All-Ireland SFC Quarter-Final Series (Super 8s) Round 3
On the face of it, a 14 point defeat is nothing to be crowing about any day of the week, but Roscommon signed off their Super 8s campaign with some pride intact after a good second half display in a match that had nothing at stake and thus was played in a morgue-like atmosphere in Croke Park last Sunday.
Before anyone thinks it’s time to call for the men in the white coats for being so positive, I fully realise that Dublin fielded largely their second string, and that there wasn’t one hard tackle in the whole game, but Roscommon kept going to the bitter end, and a total of 2-16 was reward for the efforts in the second half in particular, which yielded two goals and nine points for the Primrose and Blue.
The defensive frailties which have been exposed in this Super 8s campaign were there again and to ship another 4-24 (the same total as Tyrone had scored) speaks for itself, but I was glad for the players that they kept going to the last seconds despite being outclassed. It showed that they have great pride in the jersey.
But the facts are that if Roscommon want to progress to the next level they will have to change their style of play. The top teams know that Roscommon are very vulnerable at the back and can breach the defence at will. The lack of physicality in some of our players is also a problem and one that will not be easily fixed. But that debate must be had over the next couple of months and in time for Division One of the National League in February.
In fairness to Dublin, they picked off Roscommon easily with Cormac Costello outstanding. It’s hard to believe that Costello is just a sub when Dublin are at full strength. Paul Flynn, a four-time All Star (and another sub) was also in great form, and the human battering ram that is Eoghan O’Gara caused the Roscommon defence a lot of problems throughout. You got the impression that the Sky Blues were operating in second gear and anytime they upped the ante they were in for scores.
From a Roscommon point of view Diarmuid Murtagh was their best player. Once again he showed that he is a top class operator with four great points from play. Not far behind was brother Ciaráin, although it was strange to see him taken off with almost 20 minutes to go. Tadgh O’Rourke, who is much criticised, had his best outing in a Roscommon jersey and he got through an amount of work on the day. Impressive too were subs Padraig Kelly, who certainly didn’t look out of place when he came on just after half-time, and Donie Smith who banged in an impressive 1-3 after his introduction.
Although it was great to be a part of the inaugural Super 8s competition, Roscommon were out of their depth and well beaten in all three games. The experience gained can be turned into a positive, but only if players and management go away and come back with a plan to play against the very top teams in the land.
We also have a problem at full and centre half-back. Several different players and several different combinations have been tried there over the course of the year which is unsatisfactory. We have to identify a regular number three and six for those positions. It’s crucial to have a settled spine in the team. The loss of Neil Collins and Sean Mullooly was also huge this year.
It’s back now to club fare for the players and we can all reflect on what has been largely a positive year. Division One football beckons in the spring and there is no reason why Roscommon cannot target staying in the top division and regaining the Connacht title in 2019. But once we run into the very top teams we are in trouble and making that final step up is going to be very difficult going forward.
Just a parting note about the crowd last Sunday, in all the years that I have been going to Roscommon games I have never seen a smaller Roscommon crowd at a championship game. Looking out from the Hogan Stand it was difficult to spot any Roscommon colours at all. We are constantly being told about how great the Roscommon supporters are for a small county. I fully realise the expense involved in going to these matches and the fact that there was nothing at stake. But taking all that into consideration, it was still very disappointing.
Teams and Scorers
Dublin: Stephen Cluxton; Mick Fitzsimons, Cian O’Sullivan, Philly McMahon (0-1); Eric Lowndes, John Small (0-1), Darren Daly; Paul Flynn (1-3), Michael Darragh Macauley (1-1); Jack McCaffrey, Eoghan O’Gara (2-2), Cormac Costello (0-7, ‘45, 2 frees); Kevin McManamon (0-3, 2 frees), Colm Basquel, Paddy Andrews (0-2). Sub: Conor Mullally for O’Sullivan (h/t), James McCarthy for McCaffrey (h/t), Mark Schutte (0-1) for J Small (43), Paddy Small (0-1) for Costello (43), Conor McHugh (0-2) for O’Gara (53), Andrew McGowan for Daly (60), Bernard Brogan for Schutte (61, blood), Schutte for Brogan (67).
Roscommon: James Fetherstone; David Murray, Peter Domican, Niall McInerney; John McManus, Darra Petit, Ross Timothy; Tadgh O’Rourke, Enda Smith; Niall Kilroy (0-1), Ciaráin Murtagh (0-1, free), Conor Devaney (0-1); Diarmuid Murtagh (0-6, 2 frees), Brian Stack, Ciaran Lennon (0-2). Subs: Gary Patterson (1-0) for Timothy (h/t), Pádraig Kelly (0-2) for Kilroy (38), Donie Smith (1-3, ‘45) for Domican (49), Ian Kilbride for Stack (49), Cathal Cregg for C Murtagh (56), Seanie McDermott for McManus (67).
Referee: Cormac Reilly (Meath)