Walsh goal crucial as Rossies prevail in bizarre final
Electric Ireland Connacht Minor Football Final
Roscommon 1-5 Sligo 1-2
Roscommon produced an inspirational second-half display to win the Connacht minor football title in a match that was played in some of the worst weather conditions imaginable at the Connacht GAA Centre of Excellence on St. Stephen’s Day.
The gale-force winds fanned the icy torrential rain which swept down the field. Under normal circumstances the game would not have gone ahead, but with the Covid-19-related ban on inter-county travel coming into force the following day, both teams and the Connacht Council wanted to play the match. Huge credit is due to the players on both sides who did their best in near-impossible conditions.
In the semi-final against Galway, Roscommon had shown incredible intensity, energy and a massive work ethic throughout. In this final, it was really only in the second half, when facing the storm-like conditions, that Roscommon’s never-say-die attitude came to the surface. Once again they stifled the opposition and denied them scoring opportunities. Roscommon also grabbed an all-important goal and a point after the break, the key scores in what had to be one of the most bizarre finals that anyone present had ever attended.
Roscommon played with the aid of the gale-force conditions in the opening half and it was immediately apparent that any kind of good football would be virtually impossible in the circumstances.
Emmet Durney’s team missed a great goal chance in the 5th minute. Oisin Cregg passed to Conor Hand, who pulled first-time on the ball only for his effort to go wide. A minute later Oisin Cregg pointed from 45 metres to get Roscommon up and running on the scoreboard.
Sligo fought hard to deny Roscommon space and it was the 17th minute before the Rossies scored again, Eoin Colleran pointing a 20-metre free. Three minutes later the outstanding Conor Hand scored from play and the same player pointed deep into injury-time to leave Roscommon 0-4 to 0-0 in front at the break.
Given the severity of the weather, a four-point lead did not look nearly enough of a cushion for Roscommon. But from the resumption it was a different Roscommon team we saw. They hunted in packs and Sligo were given no space at all.
It was a full 15 minutes before we saw another score and, somewhat remarkably, it was Roscommon who got it. The ball was worked cleverly through the hands and after a series of short passes Conor Hand set Shane Walsh away and he fired low into the net. A goal against the storm was vital, and so it proved. After the final water break Hand got in close to pop over another Roscommon point and now they were eight ahead (1-5 to 0-0) with less than ten minutes to play.
Sligo did improve towards the end of the game. Canice Mulligan fired over their first point of the game in the 55th minute and the same player was on target again two minutes later. In the 59th minute a free from Dylan Walsh from 50 metres flew all the way into the Roscommon net – and now there was only three points between the teams. Roscommon’s defence held firm and they deservedly took the title, the win based on that brilliant second-half display.
Best for Roscommon were Caelim Keogh, Colm Neary and Alan McManus in defence, Oisin Cregg and Jamesie Greene at midfield, and up front Conor Hand was again outstanding. But it was a match in which every Roscommon player had to dig in and help the cause on an incredibly difficult day on which to play Gaelic football. It will, you suspect, be a quiz question in years to come…(e.g. what team won a provincial title on St Stephen’s Day?).
It was a fantastic day for Emmet Durney, his management team and the players – and a big boost for Roscommon underage football.