It’s the hope that kills you. It fluttered around the county last week ahead of Monday’s replay, tantalising us with daydreams of what might be. There was a quiet confidence among many in Roscommon as Mayo’s age, stamina and resolve were called into question.
Fast-forward to the dying minutes in Croke Park on Monday evening and Roscommon fans, shell-shocked by events on the field below, were urging referee Anthony Nolan to put them out of their misery. Mayo hadn’t gone away and Roscommon weren’t yet ready to join the top table.
It was devastating. Giant Mayo midfielders and forwards smothered the Roscommon kick-out as Aidan O’Shea’s aerial bombardment and physicality set the tone early on. ‘Men against boys’ was how some in the press box described it. It was hard to argue.
Roscommon’s inexperience and naivety was apparent for the goals as Keith Higgins danced through the back-line on two separate occasions. Roscommon take pride in their football but there are times when the dark arts are required at the business end of the summer and one wonders whether Higgins would have made it through a more seasoned defence without being stopped in his tracks.
It was a humbling lesson for both players and management but we must not forget the progress that has been made this year. Connacht Championships don’t come along very often and this is still a young team. Humbling defeats are part and parcel of the learning curve. All the top teams have been there, Mayo included.
While Tuesday morning won’t have been easy for Roscommon supporters it’s also important to remember the effect Monday’s defeat will have on young Roscommon players. They too had to report to work this week and they will also have to lift themselves for the club championships in the next couple of weeks.
The drubbing on Monday will live long in the memory but hopefully one day it will be looked back on as a positive turning point for those young footballers. As manager, Kevin McStay, said in the aftermath of last Monday’s defeat, this young panel can now continue their development away from the unforgiving spotlight of Allianz Division One.