FBD Insurance Connacht Senior Football League
Ian Cooney at Elverys MacHale Park, Castlebar
A first win against Mayo at senior level in Castlebar since 1986 was tempered by the reality that it’s only January. But there was a bountiful supply of encouragement among Roscommon supporters as they exited MacHale Park on Sunday evening. Their team had bossed Mayo in so many departments to the extent that a five-point success didn’t flatter them.
Seven days earlier, NUI Galway bullied Roscommon when the game was in the balance. John Evans probably highlighted that point to his players in explicit terms during the week. It had the desired effect, stoking the fires and enabling Roscommon to play with pride and purpose.
“I take it back to the last two or three weeks. They’ve trained extremely hard and (as a result) they were tired against NUI Galway. Everyone could see it. People were saying that we had gone back and had no interest, and that hurt us. We kept our powder dry and said that if we were going to do something about it, we were going to do it down here,” he explained afterwards.
From the opening exchanges, there was always the sense that this trip to the home of Mayo football was going to be different. The visitors were sharper and punctured numerous holes through the heart of the Mayo defence when they ran directly at last year’s beaten All-Ireland semi-finalists. Only the tendency to kick possession away when it was directed towards the full-forward line was frustrating.
Diarmuid Murtagh’s wonderfully-taken 20th minute goal was the difference between the sides at half time but Roscommon never looked like losing their lead after the break. The second half turned into a battle with players squaring up to each other on numerous occasions. But, crucially, Roscommon never held back. Players, especially the younger ones, met fire with fire and the disjointed nature of the half suited the side with the lead.
Yet Roscommon managed to play some terrific football as well. Players taking possession at speed and creating overlaps procured some cracking scores. Murtagh was at his brilliant best, kicking some audacious points. When Mark Nally added a second goal when he intercepted Colm Boyle’s pass in the 45th minute, there would be no way back for the home side.
“It was a good game, a tough game. We played some lovely football and we could have scored more. Apart from the frees, Mayo only scored two points from play. The players themselves had to do a bit of searching during the week but there’s a good few leaders there.
“I praised the students (NUI Galway) last Sunday, and rightly so. I wasn’t going to criticise our lads because they’ve worked extremely hard. You could see what they could do with a break. There was great vitality and great energy today. They worked for each other. Coming down here to MacHale Park isn’t easy,” pointed out Evans.
Roscommon posted the opening score without a Mayo player touching the ball inside 30 seconds when Ciaran Cafferky, who was excellent throughout, pointed from an acute angle.
Murtagh tagged on a free when he was fouled off the ball by Chris Barrett. Then Brian Murtagh was denied a goal by a great save from Mayo netminder Kenneth O’Malley following a flowing move involving Ciarán Murtagh and Senan Kilbride. It was a sign of things to come.
Donie Smith went for goal when he should have pointed but Cafferky was fouled soon afterwards, which procured Ciaran Murtagh’s opening point of the afternoon.
Mayo finally found some traction in the 11th minute when Seamus O’Shea was fouled by Ian Kilbride. Jason Doherty was on hand to open Mayo’s account from a free. Then Doherty fired over a fine score after Niall Carty’s attempt for a point had dropped short down the other end of the field.
But the goal that Roscommon deserved finally arrived in the 20th minute. Careless finishing had been a feature of Roscommon’s opening two games but Diarmuid Murtagh bucked the trend. Senan Kilbride’s free near the right sideline found Ciaran Murtagh and he set up his younger brother, who finished emphatically.
The same player arced over a wonderful effort from the left wing two minutes later before Ciaran Murtagh’s 23rd minute free pushed Roscommon 1-5 to 0-2 ahead.
Two frees from Doherty stopped the rot for Mayo but Enda Smith responded with a brilliant run that was adorned with a clever finish. But Kevin McLoughlin posted a much-needed score for Mayo soon afterwards. It was the second and last time the home side would raise a white flag from open play. There was still time for McLoughlin to tag on another free to leave his side trailing by 1-6 to 0-6 at the break.
Roscommon never wilted in the second half. Ciaran Murtagh signalled intentions with a good point on the turn. Enda Smith had a chance to finish off the opposition but his low effort was brilliantly kept out by O’Malley.
There was no flow to Mayo’s play and a number of mini melees didn’t help their cause. While McLoughlin continued to punish Roscommon indiscipline, Evans’ men continued to manufacture some eyecatching scores for Donie Smith and Cafferky.
When Nally showed great composure to drive the ball into the corner of the net, after he intercepted Boyle’s misplaced pass, Roscommon were home and hosed. Another outrageous effort from Murtagh and a fine score from Enda Smith soon followed as confidence levels continued to flourish.
Alan Freeman, who improved things for Mayo when introduced, dispatched a penalty to the net when he was fouled by Ronan Stack, a tackle that resulted in a black card for the Brigid’s player.
But Roscommon’s superiority was never in doubt and a first win in MacHale Park in 28 years was complimented by the news that they had also done enough to reach a second FBD League final in succession on Sunday next.
“I’m proud to be associated with that (first win in Castlebar since 1986). It’s an indication of our intentions but it’s still January. We won’t be getting carried away. The most important game is against Cavan in two weeks’ time. We were in the FBD League final last year and we played horribly bad. We’ll build on today and see where it takes us,” vowed Evans.
Sunday’s match programme cost €1 and contained four pages. Yet it is already an unexpected collector’s item.
ROSCOMMON: D. O’Malley; S. McDermott, N. Carty, N. Collins; B. Murtagh, N. Daly, C. Cafferky (0-2); I. Kilbride, M. Healy; M. Nally (1-0), D. Smith (0-1), E. Smith (0-2); D. Murtagh (1-4, two frees), S. Kilbride, C. Murtagh (0-3, two frees). Subs used: R. Stack for B. Murtagh (48 mins), R. Daly for Stack (52 mins, black card), F. Kelly for I. Kilbride (55 mins).
MAYO: K. O’Malley; C. Barrett, D. Vaughan, L. Keegan; C. Boyle, S. Coen, D. Drake; S. O’Shea, B. Moran; K. McLoughlin (0-6, five frees), M. Lyons, D. O’Connor; E. Varley, J. Doherty (0-4, three frees), D. Coen. Subs used: A. Freeman (1-0, a penalty) for Lyons (35 mins), K. Rogers for Drake (44 mins), C. Crowe for Coen (47 mins), M. Ronaldson for Boyle (47 mins), J. Gibbons for Moran (49 mins)
Wides: Roscommon – 4; Mayo – 6.
Yellow Cards: Roscommon – Cafferky (34 mins), D. Murtagh (39 mins), Nally (39 mins); Mayo – Keegan (39 mins), Boyle (39 mins), Ronaldson (56 mins)
Black Cards: Roscommon – Stack (52 mins); Mayo – none.
Red Cards: Roscommon – none; Mayo – none.
Referee: E. O’Grady (Leitrim).
Player of the Match: Diarmuid Murtagh (Roscommon). In what was a proud day for the Murtagh family with three brothers on the starting 15, Diarmuid put the icing on top of the cake with a sublime performance. His 20th minute goal showcased the clinical edge that Roscommon had been lacking in recent games. His two points from play were of the highest order but it was simply his ability to get stuck in that riled Mayo.
Seán McDermott, Neil Collins and Ciaran Cafferky were excellent in defence. Ian Kilbride and Mark Healy held their own at midfield. The Smith brothers showed flashes of class up brilliance and Mark Nally took his goal with confidence.
Goalkeeper Kenneth O’Malley, Donal Vaughan, Kevin McLoughlin and Jason Doherty (first half) were Mayo’s best players.