All-Ireland SFC Super 8s (Round 2)
Dublin 2-26 Roscommon 0-14
The small contingent of fans that travelled from Roscommon to Croke Park last Saturday was probably an indication of what was to come. For those of us who were there it was as painful an experience at a match as we have had to endure for many a day as the gulf in class between the Rossies and Dublin was clear for all to see. The difference in class between the teams was wide last year. It is even wider this year, and the gap is growing too.
The curtain-raiser, which saw Tyrone come from seven points down to beat Cork by three, meant that Roscommon would have to beat Dublin to maintain interest in this year’s Super 8s series, but once Dean Rock fisted in the first Dublin goal in the 14th minute this game was effectively all over. Done and dusted. It was just a matter of what the margin would be.
Earlier this year, in the sports column that I write for this newspaper every week, I expressed doubts as to whether this Dublin team was the greatest ever to play the game. I am revising that opinion here today. To see them flex their considerable muscles in the flesh is an awesome experience. They are much stronger than they were last year. I cannot see any team to come near them in their quest for five All-Irelands in a row.
In-depth analysis of this mismatch is probably a waste of time, because once Dublin started to pull away towards the end of the first quarter it was a done deal. Roscommon were chasing shadows as Dublin produced their full array of powerful, hard-running and extremely skilful football which, if they were facing any other team than Roscommon, would have been a pleasure to watch!
From a Roscommon perspective, there are certainly no complaints. Conor Cox was by far their best performer and was probably the only Roscommon player who won his personal battle on the day. Niall Daly and Conor Hussey kept going all the way to the end – despite the insurmountable odds – and Niall Kilroy was everywhere as he tried to link the play between defence and attack (but for the most part he was fighting a losing battle).
In fairness to Roscommon it must be said that they had a modicum of joy going forward in the first quarter. Colin Compton’s point after 20 seconds could have been a goal. Shane Killoran blazed wide (of goal) in the 17th minute when in a good position, while Diarmuid Murtagh’s fisted effort in the 28th minute was easily saved by Stephen Cluxton. But lest anyone get the impression that Roscommon were ever in command of this game, these were sporadic attacks only. The traffic was one-way for most of the game except for a 10-minute spell in the middle of the second half.
In fact, Dublin themselves missed at least four clear goal chances, three of which ended up as points. Con O’Callaghan hit the butt of a post in the 21st minute after a mesmerising move.
Roscommon’s cause was certainly not helped when Conor Daly was sent off in the 33rd minute for a trip on Con O’Callaghan, the Pearses’ man having picked up a first yellow card earlier in the half. To try to beat Dublin with 15 players is hard enough. With just 14 players, it is an impossible task. Roscommon players were also losing the ball in the tackle and turning over possession far too softly.
With four minutes gone into the second half it was Dublin 2-18 Roscommon 0-7 and the Connacht champions were looking at a possible 30-point defeat as Dublin pulled further and further away. But, mercifully from a Roscommon point of view, Jim Gavin decided that Ciaran Kilkenny, Paul Mannion, Michael Fitzsimons and Jack McCaffrey had seen enough action as he ran his bench.
In fairness to Roscommon, from the 45th minute to the 56th minute they kicked six out of the seven points scored in the phase of the game to take the bare look off the scoreboard. But Dublin re-set again in the final 10 minutes and they kicked seven further points from a variety of angles, sub Paddy Small catching the eye with three fine long-range efforts.
It was vintage Dublin on Saturday. Gavin’s team had powerhouses on every line. Jack McCaffrey, Jonny Cooper and the majestic James McCarthy were always in control at the back. Brian Fenton is a ‘Rolls Royce’ performer at midfield. What a player he is. He was magnificent again. Michael Darragh MacAuley is back to his best this year and his goal in the 38th minute was brilliantly taken.
Up front, the full-forward line of Ciaran Kilkenny, Paul Mannion and Con O’Callaghan were in lethal form from the first minute. They are a joy to watch when in full flow. Dean Rock was my man of the match. He has been a sub on this Dublin team in recent weeks, coming on and scoring freely. But last Saturday he was in from the start and took his chance with both hands. His free-taking was absolutely flawless and he scored 1-11 over the course of the game.
For Roscommon, it was a disappointing way to end the year, but let us not forget the joy and excitement that this team has brought to us this season. The Connacht title win was one of the most memorable in recent memory. The history books will show that there was no shame attached to losing heavily to this very special Dublin team.
The pity about this Super 8s’ format is that for the second year in a row Roscommon will have to play a totally meaningless game (this time against Cork, on Sunday week). Inevitably, there will be a small attendance. A system must be worked out that would give teams a chance going into their final game. The fact that this ’neutral’ game was played in Croke Park is also something that will have to be looked at in the future.
The challenge for Roscommon manager Anthony Cunningham and the players now is to rise again in February, compete for promotion from Division 2, and aim to successfully defend their Connacht title. Roscommon can and will improve and are well equipped to knock on the door at the very top of the game.
This Dublin team are an exception, but there is no reason why Roscommon cannot go on to challenge teams like Kerry, Tyrone and Donegal. I say to the players and management to remember that when the pain of this defeat ebbs away, we will have some great memories from this summer to reflect on. Last Saturday will just have to go down as ‘one of those days’. Here’s to the future.
Stephen Cluxton; Jonny Cooper, Philip McMahon, Michael Fitzsimons; Jack McCaffrey (0-1), John Small, James McCarthy; Brian Fenton (0-2), Michael Darragh MacAuley (1-1); Niall Scully (0-1), Ciarán Kilkenny (0-2), Brian Howard; Con O’Callaghan (0-2), Paul Mannion (0-2), Dean Rock (1-11, 0-10 frees).
Subs used: Paddy Small (0-3) for Mannion (39), Kevin McManamon (0-1) for Kilkenny (39), Eric Lowndes for Fitzsimons (47), Rory O’Carroll for McCaffrey (47), Paddy Andrews for O’Callaghan (52), David Byrne for MacAuley (61, black card).
Darren O’Malley; Seán Mullooly (0-1), David Murray, Conor Daly; Ronan Daly, Conor Hussey (0-3), Niall Daly (0-1); Enda Smith, Shane Killoran; Brian Stack, Cathal Cregg, Niall Kilroy; Diarmuid Murtagh (0-1), Conor Cox (0-7, 4 frees), Colin Compton (0-1).
Subs used: Fintan Cregg for Killoran (half-time), Aengus Lyons for Compton (45), John McManus for C Cregg (47), Andrew Glennon for Murtagh (52), Gary Patterson for Murray (60), Cian McKeon for Kilroy (66).
Referee: Barry Cassidy (Derry).