FBD Insurance Connacht Senior Football League
Ian Cooney at MacHale Park, Castlebar
As the media hovered like vultures, waiting to swoop on Kevin McStay, Roscommon’s joint manager knew what was coming. Despite another accomplished performance by his side, the opening question was always going to revolve around the emotion attached to bringing a different team to Castlebar against his native Mayo, the county that opted against him to lead their flagship team in 2015. But, leaning against a wall at the entrance to MacHale Park’s tunnel, his relaxed tone nipped any potential recriminations in the bud.
“It’s so last year that we’ve moved on. Am I happy we won? Of course I am because I’m the team manager with Fergal (O’Donnell). I’m always happy to win. We want to win every match we play in,” he emphasised.
It wasn’t long before the questioning reverted to Roscommon’s performance — a merited three-point success and a hat-trick of victories against Mayo in the FBD League.
“I was generally happy. The effort was really good but there’s an awful lot to work on. There were too many errors and too much loose passing. The game was perfect for us and we got another six or seven players on the field. Everyone’s getting a shot at it and there will be another match for a few more of them next Sunday,” he explained.
Once Roscommon surged four points clear by the 12th minute, they kept Mayo at arm’s length. A fine defensive display, led by Niall McInerney and Seán McDermott, frustrated Stephen Rochford’s side for long periods. Cathal Cregg was a cut above anyone else in the forward line and it ensured that the visitors paraded the necessary firepower to keep their noses in front.
However, midfield didn’t win enough primary possession, despite another workmanlike performance from Ian Kilbride. Too many of Geoffrey Claffey’s kickouts also went astray. McStay acknowledged afterwards that Roscommon were trying to find ways to overcome obvious deficiencies at midfield.
“We’ll be talking a lot about it (midfield) after games. We just haven’t the size of players that Mayo have at this time. Certainly the one or two big lads we have, their conditioning isn’t good enough to throw them in yet. They’d only get swamped, so what’s the point? But you can still figure a way around midfield,” he felt.
Roscommon were full of enterprise early on and generally looked sharper all over the field. The movement of the ball was swift with players taking the ball at pace off the shoulder.
A surging run from Kilbride allowed Diarmuid Murtagh open the scoring in the fourth minute. The returning Neil Collins fisted a point soon afterwards. Then Murtagh worked a short ’45 with Fintan Cregg before the Elphin player manufactured the space to bisect the posts.
Another good point arrived in the 12th minute when Niall Daly unselfishly set up Cathal Cregg, who was in a better position, for a good score.
Up to this point, Mayo had been bystanders and full-back Kevin Keane soon followed Keith Higgins, who had retired with a knee problem in the fourth minute, into the treatment room with a shoulder injury.
But the home side did gain some traction when Conor Loftus pointed a free following a foul on Donal Vaughan in the 16th minute. Centre-forward Mark Ronaldson kept his balance to land another score five minutes later to close the gap to just two points.
Sloppy Roscommon defending allowed Jason Doherty to win possession back and teed up Keith Ruttledge who fisted a score.
But a crunching shoulder from Niall McInerney robbed Mayo in the 26th minute, and it set in motion a movement that finished with a point from Cathal Cregg. Then the Western Gaels player landed a cracking score from the right wing after being picked out by Senan Kilbride from a sideline kick.
There was still time for Loftus to register his second free of the afternoon, following a foul on Tom Parsons, to leave Mayo trailing by 0-6 to 0-4 at the break.
Two minutes into the second half, Ciaráin Murtagh nailed a free after a foul on Cregg. From the resultant kickout, Enda Smith scythed through the Mayo defence, combined with Fintan Cregg, and stretched the advantage to four points once more.
But Mayo kept plugging away and two points in a minute from Loftus (a free) and Jason Gibbons, a lovely effort with the outside of the boot, kept them in touch.
Murtagh and Loftus swapped frees before Senan Kilbride found the target from a tight angle. Then the St. Brigid’s player paved the way, with a deft handpass, for Niall Daly to grab an eyecatching score before Diarmuid Murtagh made it 0-12 to 0-7 from a free
Loftus embellished his reputation with a superb score from the right wing but Ciaráin Murtagh replied from a free after his brother Diarmuid made a spectacular catch on the edge of the square.
Mayo rallied with a brace of late frees from Jason Doherty but Roscommon had done more than enough to set up a repeat of last year’s FBD League final against Galway, something that wasn’t on McStay’s radar before the game.
“We hadn’t thought about playing in the final next weekend. We’ve trained hard, so we thought that today would be a little bit beyond us. I’m being truthful when I say that.
“We’ve more done than Mayo but we’re new to Division One. We have to hit the ground running. Mayo can take their time and ease themselves into it. Our first four or five matches in the division are critical in terms of how we’re going to negotiate the next three years,” he remarked.
For the moment, the start has been pretty encouraging.
ROSCOMMON: G. Claffey, S. McDermott, N. Collins (0-1), R. Stack; N. McInerney, N. Daly (0-1), C. Daly; E. Smith (0-1), I. Kilbride; F. Cregg (0-1), C. Murtagh (0-3, all frees), R. Daly; D. Murtagh (0-2, one free), S. Kilbride (0-1), C. Cregg (0-3). Subs used: B. Murtagh for N. Daly (48 mins), S. Oates for D. Murtagh (57 mins), K. Kilcline for F. Cregg (57 mins), G. Patterson for Stack (60 mins).
MAYO: R. Hennelly; G. Cafferkey, K. Keane, P. O’Hora; K. Higgins, C. Crowe, C. Boyle; T. Parsons, J. Gibbons (0-1); D. Vaughan, M. Ronaldson (0-1), D. McHale; K. Ruttledge (0-1), J. Doherty (0-2, both frees), C. Loftus (0-5, four frees). Subs used: L. Keegan for Higgins (4 mins), S. McHale for Keane (18 mins), D. O’Connor for Ruttledge (44 mins), S. Nally for Boyle (50 mins), B. Harrison for O’Hora (53 mins), B. Reape for Loftus (56 mins).
Wides: Roscommon – 3; Mayo – 3.
Yellow Cards: Roscommon – C. Cregg (60 mins); Mayo – Keegan (32 mins), O’Hora (41 mins)
Black Cards: Roscommon – none; Mayo – none.
Red Cards: Roscommon – none; Mayo – none.
Referee: J. Gilmartin (Sligo).
Attendance: 3, 845.
Player of the Match: Niall McInerney (Roscommon). On his first competitive start at senior level, McInerney produced an excellent display, snuffing out a number of Mayo attacks to frustrate the home side.
Seán McDermott, Ian Kilbride, Fintan Cregg, Cathal Cregg and Diarmuid Murtagh also did well at different stages for the visitors.
Conor Loftus impressed in Mayo’s forward line. Colm Boyle, Jason Gibbons and Tom Parsons also enjoyed their moments.