Any delusions of grandeur that Roscommon may have felt after drawing with Mayo a week earlier were crushed in the most ruthless and clinical manner on Monday as Stephen Rochford’s men dished out as heavy a beating as Roscommon have ever had to endure in the championship in Croke Park, or anywhere else for that matter.
I was one of those who mistakenly thought that there was major improvement possible in the Roscommon performance from the previous week. I actually thought that Kevin McStay’s men could win this replay. How naive I was.
In fact it was Mayo who made the major improvement. They stood on Roscommon’s throat from the minute the ball was thrown in at 2 pm and they never relented until Anthony Nolan called a halt to proceedings at about 3.30 pm. It made for difficult viewing as Mayo brushed Roscommon aside all over the field and the reality is that the margin could have been even greater if Mayo’s shooting had been a bit better.
When it became known before the game that Lee Keegan was ruled out through injury, there was a rumble of excitement amongst the huge Roscommon following. But that didn’t last too long as Mayo brushed aside the loss of their talisman to exploit the huge gaps in the Roscommon defence time after time with powerful running and some mesmerising teamwork.
The Roscommon team management made a massive selection call by excluding team captain Ciaráin Murtagh and Fintan Cregg, both goalscorers from the drawn game, and they pitched in the very inexperienced Caoileann Fitzmaurice and Cathal Compton. It was a move that did not work, as both played in an attack that simply saw none of the ball.
In fairness to Caoileann Fitzmaurice, he got on the ball in the second half and was one of Roscommon’s better players when he was playing further out the field, but the game was over at that stage.
Fintan Cregg and Ciaráin Murtagh did see action in the second half but by then Roscommon were a whopping 3-8 to 0-4 down. There was no way back. It was far too late.
The truth is that it would not have made any difference who Roscommon picked last Monday. It was clear that Mayo had heard enough from their noisy neighbours this year. It was time to put them back in their box and they did it clinically. Roscommon were beaten in almost every position on the field but Niall Kilroy and Niall McInerney stood defiantly against the green and red onslaught. There were too many gaps to plug but both men went down with their boots on.
Looking down from the press area on Monday, it was a totally different Roscommon team that we saw. The intense tackling, the high workrate and the great movement of eight days earlier were absent.
At one stage midway through the first half, a Roscommon player made his way up along the Cusack Stand side of the field. He looked inside but there was no one to kick it to. He had to turn back and go on a solo run across the field. He was dispossessed and Mayo went down and scored another point. It was symptomatic of what was happening all day long.
Mayo pushed up on Roscommon’s kick-outs and Colm Lavin was left with no option except to kick it long. We hardly won any of those kick-outs at all and another few went out over the sideline. That put us under pressure from the start. Then our defending was almost non-existent as Mayo ran straight down the middle time after time, to devastating effect. Aidan O’Shea, Kevin McLoughlin, Keith Higgins (by far the best player on the field), Andy Moran, Tom Parsons, Cillian O’Connor and Paddy Durcan bombed forward as if it was a training session.
Six points down after 15 minutes (a couple of questionable refereeing decisions not helping Roscommon), the writing was on the wall already, but Mayo were not in a charitable mood and they pulverised Roscommon in the second quarter. Kevin McLoughlin’s goal in the 23rd minute (he hopped the ball twice on his way to goal) opened the floodgates. A minute later Keith Higgins powered through and fed Andy Moran who shot low under Colm Lavin. Goal number three wasn’t long coming either as the Roscommon defence parted like the Red Sea again in the 28th minute when Keith Higgins waltzed through and blasted home. Game, set, match. In the second half it was a matter of how much Mayo would win by as their delirious supporters lapped it up to the very last second.
Roscommon will just have to get over this thrashing. It was one of those days. It’s not the first time that Mayo have dished out a championship hammering to their near-neighbours and it probably won’t be the last. But it has to be remembered that it was a good summer overall for Roscommon. The Connacht title was won in great style and the excitement over the past few months in the county was palpable. If Roscommon can learn, get stronger and become more streetwise then maybe (and I say maybe) we can compete with the likes of Mayo. But that situation is far into the future as it stands. I felt for the Roscommon players in Croke Park on Monday. They gave us a lot of enjoyment this year. What a pity it had to end like it did.
The trick now is to come again in February and have a cut at Division Two of the league and try to defend the Connacht title later in the year. The team is young and they are a great bunch of dedicated lads. But we all saw it last Monday. The gap between the top teams and those further down the food chain is massive and it is growing. That’s a debate for another day but for the moment it’s the end of the road for another year. When the dust settles we can look back on a Connacht Championship success which doesn’t happen too often.
For Mayo, this was their best championship display for a number of years. You have to give them massive credit. Seven All-Ireland semi-finals in a row is some achievement. Any suggestions that they might be slipping were answered emphatically on Monday. I think they have a great chance of beating Kerry on the evidence of what we saw in this game. I for one would love to see that happen.