Roscommon storm into Connacht U-21 Final

Cadburys Connacht U-21 FC semi-final Roscommon …………. 1-11 Sligo ……………………… 1-9 Seamus Duke  At half-time in this Connacht U-21 football championship semi-final at Kiltoom last Saturday even the most conservative bookie would have given odds of 12/1 or more against Roscommon winning this game. With 2 minutes gone in the second half, after Conor Devanney received a straight red card, those odds would surely have been raised to 16/1 or higher. Roscommon were five points down (deservedly) and were facing into the strong wind and heavy rain showers with only 14 men.   But this is no ordinary team. Team manager Michael Ryan said afterwards that he had ‘a few choice words’ to say at half-time. I don’t know exactly what those words were, but it helped Roscommon to turn in one of the most stirring halves of championship football that I or anyone present in Kiltoom had the pleasure to witness in recent years. Roscommon’s young players tore into Sligo in that second half and never let up until the game, and a place in the Connacht final against Mayo, was won.   The ‘game of two halves’ is a well-worn cliché in the world of GAA but it certainly applies to this game. Well-prepared Sligo ran Roscommon ragged in the first half with a sparkling display of pacy, attacking football but Roscommon’s class, allied to a massive dollop of heart, determination, skill and some very astute switches saw the home team sweep past the visitors in that frantic second half.   Sligo arrived with a big reputation after a good win over Galway in the first round of the championship and, on a day that saw strong winds and rain sweep in over the beautiful Kiltoom pitch, the Yeats County took the game to Roscommon from the first whistle.   Roscommon did score first with a Donie Shine free, but Sligo posted their intentions early and despite they playing against the elements, they were clearly the better side. Their full-forward line of David Kelly, Stephen Coen and Donal O’Grady were on fire as Sligo threatened to run riot.   Coen and O’Grady pointed for Sligo in the 6th and 8th minutes before another Shine free levelled the scores the 14th minute. Then Conor Devanney put Roscommon into the lead two minutes later but it was an isolated raid by the home side as Stephen Henry and Stephen Gilmartin gave Sligo a definite pull at midfield.   Coen levelled the scores with a 22nd minute point before points from O’Grady and Coen again gave Sligo a two-point lead. In the 26th minute Donie Shine kicked an excellent 30-metre free to keep Roscommon in the contest but two minutes before half-time Sligo broke through for the goal that their excellent play had threatened. Stephen Coen did the spadework and his centre was flicked to the Roscommon net by Eoin McHugh.    Enda Kenny gave Roscommon some respite with a fine point from 20 metres in the 29th minute but Sligo finished the half with a flourish and points from Danny O’Grady and David Kelly saw the visitors ahead by a handsome 1-7 to 0-5 at half-time.   With the prospect of the elements to come at their backs in the second half, it looked like Sligo would record an easy victory. Cathal Cregg did point for Roscommon a minute into the new half, but then further disaster struck a minute later when Conor Devanney was shown a straight red card after he flicked out a boot at a Sligo player close to the sideline.   But the signs were good for Roscommon. Michael Killilea and James McDermott were getting a foothold at midfield. David O’Gara was working tirelessly and Donie Shine was in fantastic free-taking form up front. Peter Domican fell back to play at full-back and subs Kevin Higgins and the brilliant Niall Carty were playing a huge part too.   In the 8th minute Shine boomed a free into the breeze to narrow the gap to three and then in the 12th minute of the second half Roscommon got the vital goal they needed. Shine chased a hopeful ball into the corner and under pressure he won it well and crossed it into the danger area where Enda Kenny arrived just ahead of his marker to flick the ball home soccer-style. It was a finish that Ronaldo would have been proud of. The fat was now in the fire and the big home crowd got behind their team. Team captain Cathal Cregg grabbed another inspirational point after a great solo run to give Roscommon the lead in the 18th minute and three minutes later Shine kicked a mighty free from 25 metres into the gale-force wind. Sligo were struggling to get the ball past midfield, however they narrowed the gap to one when Coen was on target with a 30-metre free. But Sligo were living on scraps and with Stephen Ormsby in flying form at the back, Roscommon remained in control. In the 26th minute the game should have been over as David Keenan got through and rounded the Sligo goalkeeper only to see the ball knocked away from him when a goal looked a certainty.   But Roscommon would not be denied. Shine whacked over another mighty free in the 28th minute and he repeated the act in the 30th minute to drive Roscommon three ahead. Ronan Brady then received a second yellow card (and was thus dismissed) in the 33rd minute for a fairly harmless foul and in the dying seconds Coen was on target with a close-in free for Sligo.    The final whistle went on the kick-out and Roscommon had completed an incredible comeback against all the odds and when one realised that Sligo had scored only two points from frees while playing with the elements in the second half, it gives an indication of the strength of that second half effort from Roscommon. Note: The Connacht U-21 final between Roscommon and Mayo will now be played at Kiltoom on next Wednesday evening, 9th of April, at 6.30 pm.  Roscommon: James Martin; Ronan Brady, David Flynn, Stephen Ormsby; Peter Domican, David Keenan, Colm Garvey; Michael Kilillea, James McDermott; David O’Gara, Paul Garvey, Cathal Cregg (capt., 0-2); Conor Devanney (0-1), Enda Kenny (1-1), Donie Shine (0-7). Subs: Niall Carty for Flynn, Kevin Higgins for Paul Garvey (both half-time), James McKeague for Colm Garvey.  Sligo: Jason Farrell; Neil Ewing, Brian Murphy, Noel Gaughan; David McDonagh, Michael McGowan, Peter Rafferty; Stepehen Henry, Stephen Gilmartin; Eoin McHugh (1-0), Peter Wilson, Gary Gaughan; David Kelly  (capt., 0-1), Danny O’Grady (0-3), Stephen Coen (0-5). Subs: Francis Quinn for McHugh, Stephen Kilcoyne for McDonagh, Shane Stenson for O’Grady. Referee: Eamonn O’Grady (Leitrim).