PAUL HEALY: View from the (Hogan) Stand

This felt like a declaration of intent

‘Small’s goal was a big moment. You worried Roscommon might be toppled by blue waves. Not so’

Roscommon’s Eoin McCormack fends off Dublin’s Brian Fenton during Sunday’s All-Ireland Senior Football Championship game between Dublin and Roscommon at Croke Park in Dublin. Pic: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

King Charles was only crowned a couple of weeks ago… the man in front of us was crowned many years ago, and by popular consent too.

On a glorious May day, Croke Park was a wonderful place to be. Just below us in the Hogan Stand, ‘King Henry’ Shefflin watched with furrowed brow as his Galway hurling charges stuttered and spluttered against an inspired Dublin. The sliotar soared and sailed through the air, all eyes on its trajectory. Shefflin, lean and toned, looked like he could still leap high, claim that sliotar and grace the stadium with some of the old magic.

Pointing to the king (we were out of the earshot of Galway supporters), I told my son the man in front of us is arguably the greatest hurler who ever lived.

In a thrilling second half, Galway reeled in a 10-point deficit, the game ending in a draw. Roscommon and Dublin emerged. As they took their places, Roscommon manager Davy Burke and his backroom colleagues all looked very relaxed. Did that notable air of relaxation reflect the fact that this was the so-called ‘free shot’ at the mighty Dubs? Or did it point to a strong inner conviction that the Rossies would show they can now compete with opposition of this quality and experience?

Roscommon got off to a good start, Ciarán Lennon scoring two excellent points. Dublin struggled to find any early rhythm, Roscommon composed, controlled, patient. Most teams are now playing to a similar template; under Davy Burke, Roscommon are mastering it.

The style of play may test supporters’ patience at times, but it is the bedrock of Roscommon’s current high status. Roscommon are now excelling at game management, and the manner in which they executed their game plan in the first half on Sunday was flawless, stunningly so.

And when Roscommon transition into attack, there is lots of flair to admire. Below us, Davy Burke watched intently, joining dots in his head… measuring and gauging how well the plan was working. Every now and again, when a phase of play evolved in perfect accord with the game plan, he clenched a fist, broke into a smile, or shared a knowing glance with a management colleague. Results matter, but Burke knew that last Sunday was also very much about performance, about belief in what is possible.

The lengthy possession spell before half-time – capped by a superb Ciaráin Murtagh score – felt like a declaration of serious intent by Roscommon.

Dublin deactivated Roscommon’s control of the game early in the second half. Applying pressure on the Roscommon kick-out, they attacked in familiar style. Small’s goal was a big moment. You worried Roscommon might be toppled by blue waves. Not so. Some great turnovers and a spate of attacks saw Roscommon draw level with two late scores. Indeed they had chances to claim a famous win.

It was a magnificent display. Conor Carroll, Brian Stack and Niall Daly led a ferociously hard-working and disciplined defence, Enda Smith made some superb surging runs, Diarmuid Murtagh had some fine moments, Eddie Nolan carried possession with great effect, Cian McKeon was excellent, and Ciaráin Murtagh ignited the stadium with his class.

Davy Burke told the media afterwards that he was very disappointed – but he was smiling broadly as he walked off the pitch in front of us.