Mission accomplished

Mission accomplished National Football League Div. 2A Roscommon      4-11  Offaly                1-16 Mission accomplished! Roscommon will play in Division 2 of the National Football League next season after this breathtaking four-point win over Offaly at O’Connor Park, Tullamore last Sunday.    John Maughan’s men showed great determination and no little skill to shake off an Offaly team who would simply not lie down but eventually had to give best to a Roscommon team who were a totally transformed outfit  after that second-half collapse against Leitrim in the last round of games.   This was a sensational game that buzzed from the throw-in and it was played at near championship intensity throughout and the big crowd were royally entertained by two totally committed teams. They say goals win games and that was surely an apt cliché to use at the end of this cracker and Roscommon were always able to grab a goal at a vital stage just when Offaly were in the ascendancy.   While nobody in the Roscommon camp will be getting too excited yet, the team showed great character to come back at least three times in an explosive second half that kept the attendance of 3,500 on the edge of their seats right to the final whistle. This win also secured Roscommon a place in a highly competitive Division 2 of the National Football League for 2008 by virtue of their finishing second on the Division table behind Monaghan.   Roscommon lined out with the returning Darragh Donnelly at centre half-back after being out for over six months with injury but sadly the St. Brigids defender lasted only two minutes and 20 seconds as he had to retire with an ankle injury to be replaced by Roscommon Gaels’ man John  Nolan. However Nolan was not to fare much better as he only lasted 19 minutes as he too was stretchered off with a bad knee injury after 21 minutes.   Roscommon did not let those setbacks affect them and although they struggled at times in the first half in particular their spirit and determination  kept them going to the end.   The first quarter was hard-fought as the sides got the measure of each other. Ger Heneghan opened the scoring with a smart point on the run from 30 metres after two minutes  and a minute later Offaly’s Scott Brady replied with a good point from close range after a mazy solo run.   Then after Donnelly was carried off Gary Cox and  James Coughlan exchanged points to leave it two points apiece after 11 minutes.   Then Ger Heneghan grabbed two points in a row to edge Roscommon in front and when Cox and Niall McNamee exchanged points Roscommon led by five point to three after 17 minutes.   Offaly then had a dominant spell in which they scored four unanswered points and at this stage Roscommon were struggling, particularly at midfield.   Alan McNamee first kicked a monster 50 metre free while Tommy Deehan, James Coughlan and half-back Karol Slattery all pointed to leave the home side in front with 22 minutes on the clock. Then Roscommon struck for a vital goal.   Stuart Daly won possession and drove the ball upfield. Enda Kenny won the ball and although surrounded by at least three players he played in Ger Heneghan with a superb passs and the corner-forward did the rest, drilling the ball past Padraig Kelly for an excellent goal.   From there to the finish it was hectic as both sides grabbed the initiative from each other as the two vital  league points were fought for tooth and nail. Offaly then took control of the game once again and they finished the first half with a flourish scoring four unanswered points from the excellent Niall McNamee (3) and Neville Coughlan to leave The Faithful County ahead by 0-11 to 1-5 at the break.   The second half of this game was simply sensational. Inside a minute Michael Finneran reduced the margin with a good point on the run and two minutes later Roscommon were awarded a controversial penalty.   David Hoey was bearing down on goal when he was challenged from behind and he appeared to have lost possession of the ball – nevertheless referee Michael Collins awarded the penalty and Ger Heneghan’s effort crept into the bottom corner after Offaly goalie Kelly had partially saved the low shot. Roscommon were back into a one-point lead again.   However Offaly would not go away and incredibly they assumed control again. Pascal Keelehan grabbed a great point to level the scores and McNamee and James Coughlan grabbed two more excellent points to edge the home side ahead again by the 7th minute.   Heneghan reduced the margin again three minutes later with a pointed free before Roscommon struck for another great goal. Richard Dooner was in at the start of the move and after good work from Gary Cox and Enda Kenny the ball reached young sub Conor Devanney who released Cathal Cregg with a super pass and the young Western Gaels man rifled the ball to the Offaly net in great style. A Gary Cox point two minutes later left Roscommon three points ahead at 3-8 to 0-14.  Surely Offaly could not come back again? They certainly could was the answer and in some style too.   