I’m not long in the door from Hyde Park, to where I took a trip this afternoon to see Roscommon take on Leitrim for the right to play us in the Connacht semi-final in two weeks time. The match was a disappointment, with the Rossies winning at their ease in a contest that was utterly devoid of any spark.
Like, I’d say, many of the punters who turned up in bright warm sunshine at Hyde Park this afternoon I was expecting Leitrim to put up a bit of a battle in this game. Terry Hyland’s charges had given us a decent rattle in the FBD at the start of January, following which they won promotion from Division Four and earned a day out at Croke Park, so they should have gone into today’s match in good spirits. Roscommon, meanwhile, ended up getting relegated from the top tier and so might have been perceived as a bit vulnerable ahead of today’s fixture.
Not a bit of it. It soon became apparent this afternoon that this wasn’t going to be a contest between a Division Two side and a Division Three one, regardless of the fact that that’s where Roscommon and Leitrim will be plying their respective trades next spring. Instead, this was Division One against Division Four right down the line.
In fairness to Leitrim, they could have a had a goal right at the start today before the home team got going at all. Big midfielder Shane Moran – who operated inside at full-forward – claimed the first ball in and it took some nifty defending to prevent him from slipping it to the net.
But once Roscommon did get going, it was with intent. Five minutes passed before the game’s first score arrived but when it did it was significant, with another midfielder – this time Roscommon’s Shane Killoran – smashing the ball to the net.
The same player – named Man of the Match at full-time – did so even more emphatically ten minutes later. When Diarmuid Murtagh followed this up with a point right after, Roscommon were already six to the good and pulling away sharply.
Niall Kilroy’s goal shortly before half-time put the contest to bed. Roscommon went in twelve points in front and from then on they coasted through the game in the most comfortable fashion, winning by fourteen points, on a scoreline of 3-17 to 0-12, at the finish.
Leitrim battled gamely after the break but could make no headway through the deep-lying cover the home side kept in place from start to finish. At one point in the second half, with Leitrim on the attack, I spotted that every Rossie player bar one was back inside his own 50-yard line. This blanket was deployed repeatedly throughout the afternoon.
Another home tactic was the tactical foul, which meant Leitrim’s attacks repeatedly broke down well away from Roscommon’s goal. Leitrim got five points from frees for these kinds of fouls after the break but they didn’t manage to raise a single white flag from open play during the entire second half.
So, what will James Horan and his colleagues be mulling over before we lock horns with the Rossies in a fortnight’s time? For starters, I’d say their structured, defensive style will need to be looked at, as they’re certain to deploy the same approach in Castlebar.
It’s a standard enough blanket style, one that seeks to flood their backline with bodies, clog up the channels and force turnovers. Today it was Killoran, Daly and Harney who did most of the hard running once they’d got the ball back but I felt they were a bit one-dimensional in how they advanced. It was all pass-run, pass-run, pass-run, with little in the way of forty-yarder kick passes. It’d be hard to keep that tactic up all day against the likes of us.
While I can see this kind of tactic could frustrate the hell out of us – it’s worked very well against us for Galway over the last few years – ultimately it risks sending them down an unimaginative cul-de-sac. It only works if the other lot don’t get a run at you early on so that’s what we should be aiming to do in two weeks from now.
In that regard, I thought their backline – although far from stressed-tested today – offers opportunities for us. Although David Murray did a superb job on Ryan O’Rourke, Seán Mullooly at full-back looked a bit uncertain and I’m not sure how well their defence would fare when faced with the kind of sustained assault we’ll be aiming to unleash upon them.
Restarts weren’t a problem for them today either but it’ll be a different story if we push up and go full court on them. Going long shouldn’t be as profitable for them as it was today, what with Aidan O’Shea and Mattie Ruane to contend with in that sector.
Despite this, Roscommon are sure to come into the semi-final with a fair degree of confidence, having negotiated this potentially tricky opening test in the easiest manner possible. We’ll ask them all sorts of weightier questions the next day but today Anthony Cunningham’s charges showed that they’ll come to Castlebar with a few questions of their own that they’ll be aiming to pose of us. We’ll need to be well primed to ensure we’re in a position to provide the required answers then.