U-21s in final flourish

U-21s in final flourish  Connacht U-21 Football semi-final Roscommon 1-14 Sligo             0-10 Roscommon’s U-21 footballers, backboned by several of the minors who brought such glory to the county last summer are through to their first Connacht final at this grade since 1999 after they beat Sligo by a seven-point margin in this semi-final played in glorious weather conditions at Makievicz Park on Saturday last.   While it was a very good display from Roscommon particularly in the first and last quarter there are a few problems that will have to be sorted out before the team take on Mayo in the final in Castlebar on Saturday next (throw-in at 2.30 pm).    While there were some brilliant performances from the likes of Stephen Ormsby, Peter Domican, David O’Gara, Cathal Cregg,  Enda Kenny and Conor Devanney, Roscommon struggled at midfield for much of the hour and Sligo took full advantage to come back into the game in the second and third quarters.   However this is a team that has plenty of scope for improvement and the brilliance of the players who captured the All-Ireland minor title for Roscommon last year continues to shine through. Whether this U-21 team is  a bit too young to capture a Connacht title we shall find out next Saturday but the minor team of 2006 are still the basis of Roscommon’s footballing future and if we have to wait another year or two for them to prosper at U-21 and senior level, then so be it.   This game was played in glorious sunshine on an excellent surface and Roscommon started brilliantly. Wave after wave of Roscommon attacks rained down on the Sligo goal as the primrose and blue drove forward.   David O’Gara was on fire at centre half-forward and he wreaked havoc on the Sligo defence with his clever running and excellent vision and passing while inside him Enda Kenny won every ball that was kicked his way.   Aidan Dooney rattled over a 2nd minute point after being set up by O’Gara and Cathal Cregg (play) and O’Gara himself  pointed a minute later from close range.   In the 6th minute O’Gara was once again in the middle of the action but a combination of himself, Kenny and Dooney failed to get the ball over the Sligo line when a Roscommon goal looked a certainty.   Enda Kenny was playing like his life depended on it and he fielded brilliantly and rattled over a super point after eight minutes.   Sligo corner-forward Stephen Coen provided brief respite for his side in the 9th minute when he scored a very good point from play but it was all Roscommon at this stage and O’Gara kicked two mighty points within three minutes to put Roscommon 0-5 to 0-1 ahead and when team captain David Hoey finished another fine Roscommon move with a point from close range in the 15th minute Roscommon led by five points and were cruising.   However Sligo slowly got going at midfield and they responded well. John Scanlon and Mark Gordon were on target to reduce the margin to three and suddenly it was game on. A Conor Devanney pointed free steadied the ship for Roscommon before John Scanlon kicked a great long-range point for the Sligo men to keep them in touch.   Cathal Cregg landed a long-range point for Roscommon before the excellent Enda Kenny kicked another great score but the Sligo men had the last say of the half and points from Scanlon and David Kelly left only three points in it at half-time. Roscommon 0-9 Sligo 0-6. Roscommon had been way the better side yet they were only three points ahead at the break.   Roscommon were denied what looked like a penalty in the 3rd minute of the second half when Conor Devanney and David Keenan were both fouled in the large square but referee Declan Corcoran waved the play on and  two minutes later there was only two points in it when Scanlon landed another point for the home side with a 13-metre free.   Credit Roscommon though, they awoke from their siesta with a scoring burst to finally put the game beyond the reach of the Sligo men. Cathal Cregg pointed a 30-metre free in the 10th minute and four minutes later Conor Devanney pointed another free.   Then in the 15th minute came the score that settled the match. David O’Gara, Enda Kenny and David Hoey were all involved before Conor Devanney scrambled the ball home for a vital Roscommon goal and suddenly there was a seven-point gap. Sub John Collins then  kicked a great long-range point and Roscommon were back in control.   Sligo half-forward Shane Stenson did all he could to try to turn the tables back in favour of his side and he kicked three points in a row to narrow the gap to five however Roscommon finished the way they started and the excellent Enda Kenny and sub Aaron McEvoy kicked points in the final two minutes to end the contest with Roscommon seven points ahead.   The problems at midfield apart this was an excellent display from Roscommon. The full-back line performed well throughout and Stephen Ormsby was at his brilliant best at corner-back and shaded Enda Kenny for the Man of the Match award.   Peter Domican played very well having been called in as a late replacement for David Flynn (who was ill) at centre half-back.   David Hoey and Richard Dooner struggled at midfield after a promising start while up front Cathal Cregg, David Keenan and Conor Devanney worked very hard but the stars of the show in attack were David O’Gara who was on fire in the opening 20 minutes and Enda Kenny who had an excellent game at full-forward all through.   Onward to the Connacht final against Mayo next Saturday now and they will certainly prove to be much stronger opposition than Sligo were last weekend. However with these excellent young players to call on don’t rule out this Roscommon team who are capable of playing some great football. Mayo will have a day’s work done if they are to beat this improving side. Roll on Easter Saturday. Roscommon: Colin Nicholson; Tom Bannon, Michael Killilea, Stephen Ormsby; Sean Higgins, Peter Domican, Adrian Murtagh; David Hoey (0-1), captain; Richard Dooner; Cathal Cregg (0-3, 2 frees), David O’Gara (0-3), David Keenan; Conor Devanney (1-2, 2 frees), Enda Kenny (0-2), Aidan Dooney (0-1). Subs: John Collins (0-1) for Dooney, Fintan Cregg for Cathal Cregg, Paul Gleeson for Bannon, Aaron McEvoy (0-1) for Dooner, Ronan Brady for Hoey.   Sligo: J. Farrell; N. Ewing, A. McIntyre, G. Gaughan; B. Kennedy, S. Colleary, M. Gormley; K. Beirne, K. Raymond; S. Stewnson (0-3, 2 frees), M. Gordon (0-1), D. O’Grady; S. Coen, (0-1) D. Kelly (0-1), J. Scanlon (0-4, 2 frees). Subs: S. Henry for Coen, D. McDonagh for McIntyre, S. Gilmartin for Beirne, Peter Wilson for Raymond, F. Quinn for Scanlon.   Referee: Declan Corcoran (Mayo).  Match at a glance Man of the match: Stephen Ormsby gets the nod over Enda Kenny after a class exhibition of corner-back play. Weather: Beautiful sunshine with hardly any breeze. Perfect for football. Excellent pitch too. Crowd: 1,500 people approx. including a big Roscommon following.  Entertainment value: Excellent at times. Roscommon were very good going forward but Sligo stuck to their guns well. Referee: Very fussy and he  pulled both teams 14 times (mostly needlessly) over the hour for ‘overcarrying’ and this frustrated players and fans alike.