Off-key Roscommon gift-wrap trophy for Meath

Buoyed by recent wins over Offaly and Cavan, Roscommon fans travelled to the aptly-named Kingspan Breffni Park in the hope of seeing the Royals de-throned, and Roscommon crowned as winners of a national title for the first time in over a quarter of a century. Alas, the Roscommon side that turned up looked more like court jesters than battle-hardened warriors.    Drama (v Offaly) and quality (v Cavan) had ensured that fans were fed tasty helpings in recent weeks — but on Sunday it was back to a diet of crumbs from the table as Roscommon produced a disjointed and error-ridden performance.    The consolation is that the win which would have represented a welcome boost to Roscommon football fortunes was not by any means essential as the primary aim of securing Division 2 league status next season had been attained.    And even in defeat, and even at that in a defeat largely fashioned by Roscommon’s self-destructive mode, there was the sense that the whole experience was part of an important learning curve for John Maughan’s developing team. This was poor, but it follows some good performances, and the lessons learnt from it might create further good performances in the future.    What was most disappointing about Sunday’s Division 2 League final in Cavan was the generally lacklustre nature of the match and the extent to which Roscommon errors virtually gifted Meath the title. Perhaps that’s being a little ungracious to Meath; they did enough to win this game even without Roscommon’s assistance, but there is no doubt that Roscommon provided some gift-wrapping for the trophy prior to its departure to the Royal county.    One dislikes pointing the finger at individuals, but it is isn’t possible to even part-tell the story of this match without recording that Roscommon goalkeeper Geoffrey Claffey had the footballing equivalent of a bad day at the office. Claffey was badly at fault for both Meath goals. The first came early in the second half when Roscommon looked like they might get back into the game; the second killed off any hope of a revival by Maughan’s men. Claffey’s first error happened when he failed to deal with what should have been a relatively harmless lob; the second goal came when he unnecessarily soloed away from goal before giving possession away. Both errors led to goals and both had the effect of draining more life from a flat encounter. Claffey will rise again, and in fairness, many of his colleagues were also in error-prone mode.    The game started like the General Election campaign that same day — low-key and dull. It never really took off. Roscommon scored a mere two points from play in the entire match, so this performance was about a lot more than defensive slip-ups. Maughan’s men never got into a rhythm, finding Meath a physically more daunting proposition perhaps than other recent opponents. Despite the fine conditions and the reasonably high stakes, Roscommon played clumsy football, constantly mis-directing passes and failing to make space or supporting runs in attack. Only Ger Heneghan’s frees kept them in touch against a Meath side who weren’t much better.     Just before half-time, Roscommon introduced Seamus O’Neill from the bench, to great cheers. It was clear however that O’Neill was feeling the effects of the injury sustained against Cavan, and he was in no position to rally his colleagues on this day. Roscommon, 0-8 to 0-4 adrift at half-time, got the opening score of the second half but Meath’s first goal soon followed and doused hope of a close encounter. Meath’s second goal virtually ended the competitive aspect of the game. Roscommon fell ten behind but battled on gamely to the end.    Roscommon are clearly ‘a work in progress’ and everyone associated with Roscommon football would presumably have accepted this league outcome if presented with it before a ball was kicked, i.e. reaching the Div. 2 final, but — more importantly — first securing Division 2 status next season. This was not a good performance, and in truth it highlighted significant short-comings. But John Maughan had a relatively limited squad at his disposal. The players can learn from this outing. Yes, it was a flat game and an anti-climatic end to a hugely exciting month. But this defeat takes its place in the Roscommon learning process and the hope will be that the management and players will learn from this insipid showing and re-emerge stronger from it.