It was a case of another Mayo match, another second half collapse by a team in the Green and Red tonight at Kiltoom. We came into this Connacht U21 semi-final against Roscommon as slight favourites after our extra-time win over All-Ireland champions Galway last week and we justified this in the opening half, at the end of which we led by a point. However, just as happened to the seniors last Sunday, we were comprehensively blown away in the second half and ended up on the end of a decisive enough four-point defeat.
We suffered a blow before the action got underway at all when Danny Kirby was unable to take his place in the starting fifteen – due to a fractured thumb suffered at training last Sunday – with Aghamore’s Brendan Harrison starting instead of him. Roscommon had the edge at the outset where they led by four points to two after 10 minutes, our scores coming from Evan Regan and Aidan Walsh (free). Conor O’Shea got one from play for us but a Donie Smith free restored the home side’s two-point lead.
We gradually took over as the half went on, though, and four unanswered points – frees from Evan Regan and Cillian O’Connor (2) and another point from play by Conor O’Shea – propelled us briefly into the driving seat. We would have been even more in charge if an audacious pop at goal from over 30 yards out by Cillian – who’d spotted the ‘keeper stranded – had gone in but instead it was cleared off the line. The Rossies had the final say in the opening half, however, with a point by Niall Daly cutting the gap to the minimum before the half hour was up.
The home team also drew first blood after the restart when, after a patient build-up involving half a dozen passes, Donie Smith thumped over the equaliser. Soon after, Paul Mannion kicked a rather aimless free out the field where it was intercepted by Fintan Cregg who knocked it over to put the Sheepstealers back in front.
Ray Dempsey made his first change at this stage, with James Shaughnessy coming on for Brendan Harrison. The Claremorris man took up position at corner-forward, with Evan Regan moving out to half-forward.
Roscommon had us under more or less constant pressure for the next few minutes but they failed to add to their tally and instead it was us who scored next, Conor O’Shea with his third of the night getting us off the mark in the second half. Just before that score, Danny Kirby – broken thumb or no broken thumb – came on in place of Andrew Farrell and the Mitchels man joined Conor O’Shea in a two-man full-forward line.
Roscommon had another chance to reclaim the lead when David Gavin was penalised for touching the ball on the ground. Compton drove the free wide and another wide soon after by Shine was their ninth of the night. Another free, this time for a foul on Kilroy, gave the hosts another chance to pull ahead and this time they took it, with Smith notching his fourth point of the night.
Balla’s Conor Walsh then came on to replace Darren Coen, the Hollymount-Carramore player having failed to get into the action to any meaningful extent. Just after that, a long-range free by Cillian O’Connor just tailed off wide.
At the other end, Smith fed sub Oates who put it over to double Roscommon’s lead and seconds later Smith himself fielded a ball that seemed to be going wide and smashed it home for the night’s only goal. Another Rossie point followed and suddenly we found ourselves six down with time running out.
It was well into injury time when Cillian O’Connor, aiming for goal, had a free pushed over by the massed ranks on the Roscommon goal line and then James Shaughnessy pointed another free but it was all too little too late. Roscommon won by four and by the sounds of it were very deserving winners too.
So, after completing a provincial four-in-a-row between 2006 and 2009 (during which time – in ’06 – we also went all the way and won the All-Ireland) we’ve now followed it up with a hat-trick of Connacht losses, all to Roscommon. Indeed, under Ray Dempsey’s watch the U21s have failed to make it as far as the Connacht final in the past three years.
Sadly, all the hopes we may have had that those fine minors teams from a few years back would see us perform well at U21 level have now come to nothing. Instead, it’s back to the drawing board for us as, once again, we’re left to digest a wounding defeat.
Mayo: Paul Mannion; Michael Walsh, Niall Freeman, David Gavin; Caolan Crowe, Shane McDermott, Micheál Forde; Brendan Harrison, Danny Geraghty; Andrew Farrell, Aidan Walsh (0-1, free), Darren Coen; Evan Regan (0-2, one free), Cillian O’Connor (0-3, frees), Conor O’Shea (0-3). Subs: James Shaughnessy (0-1, free) for Harrison, Danny Kirby for Farrell, Conor Walsh for Darren Coen, Austin O’Toole for Regan.