We’re not yet safe but neither are we a spent force. Roscommon came into this afternoon’s League Division One match at a waterlogged Hyde Park seeking to bury us but instead we showed them the mountain they’ll have to climb if they really want to compete with the big beasts of Gaelic football. It was far from a perfect performance from us but it was in every sense a sweet, sweet win.
The barrage of commentary on social media in the hours (and days) leading up to today’s game about the Hyde Park pitch was, I have to admit, getting on my goat a bit this morning. Surely it couldn’t be that bad? And are we really that precious that we should be turning our noses up at playing a League match in March there?
Once I’d had a right look at the pitch myself, though, and, in particular after the match got underway on it, I could see what all the kerfuffle was about. A large volume of surface water was lying on the pitch and the longer the match went on, the more obvious it became that the bloody swamp was unplayable. There’ll be some crack next weekend if they make the Dubs line out on it.
From the off, we took to the atrocious conditions far better than our high-flying neighbours. We got a lock on the middle third right from the start and they hardly won a single ball in this area in the first half. As a result, the ball hardly entered our half of the pitch during the first quarter but our inability to turn this early dominance into scores soon had the large travelling support in the 12,000 or so attendance getting restless.
We were three points to the good after 15 minutes. Evan Regan got us going with a point from play, Robbie Hennelly thumped over a ’45 and Conor O’Shea then hit over a nice one from play. But with the wind at our backs it was the amount of chances we were squandering that was of growing concern. By half-time the wide count was up at nine.
Alan Freeman, who lined out at 12 instead of Conor Loftus (with Donal Vaughan starting instead of Shane Nally at wing-back the other change from the named 15) but went into full-forward with Aidan O’Shea playing at centre-forward, popped over a free to put us four clear.
A full 18 minutes were on the clock before the home side opened their account, a point from play by Conor Devaney. Conor O’Shea then went for goal when he probably should have been content with a white flag. From the resultant ’45 Robbie had the umpire reaching for that flag. Ciaran Murtagh and Freezer then traded pointed frees.
The Rossies got the better of things in the closing minutes of the first half. Another Murtagh free, followed by a point from play by the same player, cut our lead to just two points at the break. After the mauling they’d suffered out the field for virtually the entire half, Roscommon would doubtless have been delighted to be only two adrift at that stage. And they’d have the wind behind them in the second half as well.
Within a few minutes of the restart, though, we at last made all that dominance pay dividends. Alan Freeman’s placed ball opened our second half account and then Evan Regan bagged 1-1 inside a minute. The goal was a wonderful solo effort, albeit one that involved him overcarrying twice before he stuck the ball in the net. Here, judge for yourself:
— Just GAA Things (@justgaathings) March 27, 2016
Paddy Durcan had replaced Donal Vaughan at the break and he followed up Evan’s pointed free with a nice point from play after a swift upfield move. Ger Cafferkey had limped off by then, though, with Stephen Coen coming on for him.
We continued to turn the screw. Another Evan free hoisted us nine clear and it looked then that we were going to emerge from this mudbath as the most decisive of victors.
Alan Freeman’s afternoon was ended with a black card – the incident occurred on the far side of the pitch, I’ve no idea what it was for – and Alan Dillon came on for him. A big roar had gone out around the place just before then when Cillian O’Connor made his first appearance of the year, replacing Conor O’Shea.
There was only 12 minutes of normal time left to play when Roscommon finally managed to get their first score of the second half but once they got going they quickly brought some life back into the proceedings. Sub Diarmuid Murtagh got that point and he got the goal just afterwards too, the Rossie support at last getting something tangible to shout about.
Now we were on the defensive. With our hold around the middle finally loosened, the home side poured forward in search of the scores they needed to pull the fat from the fire.
Further points into the hospital end – from Murtagh and Devaney – cut the gap back to just three. Time was up but with four minutes of injury time added on there was still time for a sensational denouement.
It didn’t come, though, as we once again steadied things around the middle and broke forward for one last attack of our own. Once again Evan Regan wriggled clear but this time he was floored within scoring range.
The Rossie support was already streaming from the ground as Cillian settled to take the free. The Ballintubber man proceeded to mark his very welcome return with a delicious outside of the boot strike to seal the four-point win.
With results elsewhere also going our way today, all of a sudden our chances of holding onto our Division One status looks a whole load better tonight. We’re still not there but our destiny is now firmly in our own hands and a win at home against already-relegated Down next Sunday should see us to safety.
I mentioned yesterday that above all what we needed to see today was a fully committed performance. Well, we certainly got that today with strong shifts put in all over the sodden pitch.
For me, chief among those were Robbie Hennelly, Ger Cafferkey (whom we really missed once he’d hobbled off), Colm Boyle, Paddy Durcan, Tom Parsons, Seamus O’Shea, Diarmuid O’Connor, Aidan O’Shea (great to see him operating to such effect further away from the opposition goal) and, in particular, Evan Regan.
It was great too to see Cillian O’Connor back in action once more – I’ve always maintained that we’re simply not the same team in his absence and with him back in action we’re going to be a whole load more potent in attack. And with Keith Higgins due back shortly, not to mention the reintegration of the Castlebar contingent, things are starting to look up for us as we head towards the summer. No, we’re not done yet. Far from it.
Mayo: Robbie Hennelly (0-2, ‘45s); Brendan Harrison, Ger Cafferkey, Chris Barrett; Lee Keegan, Colm Boyle, Donal Vaughan; Tom Parsons, Seamus O’Shea; Diarmuid O’Connor, Aidan O’Shea, Alan Freeman (0-3, frees); Evan Regan (1-3, two frees), Jason Doherty, Conor O’Shea (0-1). Subs: Paddy Durcan (0-1) for Vaughan, Stephen Coen for Cafferkey, Cillian O’Connor (0-1, free) for Conor O’Shea, Alan Dillon for Freeman (black card), David Drake for Diarmuid O’Connor, Jason Gibbons for Doherty.
Who was our MOTM against Roscommon?
- Evan Regan (39%, 218 Votes)
- Seamus O'Shea (27%, 147 Votes)
- Tom Parsons (9%, 50 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (5%, 26 Votes)
- Ger Cafferkey (3%, 18 Votes)
- Alan Freeman (3%, 15 Votes)
- Colm Boyle (2%, 13 Votes)
- Brendan Harrison (2%, 10 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (2%, 10 Votes)
- Lee Keegan (2%, 10 Votes)
- Chris Barrett (1%, 7 Votes)
- Robbie Hennelly (1%, 6 Votes)
- Alan Dillon (1%, 6 Votes)
- Jason Gibbons (1%, 5 Votes)
- Conor O'Shea (1%, 4 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (1%, 3 Votes)
- Cillian O'Connor (0%, 2 Votes)
- Donal Vaughan (0%, 1 Votes)
- Jason Doherty (0%, 1 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (0%, 1 Votes)
- David Drake (0%, 1 Votes)
Total Voters: 554