Roscommon’s annus dimidium…(bear with me)

It strikes me that Roscommon manager Davy Burke must know how the late Queen of England felt… not words I ever expected to type (in that order).

In 1992, a weary Queen Elizabeth spoke of her annus horribilis… that being Latin for ‘horrible year’. (The events of that period had briefly sucked the joy from the monarch’s life).

Last weekend, Davy Burke experienced a version of the late Queen’s anguish, as Roscommon’s exit from the All-Ireland Football Championship was ruthlessly determined by an unforeseen ‘annus dimidium’.

Yes, I am officially declaring 2024 the year of Davy Burke’s – indeed Roscommon football’s – ‘annus dimidium’. That’s Latin for ‘horrible half’.

In even more emotive language, it was Heartbreak Half, or even the Half from Hell.

Here’s some highlights, in case you missed what Davy himself called a ‘horror’ opening 35 minutes.

Two key Roscommon players forced to leave the action inside the first 15 minutes, due to injury.

Stage fright affects Roscommon forwards, with a number of poor wides kicked, and much worse, four or five tame scoring efforts dropped into the Armagh goalkeeper’s hands.

Admittedly having been forced to showcase their more conservative leanings because of Armagh’s tedious blanket defence set-up, Roscommon go 20 minutes before their first score.

Then as half-time approaches, the ultimate red warning light flashes when Ruaidhri Fallon is controversially sent off.

Had she been in the Hogan, the Queen would have been greatly unamused.

In the circumstances, it was almost miraculous that Roscommon, courtesy of two late scores, managed to escape from their annus dimidium a mere two points behind Armagh at half-time.

The loss of Ultan Harney and David Murray was a serious double blow. When Fallon received his marching orders, you could almost hear the energy seeping from the Roscommon supporters in Croke Park.

It meant three of Roscommon’s starting 15 would see no more action – and we still weren’t at the halfway point.

Those shots into the goalkeeper’s grateful embrace are deeply frustrating; in symbolic terms, akin to a gunslinger in the Wild West handing his pistol to the other guy, as opposed to the safer option of sending wayward bullets past him!

To their credit, Roscommon didn’t feel sorry for themselves. Indeed Burke has revealed that the mood in the dressing room at half-time was very positive. In such a defensive, cagey game, the loss of a player could be overcome. Roscommon were only two points down and hadn’t started playing. And Armagh were not superior to us, they were merely going about the task in hand more efficiently.

Within a couple of minutes of the restart, Roscommon were level. Game on. Except it wasn’t really. It didn’t help that Armagh sub Stefan Campbell was now an inspirational entrant into the battlefield. If the key moment of the first half had been Fallon’s early exit, a new game-changer revealed itself. With 18 minutes of this dour battle remaining, our fate was sealed. Roscommon messed up a short kick-out, and Armagh forwards swooped like vultures at an unguarded street party. As Conor Turbitt bore in on goal, we watched our championship exit in slow motion, unable to press pause. When the goal almost mercifully came, it ended our chances on a day when Roscommon never found their rhythm. Even allowing for that imposing massed Armagh defence, our build-up play was often painfully slow.

In the face of approaching defeat, Burke’s men were defiant, honest and committed to the end. What hurts is that there really was little or nothing between the sides. Brian Stack’s epic late point, following a solo run that belongs in the season’s highlights’ reel, reminded us to keep perspective: this was one of those days when lots of things go wrong, but this team can compete at the highest level going forward.

When the extinguishing of our hopes was complete, Armagh celebrated a 2-12 to 0-12 win. Davy Burke was philosophical, recognising the combination of self-destruction and lamentable bad luck he had witnessed… while managing to avoid succumbing to excessive self-pity.

The late Queen would have approved.