Roscommon’s U21s were in sparkling form for much of today’s All-Ireland football semi-final against Cork at a sun-kissed O’Moore Park in Portlaoise but although they did indeed end up booking their place in the final, relief rather than joy is likely to have been the dominant emotion in the dressing room afterwards.
Skating serenely towards a convincing win over the Munster champions, the Rossies coughed up three second half goals, with the final one – a 14-yard free crashed straight to the net by Dan MacEoin – momentarily pulling the Rebels level. There was still time for one final twist to this particular tale, though, as Cork’s Dan Ryan committed a technical foul by lifting the ball from the ground with his knees and MOTM Diarmuid Murtagh landed the winning score with the resultant free from way out under the stand (piece on this incident and video of the winning score are here).
It was rough justice on the young Rebels who’d fought back so bravely from a seemingly hopeless position with only ten minutes left to play but equally Roscommon would have been kicking themselves had they not clinched a contest in which they’d looked by far the better team for most of the hour. A bit more obduracy in defence would have made their task today far easier but it was their lethal attack, in which everyone from number 7 Ronan Daly up contributed to their winning total of 1-19 (Murtagh weighing in with ten points of that), that eventually saw them through to their second U21 decider in three years.
That final will be held over the May Bank Holiday weekend where Roscommon will have to contend with the might of Dublin. Mind you, the young Dubs were damn lucky to make it past Cavan in today’s second semi-final at Portlaoise in a low-scoring contest that was very different from the free-flowing shootout that had preceded it.
Cavan led this one for virtually the whole sixty minutes but it was Dublin’s profligacy they had largely to thank for this, with a succession of glory-hunting pot-shots from a number of Dublin players sailing harmlessly wide. I’m not sure what the Dubs’ final wide count was but it was at least 15 or 16 over the course of the hour.
Cavan’s cause wasn’t helped when their dangerman Joe Dillon was black-carded midway through the second half and as the half wore on you could sense that the Breffni lads wouldn’t have enough in the tank to make it over the line. Like at senior level, Dublin were able to bring on plenty of quality replacements off the bench and they kept coming in waves at the Ulster champions inside the last ten minutes.
This one was, like the day’s first semi-final, decided by a late free and although there was some angry jostling of the ref as he left the pitch afterwards, the free he gave for a foul on Dublin’s Gavin Ivory looked fair enough. Advantage was initially played but when Ivory pulled his kick wide under pressure, the ref called a free instead – which he was entitled to do – and senior player Cormac Costello made no mistake from close range to seal a rather undeserved semi-final win for the Liffeysiders.
Despite their less than impressive showing today, the young Dubs are still likely to be strong favourites to lift the county’s third U21 title in five years in next month’s final. On today’s evidence, however, Roscommon, who lost to the same opposition in the 2012 final at this level, should have no fears going into this one. If they play for the full hour the next day the way they did for most of today’s semi-final then it could well turn out that this All-Ireland title is one that’ll be staying west of the Shannon for another year.