Roscommon’s magical mystery tour…

Rampant Rossies on course for semi-final
How four successive wins outside Connacht have made Roscommon’s Division One odyssey a fantasy football story…

Roscommon’s magical journey in Division One of the National League reached even loftier heights at O’Donnell Park in Letterkenny last Sunday when they faced down the challenge of a very strong home side to record their fourth win on the trot – while playing some superb football.

  With relegation worries a thing of the past, a semi-final berth is almost a certainty, with two rounds to go. By any standards, it is an astounding achievement by this young and improving Roscommon team, and delighted Roscommon supporters amongst the huge crowd left Letterkenny shaking their heads in awe as to the quality of the football produced by their side in this latest victory.

  Having overcome Kerry, Cork and Down, the GAA world was watching to see how this young, improving Roscommon team would react against a battle-hardened and experienced Donegal outfit, who were playing at home. But Roscommon tore into their opponents from the throw-in and their fast-paced running and possession game had Donegal chasing shadows for most of the first half.

  In fact it was a total mystery how the home side were only five points adrift at the break because Roscommon could easily have been 10 or 12 points up at that stage.

  Time after time Roscommon punched huge holes in the Donegal defence, and with a little more composure they could have scored at least three first-half goals. Cian Connolly, Conor Daly and Niall Daly all missed relatively easy chances that could have put the game to bed before half-time.

  But by far the most satisfying aspect of this victory was the response of the Roscommon players when Donegal mounted their comeback in the second half. The home side reduced the margin to just two points with 12 minutes to go, but Roscommon never panicked. They stuck to their game plan and backed themselves to get back on top, and that they did, and in some style too. The crucial goal from Cathal Cregg was a peach, involving some wonderful passing and incisive running, and then spectacular points from Conor Devaney, Finan Cregg and Cathal Cregg brought the huge Roscommon following to their feet in that final quarter. It was sensational stuff and another fantastic team display.

  There were many Roscommon stars on the day. Geoffrey Claffey’s kick-outs were superb. Seanie McDermott and Neil Collins were outstanding in the full-back line. Davy Murray and Seanie Purcell were solid in the half-back line. Niall Daly had a super first half, scoring three mighty points from play.

  Once again the half-forward line were our best line. Fintan Cregg was phenomenal (once again) and Ciaran Murtagh continues to improve and impress at centre half-forward, while Conor Devaney’s work rate is unbelievable. His point from 45 metres on the stand side in the second half was worth the admission money alone. Cathal Cregg was sensational. He won almost every ball that was kicked in his direction and his goal was brilliantly taken. Senan Kilbride has had better games, but he worked hard and was an effective target man. A word too about sub Cathal Compton. Fresh from playing an excellent game for the U-21s on Friday night, he looked very good when he came on for the last 15 minutes on Sunday.

  For a well-beaten Donegal side, Michael Murphy was a colossus. He is a class act and almost single-handedly dragged his side back into contention in the second half. Christy Toye played very well when introduced and Eoin McHugh and Odhran Mac Niallais also did well for the home side.

  Roscommon’s fitness levels, their calmness on the ball, and superb team play, are a joy to watch. It’s early days yet, but as the thousands of Roscommon supporters left Letterkenny on Sunday, smiling from ear to ear, it was hard not to let the mind wander on towards the championship. If this rate of progress continues, then anything is possible. However it is only right to point out that other teams will be catching up with Roscommon’s fitness levels as the year goes on and the championship approaches.

  Fergal O’Donnell, Kevin McStay and the management team have done a fantastic job with this Roscommon team so far, and with mouth-watering fixtures coming up against Mayo and Dublin, there is a buzz about the county senior team that has not been there for many, many years. Long may it continue.