More minor magic

More minor magic Connacht MFC semi-final Roscommon 1-11 Mayo 1-5  The Point Depot in Dublin wasn’t the only place buzzing last Saturday evening because a few hours earlier at Dr. Hyde Park another majestic textbook performance by our outstanding minor footballers left a highly-rated Mayo side on the canvass with broken dreams as Sligo referee Michael Duffy blew the full-time whistle.    Roscommon, with back to back victories over the Green and Red had out-fought, out-thought, and out-foxed the visitors all over the field.   It is fair to say that every Roscommon player won his duel. They led by 0-6 to 0-1 at the break, were never behind and it took Mayo 40 minutes to score from play and when they got their first break of the afternoon to fire home a goal 12 minutes from time to narrow the gap to 1-8 to 1-3 it was Roscommon who responded within a superb point by substitute Alan Duffy to steer the Primrose and Blue to a comprehensive victory over the old enemy and lay down a serious marker that Roscommon really have turned the corner at underage level.      Fergal O’Donnell’s stock has risen once  again as he is building a totally new team with the same traits as last year’s all conquering heroes.    Only four from last season’s history-makers lined out and in the lead-up and during the contest the fabric of the 2007 team was tested to the full. They lost regular full-back Jack Sharkey to injury, Donie Shine still isn’t at full tilt, Niall Carty only came on for the last few minutes and late in the first half they lost their lion-hearted captain Paul Garvey with a serious facial injury to a very high and dangerous tackle which warranted more than  a yellow card to Mayo corner-back Kevin McLoughlin.    Despite all those setbacks O’Donnell’s crew never flinched. Instead they just grew stronger as the game went on and eventually they wore Mayo down and broke their resistance a long way from the finish.    In a nutshell it was like watching last year’s side all over again: phenomenal workrate, backs so tight and tenacious with no silly fouls being given away, on top in midfield as Mayo withdrew both their players there and up front five of the starting six forwards scored along with sub Alan Duffy.    Knitting all this together was a top class management team on the sideline who in nine games since they took over have yet to make one bad call.    The Roscommon supporters love this team and relish the way they play for one another and the pride they have in the county jersey and to put the cherry on top of the cake they play great football as well with some cracking scores posted on the board in slippy and wet underfoot conditions.    Some Roscommon folk have argued about the round robin format in the Connacht minor championship but in my opinion it allowed Fergal O’Donnell to find and develop his team and it also allowed the newcomers (six of the team are underage again next year) to find their feet in the championship and this was proved in the early stages as Roscommon were so much sharper than Mayo, with their ball-handling skills more superior.    Young Darren McDermott from Eire Og – a minor again next year – is a superb free-taker and he got the show on the road with an early score. Roscommon now have two dead ball specialists in McDermott and Donie Shine.      The home side enjoyed the lion’s share of possession in the opening period backed by a fresh breeze blowing towards the hospital end of the ground. Kevin Cummins had Roscommon’s second point as he fired over before Mayo hit their only score of the half after ten minutes as corner-forward Alan Freeman sent over a free.    Mayo played seven men behind the ball in the opening half which seemed to confuse their own team and it also handed the initiative to Roscommon as they picked up most of the breaks round the middle-third of the field along with Kevin Higgins and Colm O’Neill winning the midfield sector.    Roscommon’s ploy was simple but effective as they got quick ball into a dangerous and focused forward-line whose speed and trickery had the Mayo backs in all sort of problems. Kevin Cummins was a real pivotal figure at full-forward, always willing to win the hard ball for fellows forwards as Paul Garvey and Alan O’Hara kicked over fabulous points to increase Roscommon’s advantage.    McDermott continued to shine like crystal in a shop window with his free-taking and Donie Shine kicked over a splendid 45 despite the best efforts of one of the Mayo forwards who tried to put him off with unsporting behaviour as he prepared to take his kick. The defending provincial and All-Ireland champions went to the break 0-6 to 0-1 in front. The Mayo fightback never materialised and it was Roscommon who continued to dominate with Darren McDermott stamping his mark on proceedings by hitting 1-1 in the opening nine minutes of the new half. His goal came about after Alan Duffy fought so hard to collect a speculative shot by Kevin Higgins from going wide and the Padraig Pearses player then picked out the unmarked McDermott with a super pass and the Eire Og hot-shot did the rest from close range to fire his team into a 1-7 to 0-1 advantage. Mayo did respond when full-forward Jason Doherty picked up a breaking ball 12 yards out and coolly slotted passed Roscommon ‘keeper Darren O’Malley to cut the deficit to 1-8 to 1-3 with 48 minutes on the clock and moments later Mayo sub Ronan Ward fired over when a real opportunity of a goal was on. A goal then would have really thrown a lifeline to the visitors.    With the Mayo challenge faltering points by McDermott, Alan Duffy and Donie Shine rubber-stamped a famous victory which was fully deserved. It’s a long time since a Roscommon team beat a Mayo side with so much authority and dominance both on the field and the scoreboard.    The 2007 journey is on the move again as this team have a Connacht final and All-Ireland quarter-final to look forward to. Roscommon: Darren O’Malley; Conor Boylan, Neil Collins, Paul O’Grady; Darragh Lennon, James McKeague, Eamon Bannon; Colm O’Neill, Kevin Higgins; Kevin Brady, Paul Garvey (0-1), Darren McDermott (1-5); Alan O’Hara (0-1), Kevin Cummins (0-1),  Donie Shine (0-2). Subs used: Alan Duffy (0-1) for Garvey (inj), Niall Carty for Cummins, Eugene Stritch for Brady, Ger Brady for Bannon. Mayo: Josh Tierney; Michael Gallagher, Kevin Keane, Kevin McLoughlin; Sean Prendergast, Michael Jennings, Ruairdhri O’Connor; Sean Morris, Michael Nestor; Keith Glynn, Caoimhin Carty, Niall Prenty; Mark Tierney, Jason Doherty (1-0), Alan Freeman (0-3). Subs used: Aidan O’Shea (0-1) for M. Tierney, Ronan Ward (0-1) for Nestor, Donal Gallagher for Morris.  Referee: Michael Duffy (Sligo)  Match at a glance   Man of the match: All the nominations were wearing the Primrose and Blue jersey – Conor Boylan, Kevin Higgins, Darren McDermott, Eamon Bannon, Alan O’Hara and Kevin Cummins were superb along with captain Garvey until injury called him ashore. The star of the show was centre-back James McKeague who had an outstanding game and when leadership was required the Creggs man answered the call with a top-notch performance which was inspiring to his team-mates.   Weather: An early heavy shower made underfoot  conditions very slippy for the opening half with  a strong breeze blowing towards the hospital end of the ground.   Crowd: Close to 2,000 supporters were present. The Roscommon fans rose on several occasions to acclaim the workrate of the home players   Entertainment value: Overall it was very enjoyable as Roscommon posted some lovely scores. The third quarter was tough and physical.   Referee: Roscommon may have felt the Mayo corner-back was lucky to have stayed on the field after his high tackle on Paul Garvey. A few soft frees to either side who were playing in to the scoreboard goal on the left-hand side of the pitch was awarded by Duffy. In slippy conditions it was hard to tell if a player fell on his own accord or was fouled.    Wides: Roscommon 5 Mayo 8   Yellow cards: Mayo 3 Roscommon 0