Roscommon manager Kevin McStay had the air of a reasonably contented man when he faced the media in the aftermath of a titanic quarter-final battle in which the spoils were shared. Understandably he was immensely proud of his team and the way they battled right to the finish.
“What I can recall of the last 10 minutes is turning over the ball and giving it back to Mayo but I thought that it was a fair result overall. I thought we showed a lot of bottle as a young team. You all know that we have never played here before in the championship with the exception of Seanie McDermott, who played here once. So that experience today was great. We see it (the experience) as money in the bank ahead of the replay. That’s good for next year and our development too. We made so many errors during the game and we kept turning the ball over but we never gave up and we kept at it all the way.
“We were very disappointed with Lee Keegan’s goal to be honest. I screamed at Liam (McHale) to go down and get the players to tighten up and he only got ten yards and the ball was in the back of the net. Our lads probably got a bit carried away when they saw that we were seven points up and we didn’t pick up for the kick-out and Lee Keegan ran in unopposed. That knocked us back hard.
“At half-time we were quite deflated. We had only played well for about 10 to 15 minutes. The rest of the half was not good enough really,” he said.
McStay discussed the key match-ups and admitted that Lee Keegan’s role came as a surprise.
“The Mayo match-up of Lee Keegan on Enda Smith was a good call by them. We tried everything we could to try to solve that but he (Keegan) did a great job and we decided that we couldn’t have him dominating the game. So we put Enda Smith in full-forward and thankfully Lee Keegan followed in there and we were delighted with that. In all the match-ups that we looked at Lee Keegan at midfield was not one of them so it took us by surprise,” he said.
The Roscommon manager was pleased with his side’s performance in the second half.
“We had to make it a contest in the second half and we did that and we got level and (were even) a point ahead at one stage. Mayo kicked a number of bad wides and they were tired wides if you know what I mean. I thought we might just hang on but it didn’t happen.
“There was plenty of belief in our dressing room. Those young Roscommon players want to get to Mayo’s level. They are hungry and ambitious. They may not have the full knowhow and strength and conditioning yet. If we had been tidier on the ball we would have done better. Take Donie Smith for instance. He got two great points and one was a real clutch point at the end there but he had three turnovers in two minutes and I’m not picking on him but Mayo gobbled us up when we took the wrong option. It happened so many times,” he added.
McStay agreed that his charges coped well on the big stage but was disappointed with the Croke Park surface.
“Our lads know now that they can play here and like Armagh here last night they will not be afraid to be here again. A lot of the things that we talked about playing in Croke Park; the noise and the atmosphere and all associated with that are now things that they know they can cope with. It’s very positive.
“I was very disappointed with the pitch to be honest and it’s not good enough. A lot of players were slipping today. If one of our young corner-backs slipped at a crucial moment and the ball ended up in the net he would never be allowed to forget it. It is not good enough to have such a large area of the pitch affected.”
Despite the many positives, McStay called for improvement in the full-forward line.
“We were annoyed with our full-forward line and we said it to them. They were dropping balls that were coming in with a nice bounce and the Mayo backs were getting a hand in. There was no excuse for it and there were a few balls that we were a little shy going for as well and we told them that at half-time. I thought our ball into the full-forward line was good for the most part. But I have to say that every player, even the lads that were struggling, all made a contribution. No one downed tools and that’s one thing that I am so happy with.
“I thought that Niall Kilroy was outstanding. He is so brave and does the job that we have given him. He had one clash with Aidan O’Shea today and I thought he was going to get killed but he survived it. He also saved a goal at one stage – he was so effective today,” he said.
The former Mayo U-21 manager also highlighted the pressure on his former player, Stephen Rochford.
“I have great time for Stephen Rochford. He is a great fellow working in horrendous circumstances trying to win an All-Ireland with Mayo. The rest of us managers are happy to get a provincial title but he has to go the whole way and that’s the way it is. He did a good job today but we would like to think that we did something similar and we will meet again.
“Mayo have a lot to lose every day they go out but we had a lot to lose out there today as well. It is 37 years since we won a championship game at Croke Park and we so wanted to win today and we nearly got there but it wasn’t to be,” he concluded.
Battle resumes on Monday!