McNamee grabbed another brilliant point from play before Pascal Keelehan ran through the heart of the Roscommon defence in the 21st minute. His piledriver cannoned off the crossbar but Neville Coughlan was there to grab the rebound and crash the ball home and suddenly Offaly were ahead again in this epic encounter.   But all credit to Roscommon. They were not going to be denied and all the hard training done over the past six months began to tell. In the 22nd minute Gary Cox levelled the scores with a good point from play and a minute later Roscommon struck for the goal that was to prove the deciding score.   Seamus O’Neill secured possession in the middle of the field and despite being surrounded by two Offaly players he found Enda Kenny with a peach of a pass and although the young Castlerea man could have carried the ball on a few more yards he elected to shoot first time and the ball flew into the top corner for a quite brilliant goal.   This was the score that finally broke the Offaly resistance and although they fought valiantly to retrieve the situation again it was to prove beyond them this time and McNamee had their only remaining score while Stuart Daly and Heneghan pointed for Roscommon in the final three minutes of play.   This was a very good Roscommnon performance and  the players deserve full credit for showing the character they did on and this win will give them a huge boost as they look forward to next weekend’s Division 2 semi-final against Cavan but more importantly to to the Connacht Championship game against Sligo at Hyde Park in June.   Anthony McDermott started in the corner-back position on Sunday last and he did well throughout but the full-back line were in a bit of trouble throughout as the Offaly full-forward line scored  ten points over the course of the game. Six of those points came from Offaly’s best player by far, full forward Niall McNamee.    Stuart Daly and Richard Dooner were again in excellent form in the half-back line and Daly has probably been Roscommon’s best player over the  course of the league campaign.   Michael Finneran and Seamie O’Neill struggled at midfield in the first half but both men improved greatly on the resumption and their good second-half displays contributed handsomely to Roscommon’s great win.   Up front the attack played very well and a return of 4-11 is evidence of that. Ger Heneghan was again scorer-in-chief but the star of the attack was Enda Kenny who was a thorn in the Offaly side all through. Gary Cox also turned in excellent display while Cathal Cregg was his usual industrious self out in the half-forward line.   In common with all Roscommon fans in Tullamore on Sunday last I was delighted with the determination, character and fitness of the team. Despite all the ups and downs of this league campaign the ultimate aim – to get a top-two place and Division 2 football next season – was achieved and the team management and officials deserve great credit. It was not easy especially after that disastrous display against Leitrim.   The semi-finals and finals of Division 2 of the league are a bonus and all eyes will be re-focussing on the championship now. It was a great way to end this league campaign. Roscommon: Geoffrey Claffey; Anthony McDermott, Seanie McDermott, Robbie Kelly; Stuart Daly (0-1), Darragh Donnelly, Richard Dooner; Seamus O’Neill, Michael Finneran (0-1); David Hoey, Gary Cox (0-4, 2 frees), Cathal Cregg (1-0); Karol Mannion, Enda Kenny (1-0), Ger Heneghan (2-5,1 penalty, 2 frees, 1 ’45). Subs: John Nolan (Roscommon Gaels) for Donnelly; John Nolan (Western Gaels) for Nolan; Conor Devanney for Hoey; David Keenan for Cregg. Offaly: Padraig Kelly; Ger Rafferty, Joe Quinn, Nigel Grennan; Aidan Keenehan, Shane Sullivan, Karol Slattery (0-1); Alan McNamee (0-1, free) Scott Brady (0-1); Neville Coughlan (1-2), Pascal Keelehan (0-1), Ciaran McManus; Tomas Deehan (0-1), Niall McNamee (0-6, 2 frees), James Coughlan (0-3). Subs: Paul McConway for Sullivan, James Keane for Grennan, Kenneth Casey for James Coughlan. Referee: Michael Collins (Cork).   Match at a glance MAN OF THE MATCH: Niall McNamee was the best Offaly player on view and there were several Roscommon contenders. Stuart Daly, Gary Cox and Richard Dooner were all very prominent throughout but the star Castlerea duo of Enda Kenny and Ger Heneghan were ahead of the rest on the day. Despite Heneghan’s excellent return of 2-5 I am giving the vote to young Kenny who won oceans of primary possession at full-forward and laid the ball off intelligently – and he scored a cracking goal into the bargain. WEATHER: Fine warm evening – perfect for football.  ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: Top class. A rattling good game of league football between two evenly-matched teams that gave great value for money.  CROWD: In the region of 3,500, which created a brilliant atmosphere as the excitement rose. REFEREE: Some controversial decisions throughout from Michael Collins including the awarding of that Roscommon penalty in the second half – but overall he did well.