Mayo and Roscommon come to a neighbourly truce
Rosssies will fancy their chances in replay, which will be Mayo’s seventh tie
You know what they say about seeing and believing. You can’t have one without the other, and after staring both victory and defeat in the face, both these teams will probably feel like they ended up in some sort of Promised Land.
That will actually lead them both back to Croke Park again next Monday, the August bank holiday, after this all-Connacht All-Ireland quarter-final played out in a steadily exciting rhapsody that simply refused to be decided on the day. A neighbourly truce seemed justifiable to both.
Still, Mayo will certainly feel they could just as easily be preparing to play Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final, having failed to convert four scoring chances at the death – at least one of which would surely have provided the winner.
But that belief, which has served them so well in the past – they’re still chasing a seventh consecutive All-Ireland semi-final, after all – couldn’t get them over line this time. Is the chalice running dry?
But then, Roscommon can feel they too could be pondering Kerry already had they managed to believe a little more in themselves after a dream start, which had them seven points up – 2-2 to 0-1 –after just 13 minutes. They soon woke up to the reality of the contest, though, as Mayo shot the next 1-6 without reply, most of which was steered by the brilliant Leroy Keegan.
Keegan, switching to midfield – in a direct match-up on Enda Smith – was by far Mayo’s standout player on a day too few others stood up. As the game wore on – at times lacking in quality, but never in spirit or tempo – both teams flirted with their own destiny, although Mayo were the team in front as the finish line approached, only for Roscommon substitute Donal Smith to boldly equalise with a high-pressure free into the Hill 16 end from out close to the Cusack Stand.
The clock read 73 minutes – with another additional three to play.
Then Mayo did what Mayo do best and went frantically in search of a winner. Cillian O’Connor had shot wide just prior to Smith’s free, and then shot wide again. He then took his chance with a free from outside the 45m line, only then to fall short, and still he had another shot, which again drifted left, their ninth wide of the second half.
O’Connor finished with 0-3, two frees, clearly not at his best. Younger brother Diarmuid failed to score, and truth is Mayo found themselves overly reliant once again on Andy Moran up front, and Keegan elsewhere.
Keegan was like electricity in the first half, scoring 1-3 to help cancel out Roscommon’s quite amazing head start. Later, when Smith moved to full forward, Keegan tracked back more to cover him, which ended his attacking role.
Aidan O’Shea will also know he didn’t exert his usual influence, although he did make one big interception towards the end, without which David Murray would have been through on goal. Unlike in recent games the Mayo bench didn’t have the desired impact either. The replay will be their seventh game of the summer, and at this stage both the mental and physical toll has to be a worry for manager Stephen Rochford.
Not so much for Roscommon manager Kevin McStay, who will relish this second shot knowing that this was a game that towards the end was drifting away from them. Still, Mayo only scored four points in that second half, including two from Paddy Durcan, and the Roscommon defence, marshalled by Niall Kilroy in the sweeper role, did almost everything that was asked of them.
The match was played in between bright sunshine and spilling rain, and a double-header attendance of 65,746, and the prize of an All-Ireland semi-fi- nal appeared to make both teams nervy. Particularly Roscommon, playing in just their fourth All-Ireland quarter-final, and seeking a first semi-final since 1991.
The game featured a startling 56 turnovers – the damp pitch only partly explains that. Roscommon enjoyed marginally more possession, too, but beyond that exciting opening, they didn’t appear to have the belief to truly bring their game to Mayo.
It made for an utterly relieved end for both teams, Roscommon enjoying the last counter-attack but at that point hanging on more in suspense than belief.
That is where experience normally counts, and Mayo – been here, done this – certainly looked poised to land the winner. Still they seem to gravitate towards an end result like this, having found themselves 2-2 to a point down after 12 minutes. They got themselves level again on 25 minutes and went into the break two points up, but that was the biggest distance between both teams from then until the end.
The problem for Roscommon is that after scoring those two brilliant goals in the first 12 minutes, they then walked off stage at the sheer fright of it.
That first goal was a quite magical lob from Fintan Cregg, which dropped almost calmly into the Mayo net on nine minutes. Three minutes later, Diarmuid Murtagh sweetly laid off to his brother Ciaran, who this time hammered the Mayo net from close range.
Roscommon didn’t score again until the 35th minute, with a free from Ci ar an Murtagh.
Meanwhile, Mayo had gone into assault mode, started by Keegan’s solo run from midfield and to fire home their goal, albeit partly directed into the net by Niall McInerney. Keegan scored three more points as well in that half, and scores from Colm Boyle and Moran helped draw them level, on 25 minutes
The biggest factor in the second half was belief – or rather lack of it. Roscommon came out and scored the first three points and then backed off again, as if somehow fearful of a Mayo team they haven’t beaten in the Championship since 2001.
For Mayo, too, that belief appeared to waver, even when Paddy Durcan kicked them a point clear on 68 minutes, 1-12 to 2-8. Once Smith levelled it up again it felt as neither team could believe what was unfolding before their eyes, and simply drew blank.
The obvious talk at Roscommon training over the next week will be how to deliver a more consistent game. Enda Smith knows he has more to offer, and possibly the Murtagh brothers too, and with a little more composure they might well have landed a few more of their scoring chances in the second half which could have had them setting the pace at the finish, rather than chasing it. That their mental strength was tested and never once cracked at least kept them in it, and that’s good enough for now.
Roscommon’s Ciarain Murtagh scores a goal despite the effort of Roscommon goalkeeper David Clarke and Colm Boyle