Mayo and Roscom­mon come to a neighbourly truce

Rosssies will fancy their chances in re­play, which will be Mayo’s sev­enth tie

The Irish Times - Monday - Sport - - Front Page - Ian O’Rior­dan at Croke Park

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.

Sev­enth game

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.

Off stage

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.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: TOMMY GREALY/INPHO

Roscom­mon’s Ciarain Murtagh scores a goal de­spite the ef­fort of Roscom­mon goal­keeper David Clarke and Colm Boyle

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