the pressure. I tipped Roscommon to win last Sunday because I genuinely believed that they would do it. I am even more convinced that they can win it now. Our attack will never play as poorly again. We have the youth, pace and the will to win to finally put Mayo away.

  Las Sunday was one of the greatest occasions that I have ever been at involving a Roscommon team and I was so proud of our team, management and fantastic supporters. After surviving that last 15 minutes last Sunday we will survive anything! What a day and what a match. I can’t wait for next Monday!