PAUL HEALY: View from the Stand
‘Goalkeeper Rory Beggan patrolled the pitch – often beyond midfield – with the calm authority of a General surveying his obedient troops’
This, as Roscommon manager Davy Burke ruefully observed when speaking to the media, was a trap that had essentially been hiding in plain sight.
Monaghan were not so much lying in the long grass as sitting back on park benches in open daylight, waving a routine welcome as the Club Rossie bus arrived – before duly setting about dismantling the visitors’ winning run.
This was the ambush that you could see coming. Monaghan in Clones – when you’re flying and they’re ravenous for league points – is one tricky assignment.
We arrived in town well over an hour before throw-in. Fearful that I might cross to the ‘other side’ and suddenly become one of those people who arrives early at GAA grounds, I quickly agreed to a suggestion from within our travelling party that we pass a half an hour in one of Clones’ watering holes. There, in an old pub populated by a few dozen Roscommon supporters, we watched the closing stages of a cagey Donegal-Galway game – and mused about the risk (to reference that old Barry McGuigan nickname) of being blown over by a Clones cyclone.
The walk ‘downhill’ to the old ground was chilly but pleasant. On the meandering streets of Clones, Roscommon people appeared in pockets. A sign for his auctioneering business reminded us we were in Conor McManus country.
St Tiernach’s Park is quaint, old-fashioned, homely. It was evident from early on that Roscommon were struggling to find their rhythm. There was cause for concern, but Davy Burke’s team slowly roused themselves, mainly thanks to Richard Hughes having the ambition to shoot – his two fine points kept Roscommon in touch.
A bit of a dust-up just before half-time raised the temperatures of players and supporters alike. The game probably needed that injection of passion.
At half-time, Roscommon fans were confident. The team had played poorly, but wind advantage in the second half, plus the narrative of previous weeks, suggested Roscommon could use their bench and the experience of recent close finishes to edge this one.
Monaghan had other ideas. After Roscommon made little or nothing of a few early second-half forays, the home team’s belief grew. Goalkeeper Rory Beggan patrolled the pitch – often beyond midfield – with the calm authority of a General surveying his obedient troops. Monaghan excelled at retaining possession. It frustrated Burke’s men, but was the right tactic for the home team.
Roscommon reached for the trump card which has been on regular display in recent weeks, but it proved elusive. A few promising attacks broke down, a goal chance was missed. Monaghan sensed blood.
When Diarmuid Murtagh was controversially black-carded, the trap door went from being ajar to fully open…and Roscommon were hovering over it.
At the final whistle, frustration in abundance for travelling Rossies, not to mention the team and management. There was also a sense of perspective. Six points from eight (with a three-point loss in Clones) is a ‘return’ that Roscommon certainly won’t quibble with.
Monaghan. In Clones. The Rossies going well. We knew the trap door was there. We didn’t want to fall in, but cyclones can so easily blow you off course.