ESB Connacht Minor Championship Roscommon …………… 1-4 Leitrim …………………… 0-4 Paul Hickey Roscommon opened the Connacht minor championship campaign last Saturday evening at Pairc Sean MacDiarmada with a three-point victory over neighbours Leitrim. The match was a low-scoring and somewhat subdued affair, but nevertheless the game was a learning experience for a talented Roscommon team that could go a long distance in this summer’s Connacht championship. There is a perception throughout the county this week that this was a very poor game of football and certainly this group of players has provided Roscommon GAA patrons with more entertaining fare at under-16 level and in this year’s Connacht minor league. It is important, however, to reflect on the positives of last Saturday’s game. Gary Wynne’s objective going into the game was surely to win the match, and the referee’s post-match report will show that the visiting team departed victoriously from the stadium. More than that, Roscommon won convincingly, in the sense that the victory was never in doubt. Brian Murtagh’s early penalty and pointed free set Roscommon on the road to victory and, while Wynne’s team did not build on this early four-point lead to any great extent, thereafter the game was beyond beleaguered Leitrim, who missed a penalty early in the second half and did not open their account until ten minutes before the end of the game. The performances of player of the match Eamonn Bannon, goalkeeper Darren O’Malley, centre half-back Mark Keaveney, full-forward Dara Lennon and corner-forward Eamonn Kenny, were the major positives for Roscommon on Saturday evening, and it was the efforts of these players that stimulated greatest excitement among the large crowd of Roscommon supporters that travelled to the Carrick-on-Shannon venue. Keaveney quietly but determinedly led the Roscommon half-back line throughout the game, and when in possession he cleverly dispatched ball to the wings where Roscommon were predominant. Bannon played particularly impressively: his confident defending and his direct-running attacking were the stellar features of this Connacht Minor Championship game. The participation of Eamonn Kenny elicited unqualified appreciation from the Roscommon supporters. The talented Oran player has suffered greatly from injury throughout the last two years and is only now getting the opportunity to put his skills into effect for his club and for his county. Kenny began quietly but grew in confidence out on the left wing as the game progressed. If his tussle with his opponent Jim McTeague mid-way through the first half demonstrated his determination and his dedication to the cause, his defence splitting angled pass 11 minutes into the second half that won Roscommon a second penalty illustrated his tactical intelligence and his footballing ability. For the record, the penalty was missed by Murtagh, whose shot sneaked outside the post to the goalie’s right. Darren O’Malley has been challenged vigorously for his starting berth all year by the impressive Naos Connaughton of St. Dominic’s and on Saturday evening he showed why Wynne elected to select him for the opening championship game with a number of superb saves. O’Malley saved a very poorly-struck Leitrim penalty with ease in the opening minutes of the second half and in the 41st minute did excellently to thwart Leitrim’s Shane Flanagan when a goal seemed certain. His third major save came in the final minutes when he parried away a great shot from Mark Beirne. Murtagh’s early goal and point were followed by a score from Dara Lennon who kicked a great point from 30 metres after intelligent play by Bannon and Kenny. Leitrim’s forwards played very poorly in the opening half and only threatened Roscommon once, when Eoin Ward shot wide of the goal from 12 metres in the 21st minute. The second half was more exciting than the opening phase, with both teams missing penalties. In between O’Malley’s heroics in the third quarter Lennon got his second point with a left-footed score after a good run by Eamonn Kenny in the 39th minute. Leitrim finally opened their account 10 minutes from the end when Shane Flanagan kicked a free over from 30 metres. Ward followed this up with a second Leitrim score and then Mark Beirne landed a third point for the home team in the 58th minute. The reaction of the supporters after Beirne’s score demonstrated that the prospect of a comeback was real, but Eamonn Bannon secured the victory for Roscommon immediately after Beirne’s effort with a point from 25 metres. Leitrim threatened in the final moments, but O’Malley was in control for Roscommon, and Flanagan’s consolation point in injury-time brought the game to a conclusion. Roscommon: Darren O’Malley; Paddy Brogan, Neil Collins, Cathal Dolphin; Niall Daly, Mark Keaveney, Eamonn Bannon (0-1); Eugene Stritch, Michael Higgins; Bernard Carthy, Brian Murtagh (1-1, 1-0 p, 0-1 f), Michael Sweeney; Niall Kilroy, Dara Lennon (0-2), Eamonn Kenny. Subs used: Cathal Shine for Carthy; Eoin Sheedy for Murtagh; Colm O’Neill for Sweeney. Leitrim: Phillip Farrelly; Jim McTeague, Niall O’Connor, James O’Brien; Ciaran Egan, Mark Beirne (0-1), Morgan Quinn; Emmet Mahon, Paul Hackett; Seamus Mulvihill, Sean McKeon, Eoin Ward (0-1); Shane Flanagan (0-2, frees), Sean McNabola, Kevin Conlon. Subs used: Shane Ryan for Hackett; Keelan McKeon for NcNabola. Referee: Vincent Neary (Mayo). Player of the match Eamonn Bannon (Roscommon). On a day when Leitrim corner-back James O’Brien put in a strong claim for the award, Bannon of Roscommon was the player of the match. The Fuerty defender played excellently throughout the match, and kicked a fine score to seal Roscommon’s victory in the final minutes of the game.