Roscommon’s Easter Rising

Connacht SFC quarter-final

Roscommon 2-8 Mayo 0-10

Enda Smith and Jordan Flynn before the off. Pic. Bernie O’Farrell

This Roscommon senior football team is the gift that keeps on giving in 2023. Last Sunday at MacHale Park in Castlebar Davy Burke’s men produced one of Roscommon’s greatest championship wins in many decades when they deservedly knocked the hot favourites and newly-crowned league champions Mayo out of this year’s Connacht Championship.

One man who wasn’t particularly surprised was Roscommon manager Burke, who voiced some frustration after the game with what he considered to be a disrespectful narrative around his team’s chances during the build-up.

Alluding to media commentary, he said: “I thought there was a lot of disrespect to us during the week. We finished third in Division One on merit. And we were completely written off.

“You’d swear we were a lower level team altogether. I’m sure our boys were frustrated by that and I’m glad they put it right today”.

This was one of the best battling performances that I have witnessed in my time attending Roscommon matches. I say that as someone who was raised on the deeds of men like Harry Keegan, Pat Lindsay, Dermot Earley and Tony McManus. This was as good if not better than any of the wins that those men were involved in – I cannot give our team of ’23 any higher praise than that.

On a foul day weather-wise, it was clear from the opening seconds that Roscommon were on a mission. In the match preview in last week’s Roscommon People, Davy Burke said that the Roscommon players were not going to take any backward steps against Mayo. Boy was he true to his word.

All over the field Roscommon harried and hassled, and tackled like tigers, denying Mayo space and time on the ball. Then, when the counter-attack was on, there were men like Diarmuid Murtagh and Enda Smith who could carry the game to Mayo and get the scores that were needed. Every single Roscommon player contributed to this spectacular victory, one of the sweetest in many a long day.

Playing against the strong wind and squally showers in the first half it was clear Roscommon would need to restrict the Mayo attack. They did that brilliantly, with Niall and Conor Daly, Davy Murray, Brian Stack and Conor Hussey all outstanding.

Roscommon had some luck too. In the 7th minute Stephen Coen burst through the visitors’ defence, his shot coming back off the underside of the crossbar. Still, Roscommon were dictating the pace of the game and Mayo became more frustrated as the action unfolded.

In the 23rd minute Dylan Ruane’s shot was blocked by the Mayo defence. Davy Murray picked up the loose ball but was upended in the large square. Enda Smith blasted the resultant penalty to the Mayo net. Now Roscommon led by 1-2 to 0-1. Mayo replied with three unanswered points, but just before half-time Roscommon struck again. Niall Daly sent Ciaran Lennon away and when his shot rebounded to Donie Smith, the Boyle man pulled low and hard to the net. At half-time Roscommon led by four, 2-2 to 0-4.

The second half was a fierce battle. Mayo upped the ante, but Roscommon were ready. While it certainly wasn’t a great game in terms of quality football, the exchanges were fiercely contested. Three Mayo scores in a row saw the margin down to a single point by the 50th minute, but Roscommon dug in.

Diarmuid Murtagh kicked three points – which included two magnificent efforts from play – as the defiant Rossies pulled away again. Sub Conor Cox and man of the match Enda Smith (with a fisted effort) closed out the win. And what a win it was.

In terms of the forthcoming All-Ireland football championship, this result may soon be forgotten by the rest of the country, but any Roscommon person who was there on Sunday (and those watching on TV or listening on radio too) will remember it for a long, long time to come.

Another massive game against Galway awaits on Sunday week in Dr Hyde Park. In the form they’re in, the Roscommon players will relish that challenge.

Davy Burke certainly enjoyed the intensity of the exchanges.

“It was a brilliant, hugely intense game of football. Unbelievable. Fair play to the lads. The first time I met them, they said ‘Easter Sunday, we’ll be ready’. They were ready”.

And Galway in two weeks’ time? “A home semi-final. It’s brilliant. Where else would you want to be? And another 50/50 game against Galway. Happy days” the manager concluded. Happy days indeed.