Each season, the pages of the history books lie empty, waiting for the spaces to be filled. After a draining but rewarding league season and a long wait before exposure to the unique rawness of championship battle, Roscommon’s young footballers – and the team management – woke to their latest date with destiny. A championship atmosphere prevailed in Hyde Park; fathers and mothers who know about these days of nervous expectancy clutched the hands of excited children for whom each pace taken in the direction of the new stand must have felt like a step towards a place of wonder and promise. The first half turned out only to be an appetiser, as is often the case. Sligo began with the no-nonsense purpose of underdogs, though their early 3-0 lead hardly panicked too many in Roscommon colours. But John Maughan, for whom the stakes were high, won’t have been happy that his side were so sluggish in that first quarter. Sligo excelled at closing down the Roscommon defenders; the usual, albeit risky hand-passing tapestries from defence were not materialising, Roscommon players coralled like particularly pedestrian sheep every time they tried to escape through a new avenue. This pressure play from Sligo stretched all over the place too; on one occasion Ger Heneghan twisted and turned but encountered such relentless close attention that he off-loaded the ball in panic to an opponent who just wasn’t there. Inevitably Roscommon got a foothold in the match and three quick scores brought them level. Just before half-time a glorious training ground move invaded the mediocrity; a beautiful goal, the audacity of its arrival was like a new jaguar driving into a second-hand car salesroom. Quick ball from defence to attack, an exchange of passes between Cox and Heneghan, Cox’s direct run and well-timed pass, and then, Karol Mannion’s composed finish. When Roscommon added another fine goal – and a point – early in the second half to go six clear, Sligo’s cause looked lost. Sligo were now like Enda Kenny in the days after the recent election: technically they had a chance, but the numbers weren’t adding up. Then memories of Roscommon’s collapse against Leitrim in the league flooded back as the home side utterly failed to claim the prize that awaited collection. Sligo needed no invitation to the winner’s table. Inspired by Eamonn O’Hara and a terrific half-forward line, they systematically cut through the Roscommon midfield and defence to fire over a succession of points. Roscommon, sadly, did nothing of any significance in the last half hour bar drive supporters half-demented with a series of errors, numerous examples of old failings. No doubt the players prepared well for this game and tried their best: but the errors were galling and Roscommon supporters who watched the debacle that was the last half hour will want to know why this capitulation happened. The failure to score more than ONE point in over half an hour is a serious indictment of the team. Very evidently, they lacked leadership. Seamus O’Neill came into the game but some of his best catches were deep in defence. David Casey tried manfully to put roadblocks before the marauding Sligo men. John Tiernan was tenacious when he got possession and there were moments of effectiveness from Ger Heneghan but the Roscommon attack as a whole was a huge disappointment. Stuart Daly – who retired through injury – was a loss, as he had been one of Roscommon’s better performers. The best Roscommon player was Seanie McDermott, who was inspirational at corner-back for most of the game. Meanwhile Johnny Davey for Sligo – a dynamic number seven – knifed through the Roscommon midfield with alarming ease, his fleetness of foot in some contrast to a leaden-footed home side. Roscommon were outscored by 0-9 to 0-1 in the last half-hour or so; before bewildered fans (and management) the team capitulated, and if they were to cry out it would have been for leadership. This is a Roscommon team which has some potential, but they are a long, long way off having the required confidence to kill off teams when they have them at their mercy. That’s unlikely to be a problem in the qualifiers; the list of possible opponents for John Maughan’s team is ominous – we’ve been turned away from the front door but as we scurry around to the back door we find the entrance blocked by a series of ‘heavies.’ As matters stand, this championship season looks set to remain shrouded in bleakness. I hope I’m wrong. We left the Hyde, the Park of broken dreams, thousands of Rossies, disgusted, disappointed, alarmed. The small boys and girls in their tiny Roscommon jerseys clutched their parents’ hands and wondered why their heroes hadn’t made magic for them to talk and dream about in the coming days.