Connacht SFC Semi-Final
A few lines from the great Saw Doctors song ‘To Win Just Once’ captures the spirit of Castlebar 2019 on Saturday evening when 33 years of hurt for Roscommon teams and fans was washed away with a nerve-jangling, dramatic win against old rivals Mayo. Anthony Cunningham’s men strode into Elvery’s MacHale Park determined to show the GAA world – and more importantly themselves – that they were ready, willing and able to put the Mayo hoodoo behind them. Despite being written off in almost every quarter, Roscommon got off to a great start and simply refused to bend the knee as Mayo came roaring back at them in the second half, the visitors holding out for a deserved one-point win.
It was drama to the very end as first sub Fintan Cregg kicked what was to turn out to be the winning point three minutes into injury-time. Then, with the allotted five minutes almost up, Mayo were awarded a free 25 metres out to the right of the posts. At first it looked like Diarmuid O’Connor was going to kick it but he handed the ball to Kevin McLoughlin, who promptly dropped the free outside the posts and wide. On the kick-out, referee David Gough blew the final whistle.
The will to win and never-say-die attitude of this Roscommon team was remarkable to behold in this incident-packed game that is up there with the best championship matches we have seen anywhere in recent years. Roscommon simply would not lie down and whatever Mayo threw at them, they gave right back. Even when there was a half-time melee, no Roscommon player took a backward step. It was a clear message to Mayo that this time around Roscommon would not be going back down the road with their heads bowed. Since Anthony Cunningham took over there is a steely determination about this Roscommon team that makes them very tough opponents. Mayo found that out on Saturday night.
The feeling leaving MacHale Park was one of immense pride at the display of a mighty bunch of players. Every single man made a contribution to the effort. Darren O’Malley struck over two 45s and a long-range free with ease while his opposite number Rob Hennelly struggled badly in that regard.
The Roscommon half-back line was superb on the day. Niall and Ronan Daly did well until Ronan went off injured, while Conor Hussey was simply magnificent at centre half-back. He was commanding all through and is improving with every game. Niall Daly’s late block on Andy Moran was a match-winning intervention.
Both midfielders got through a huge amount of work but Roscommon struggled with the amount of breaking ball that went to Mayo in that sector. It is something that the management will have to work on.
Up front, Conor Cox was magnificent. A couple of his points from play were out of the very top drawer. He has been some find for Roscommon this year. Cathal Cregg had another mighty game. His 6th minute goal was spectacular as he showed a clean pair of heels to Keith Higgins before blasting past Hennelly. Ultan Harney was back to his best and he got through a huge amount of work and took his goal really well.
But where Roscommon were strongest on Saturday was that they had outstanding players to come off the bench. Every one of them made a major contribution. Diarmuid Murtagh held on to the ball well, Brian Stack got through a mountain of work, Conor Devaney made three incredible interceptions, Enda Smith kicked an inspirational point at a vital stage, Donie Smith won loads of ball and the postman from Elphin, Fintan Cregg, delivered when it mattered most, slotting over the brilliant winning point. It was a real squad effort.
The goals from Cathal Cregg and Ultan Harney in the first twelve minutes were the perfect way to start. With Mayo kicking a lot of wides, Roscommon held on to the lead to half-time. Indeed, Roscommon should have had another goal in the 26th minute but Andy Glennon’s effort flew wide.
Roscommon were under pressure in the second half but they just would not give in. The mist turned into rain, making the ground very slippy, and it was a real cauldron as the final minutes neared. When Fergal Boland pointed in the 61st minute to edge Mayo ahead for the first time, many Roscommon fans would have been forgiven for thinking ‘here we go again’ – but not this time. Cox nailed a really difficult free in the 65th minute to tie up the scores again and when it came down to it in injury-time, Fintan Cregg had the composure, while Kevin McLoughlin did not.
After such a fantastic win and after such a battle, one tends to lose sight of the fact that this was only a Connacht semi-final. There was no silverware at stake. The final will be another very difficult assignment as Galway will feel that they will have the measure of Rocommon at Pearse Stadium.
But this magnificent win has lifted the whole county, not least the players themselves. It will give them massive confidence. There is loads for the management to work on, but if the same desire and will to win is there on June 16th Roscommon will not be far away.
Roscommon: Darren O’Malley (0-3, 1 free, 2 ‘45s); David Murray, Sean Mullooly, Conor Daly (0-1); Niall Daly, Conor Hussey, Ronan Daly; Tadhg O’Rourke, Shane Killoran; Hubert Darcy, Cathal Cregg (1-0), Niall Kilroy; Ultan Harney (1-0), Conor Cox (0-5, 2 frees), Andy Glennon (0-1).
Subs used: Diarmuid Murtagh for Glennon (h/t); Brian Stack for R Daly (45), Conor Devaney for Darcy (48), Enda Smith (0-1) for C Cregg (50); Donie Smith for Harney (55); Fintan Cregg (0-1) for Kilroy (60).
Mayo: Rob Hennelly; Chris Barrett, Brendan Harrison, Keith Higgins; Paddy Durcan (0-2), Mark Plunkett, Lee Keegan (0-1); Matthew Ruane (0-2), Aidan O’Shea; Fergal Boland (0-2), Jason Doherty (0-1, 1f), Diarmuid O’Connor; Evan Regan (0-3, 2 frees), Darren Coen (0-5), Kevin McLoughlin.
Subs used: Andy Moran (0-1) for Regan (45); Conor Diskin for Coen (60); Conor Loftus for Doherty (69); Cian Treacy for Moran (black card, 71).
Referee: David Gough (Meath).