Roscommon senior footballers had a very impressive league campaign. That’s the one big positive from this year. Sadly, a championship that promised so much ended in bitter disappointment at Croke Park on Saturday. Roscommon began that campaign with a relatively impressive win over Sligo. This was followed by an underwhelming performance in the Connacht final against Galway, with supporters frustrated by Roscommon’s slow build-up play, lack of intensity, and signs of defensive shortcomings. To be fair, Roscommon improved in the second half in Salthill, and there were grounds for optimism going into Saturday’s qualifier against Clare. What went wrong in Croker on Saturday?
While the easy conclusion to draw is that Roscommon threw this game away in the final seven minutes or so, maybe the truth of the matter is that our deeply disappointing exit has more to do with the overall performance, especially a particularly lacklustre opening 40 minutes. Yes, Roscommon squandered a five-point lead in the closing stages, but by then Clare had every reason to believe they could win. Roscommon’s wayward first-half performance had seen to that. What is frustrating for supporters is Roscommon’s failure to assert superiority over Clare from the throw-in. Clare were always going to be tricky opponents – we knew that from previous meetings – but Roscommon went into this game with several aces. We have consistently played in Division One in recent years (albeit a sobering experience many times), we’ve won two provincial titles since 2017, and we’ve quite a bit of experience of playing in Croke Park. Roscommon had to bring more urgency, pace and swagger to Croker in that first half. They didn’t. It gave Clare belief, it drained some from the nervy Rossies.
To their credit, Roscommon were a new team for most of the second half, bossing the game, outscoring Clare by 0-9 to 0-1, and taking complete control. Or so we thought. In the end, to quote manager Anthony Cunningham, we got “sucker-punched”. What went wrong? We paid a big price for a lack of leadership throughout the game, with a number of key leaders simply not performing to their usual standard. Ciarain Murtagh was an exception, his brilliant point-taking kept us in touch. Also, we were too ponderous in that first half, playing into Clare’s hands. As for the late capitulation, this was a pretty shocking failure to close out a game. Roscommon had possession of the ball in defence when five up, but a free was unnecessarily conceded. When Clare pointed and then goaled with a penalty, Roscommon, perhaps understandably, seemed to panic. But we need to be at a level where we can close games out. If we can’t close out a game when five points up against a Division Two team, how can we aspire to close out a game if we were one or two points up against one of the top four or five teams in the country?
At the end of the day, it’s sport, and there’s more important things in life (though few as enjoyable). Here at the Roscommon People, we want to acknowledge the efforts of the players and management. We know nobody will be more disappointed that they are. We will be back supporting them wholeheartedly when they’re in action again. But this was a missed opportunity, a devastating defeat, a big setback. We need to learn from it. Tell the People what the people think!