Connacht SFC semi-final
Mayo 1-16 Roscommon 0-13
‘It’s the hope that kills you’ is a famous old sporting quote, and it certainly applies to Roscommon football supporters this week as they ponder on a very disappointing day at Dr. Hyde Park last Sunday when Mayo swept past Anthony Cunningham’s men and into the Connacht final.
Following two excellent league displays against Armagh and Cavan, resulting in promotion to Division One, and with almost a full panel to call on, expectations were high that Roscommon could repeat last year’s championship win against Mayo and take their place in another Connacht decider. But in truth, Roscommon never got going on the day. Their performance was as flat as the atmosphere in Dr. Hyde Park as Mayo easily dealt with the disappointing home challenge.
In fact this game was over as a contest once Diarmuid O’Connor burst through in the 18th minute and arrowed a brilliant low shot past Colm Lavin to open up a 1-6 to 0-2 lead. Mayo led by six points at the break (1-8 to 0-5) but it could have been at least ten as the visitors had shot a number of bad wides in the second quarter. In fact Mayo had a whopping 32 shots on goal over the course of the game, a tally which is an indication of the control they exerted on proceedings throughout.
The second half was very frustrating from a Roscommon point of view. Mayo tightened their grip in the third quarter and by the 47th minute they led by nine points (1-12 to 0-6). Roscommon did respond with three unanswered points, but at that stage Mayo were already planning their trip to Salthill to face Galway this Sunday.
In no sector of the field did Roscommon match the intensity shown by their opponents. The O’Connor brothers – Cillian and Diarmuid – were outstanding, and always a threat. Chris Barrett and Lee Keegan comfortably dealt with the threat of Conor Cox and Cathal Cregg, and Kevin McLoughlin (a late call-up) showed his guile and experience throughout.
The key to the Mayo victory was the performance of their two wing-backs Eoghan McLaughlin and Paddy Durcan, who were the platform for almost every attack. Roscommon could not deal with their threat at any stage. Durcan in particular had another fantastic game. He linked brilliantly between defence and attack and scored two inspirational points.
It was a desperately frustrating day for Roscommon. Donie Smith was by far Roscommon’s best performer and it was puzzling to see him taken off. Cian McKeon also did well with a limited supply of the ball, while Sean Mullooly battled well against Aidan O’Shea. The Strokestown man was operating in a defence that was under pressure all through. Sub Diarmuid Murtagh scored a couple of excellent points late on, but it was all too little too late.
Roscommon were struggling in the middle of the field all through the game and as a consequence the attack had to survive on scraps. It is an indication of how the game went that David Clarke’s goal was not threatened even once. Roscommon needed a goal, particulary at the start of the second half, but the home attack never even got a sniff of a chance. At the final whistle, Mayo must have been as surprised as everyone else that they had won the match with so much to spare.
With a gentle breeze blowing towards the graveyard end, the teams traded points in the opening three minutes (Cillian O’Connor and Conor Cox). A tremendous point from Paddy Durcan and a second O’Connor free extended Mayo’s lead before Tadhg O’Rourke rounded off a good Roscommon move to narrow the gap to one in the 8th minute.
Thereafter, the signs were not good for Roscommon as Mayo began to dominate possession and attacked in numbers. Diarmuid O’Connor, Kevin McLoughlin and Cillian O’Connor all kicked points from play by the 15th minute. Three minutes later, Diarmuid O’Connor struck for that brilliant goal and already Roscommon were in trouble.
After the first water break Mayo continued to dominate, but they shot some bad wides. A couple of points from Donie Smith and another from Cian McKeon by the interval put a bit more respectability on the scoreboard from a Roscommon point of view (1-6 to 0-5).
It was clear that Roscommon needed to up the ante significantly on the resumption, but it was Mayo who continued to dominate. Four points, all from the boot of Cillian O’Connor (two frees), got James Horan’s men back on track, while Roscommon’s only reply was a converted free by Donie Smith. Now there were nine points between the teams.
To their credit Roscommon kept up their challenge, but for the final quarter there was never any suggestion that the home side could make any serious impression on the Mayo lead. Sub Diarmuid Murtagh did kick a couple of good points from play in the final five minutes and Cian McKeon completed the scoring in injury-time with a fine score. They merely had the effect of reducing the margin of defeat.
It was bizarre to see Roscommon and Mayo take the field for a Connacht semi-final in almost total silence, with none of the atmosphere and razzmatazz that is usually associated with these big games. It’s hard to know if the presence of a ‘home’ crowd would have lifted Roscommon sufficiently (and lead to a closer contest) but on the day they were very much second best to a good Mayo team who have rediscovered their mojo after their recent relegation in the league.
The harsh reality is that Roscommon were not at the races in this match – and Mayo won easily.