Comeback kids! Youngsters storm back to book final spot

Electric Ireland Connacht U-17 Football Championship Semi-Final

Roscommon 1-16    Galway 2-12

Roscommon’s minor footballers staged an astonishing comeback at Tuam Stadium on Saturday night last, wiping out an eleven-point deficit to pip Galway by a point, thus reaching the Connacht final against Sligo this weekend.

In over 30 years covering Roscommon GAA matches this was up there with the most incredible transformation this writer has seen from any team at inter-county level.

After 26 minutes, Roscommon trailed by 2-8 to 0-3 and looked like they were heading for a thrashing at the hands of a rampant home side. Three points before half-time were a boost, but it still looked an impossible task for the Primrose and Blue in the second half. They were out of form and a shadow of the side that had played so well against Mayo the previous week.

There were no changes in personnel at half-time, but Roscommon looked a completely different team after the break.

Having been listless and second best in almost every position in the opening 30 minutes, Roscommon were now first to every ball, tigerish in the tackle and sharp up front. Players like Colm Neary, Eden Kerins, Shane Walsh, Robert Heneghan, Ryan Conlon and Bobby Nugent emerged from their slumber as they set about reeling in the Tribesmen. The small but vociferous Roscommon following roared their approval. It was a scarcely believable transformation.

Roscommon had actually started the game well. Ryan Conlon could have had a goal after just ten seconds but his shot was saved by the Galway goalkeeper, Eamon McGrath, at the expense of a point. Indeed, Conlon was in again after only two minutes but McGrath denied him once more at the expense of a ’45.

With Daithi Kilcommins and Hugh Gavin in control at midfield, Galway took over completely and Roscommon were soon chasing shadows.  Galway’s first goal arrived in the 19th minute when Sean Birmingham tapped in at the far post after a great pass from Niall Mannion, and four minutes later, Eanna Monaghan, who was giving the Roscommon defence a torrid time, blasted home a brilliant second goal.

By the 26th minute it looked like Roscommon’s great win against Mayo the previous week would count for nothing. But those three Roscommon points before half-time from Bobby Nugent (a mark and a free) and Ryan Conlon, were to prove crucial.

The transformation was initiated by a much tighter defensive performance and the scores began to come. Five points on the spin from Nugent (three frees), Shane Walsh and DJ Hession saw the lead pared back to four by the 45th minutes and now it was game on.

Roscommon were even hit by a black card given to James McGreal in the 43rd minute but it didn’t seem to matter as Enda Nugent’s team drove on.

Then the goal that one felt Roscommon needed arrived in the 47th minute – and what a goal it was. A superb exchange of passes between Robert Heneghan and sub Rory Hester ended with Heneghan crashing a piledriver to the roof of the Galway net.

Galway did lift the siege with two points from Birmingham by the 50th minute but Roscommon now had the bit between their teeth. Walsh kicked a mighty point in the 54th minute and as the game slipped into injury-time, Nugent pointed twice (one free) to tie up the scores (1-14 to 2-11).

Nugent wasn’t finished yet and he kicked a wonderful lead point in the 62nd minute, and when Walsh followed up a minute later with another cracker, the comeback was complete.

There was further late drama when Galway were awarded a close-range free in the dying seconds but Eanna Monaghan’s well-struck shot flew over the bar (rather than under) and it was all over.

Roscommon followers, officials and anyone there on the night raced on to the field to hail the young heroes, hardly believing what they had just seen.

Now the big challenge for the Roscommon management will be to bring these players down to earth for the final. It will not be an easy task.

Roscommon: Sean Kelly; Daniel Casey, James Brady, Eden Kerins; James McGreal, Ethan O’Reilly, Colm Neary; Shane Walsh (0-3), DJ Hession (0-1); Senan Lambe, Ryan Conlon (0-2), Oisin O’Flaherty; Robert Heneghan (1-0), Shane McGinley (0-1, ’45), Bobby Nugent (0-9, 6 frees, one mark). Subs: Rory Hester for McGinley (40), Niall O’Donnell for O’Flaherty (61).

Galway: Eamon McGrath; Luc O’Connor; Jack Connolly, Darragh Jennings; Jack Folan (0-1), Jack Ramsey, Cormac Greaney (0-1); Daithi Kilcommins, Hugh Gavin; Glenn Kelly, Jack Nolan (0-2, 1 free), Jack Lonergan; Eanna Monaghan (1-4, 2 frees, 1 mark), Sean Birmingham (1-4, 2 frees), Niall Mannion. Subs: Colm Costello for Kelly (36), Ryan Kavanagh for Kilcommins (43), Darragh Lyons for Mannion (43), Eoin Brady for Jennings (53), Niall McGaurtan for Greaney (57).

Referee: Michael McGirl (Leitrim).