FBD Connacht Senior Football League
Ian Cooney at Ballyhaunis
Much to be enthused about, even if the final scoreline didn’t procure a rare deserved victory against Mayo at senior level. Roscommon were the better team, especially during the second half, but they didn’t take their chances when they were in the ascendancy. A couple of soft late frees handed Mayo a share of the spoils but John Evans will have been satisfied with the way the visitors went about their task and made life uncomfortable for last year’s defeated All-Ireland finalists.
Over the last few years, Roscommon teams have been undone by their lack of strength-in-depth, especially in the early part of the season when players are being pulled and dragged everywhere in an effort to please both their colleges and county. However, this season’s FBD League has indicated that Roscommon’s panel have bulked up their resources. It could be argued that Mayo fielded a far stronger team on Sunday but John Evans used the opportunity to give players like Paddy Brogan, Conor Daly, James McKeague, Donal Keane and Donie Smith a chance to impress. Seán Purcell made a welcome return from injury. Roscommon also played Laois in a challenge on Friday night, a game they lost 0-13 to 0-9, so it’s fair to say that Evans has given every player available to him a fair crack of the whip.
At the moment, there’s a ravenous workrate among his players. They seem to be enjoying their football again, although the lack of killer instinct and poor free-taking up front remains a worry. Midfield played second fiddle in the opening 30 minutes on Sunday but Michael Finneran led the revival in the second half.
The sight of Donal Shine departing the scene injured once more is also a cause for concern. Evans admitted afterwards that he expected the Clann na nGael player to be fit for the opening league game against Sligo on Sunday week but he must be praying that Shine does make it to ensure that Roscommon have a reliable free-taker on the field against the Yeats County.
There was nothing at stake on Sunday, given that Leitrim were already assured of a place in the final, but there was a competitive edge to proceedings. Mayo made the better start and raced into a three-point lead inside four minutes with points from Aidan O’Shea, Jason Doherty and Seamus O’Shea. When Mayo ran at Roscommon, the visitors’ defence struggled but Evans’ men slowly worked themselves into proceedings, helped by Donal Keane’s sixth minute point. The Fingallians player was named at corner-forward but he did most of his work further out the field. Indeed he did his cause no harm with an impressive display, spearheading the workrate that was the highlight of the Roscommon performance.
A sweetly-struck free from Shine reduced the arrears to one point in the ninth minute. Richie Feeney fed the supporting Keith Higgins for a nice score in the 16th minute. Then a wild boot from Cathal Dineen was penalised and Alan Murphy made no mistake to open up a 0-5 to 0-2 advantage for the home side.
Roscommon needed to respond and they did by finishing the half strongly. A perceptive pass by Donie Smith released Shine and his shot whizzed over the bar when the goal was on.
The visitors hit the front in the 28th minute when Fintan Cregg’s probing pass released Cathal Cregg in behind the defence and he goaled calmly to edge his side in front. The same player added a free moments later when Keith Higgins was penalised for overcarrying.
Seamus O’Shea ensured that the home side finished the half on a high with a good team score to leave Mayo trailing by a point at the break, 1-4 to 0-6.
Kevin Higgins should have extended Roscommon’s advantage in the early stages of the second half but he fisted wide. Then Geoffrey Claffey had to be alert at the other end to claw away a fisted effort from Lee Keegan.
Mayo did draw level in the 35th minute when some patient play yielded a sweet point for Aidan O’Shea. But Donie Smith showed his class in the 42nd minute when he grasped Fintan Cregg’s free and pointed off his right foot under pressure.
Roscommon were dominating now but changes went abegging. Scott Oates, Smith and two frees from Cathal and Fintan Cregg didn’t yield points. Michael Finneran did find the target from 40 metres but Donal Vaughan raided upfield and bisected the posts in equally impressive fashion.
But Roscommon looked to have grabbed the bragging rights when Paddy Brogan’s delivery from the right ring was brilliantly fielded by Fintan Cregg who pointed. There was a final kick in Mayo, however, when two high deliveries resulted in two frees for Alan Murphy.
The referee’s call against Niall Daly in the 60th minute was particularly harsh but the end result won’t have bothered his manager. Results will only matter when Sligo come to town on February 1st.
MAYO: D. Clarke; G. Cafferkey, S. McHale, K. Rogers; K. Higgins (0-1), D. Vaughan (0-1), C. Boyle; A. O’Shea (0-2), S. O’Shea (0-2); K. McLoughlin, R. Feeney, L. Keegan; A. Murphy (0-3, all frees), A. Freeman, J. Doherty (0-1). Subs used: C. Barrett for McHale (27 mins), B. Moran for S. O’Shea (37 mins), R. Gallagher for Keegan (37 mins), M. Conroy for Doherty (37 mins), T. Cunniffe for Cafferkey (47 mins).
ROSCOMMON: G. Claffey; P. Brogan, N. Carty, C. Daly; S. Purcell, N. Daly, J. McKeague; M. Finneran (0-1), K. Higgins; C. Dineen, F. Cregg (0-1), C. Cregg (1-1, one free); D. Smith (0-1), D. Shine (0-2, one free), D. Keane (0-1). Subs used: S. Oates for Shine (28 mins), N. Collins for Purcell (half-time), D. Keenan for Dineen (37 mins), D. Hoey for Keane (53 mins).
Wides: Mayo – 6; Roscommon – 9.
Yellow Cards: Mayo – Doherty (15 mins); Roscommon – Finneran (23 mins), Collins (40 mins).
Red Cards: Mayo – none; Roscommon – none.
Referee: R. McBrien (Leitrim).
Player of the Match: Niall Carty (Roscommon). The Pearses full-back was very solid throughout and has made the number 3 jersey his own. His energy is infectious and he kept Alan Freeman under wraps on Sunday.
Niall Daly, Neil Collins and Michael Finneran in the second half, Kevin Higgins, Donal Keane and Cathal Cregg also did well. Donie Smith showed some nice touches in what was his first competitive start at senior level.
Aidan and Seamus O’Shea gave Mayo a platform at midfield in the opening half but they were less effective after the break. Donal Vaughan was excellent at centre-back, while Richie Feeney also had his moments. Michael Conroy won some crucial ball in the final five minutes when introduced.