A week is a long time, it would appear, in U20 football.
Just eight evenings on from our shootout win over defending All-Ireland champions Galway, our U20s were tonight comprehensively turned over by a hungry, hard-working Roscommon team. We were on top early on but failed to register that dominance on the scoreboard and when the Rossies took over they put us to the sword with ease.
They won by seven points at the finish, on a scoreline of 2-11 to 1-7. It’s their first provincial crown at this grade since it shifted to U20. They last won at U21 level in 2015 and, taking two age grades together, it’s their tenth Connacht title in all.
First off it’s only right to congratulate Roscommon on their impressive victory tonight. They won all the big battles at MacHale Park this evening and were full value for their seven-point win, a margin that, to be honest, flattered us.
At the first water break there was no hint of the meltdown we were going to experience later in the game. We led by three points to no score then but we should have been further ahead after an opening quarter we’d comprehensively dominated.
Our shooting was hard to understand. Time and again, when ostensibly aiming at the posts, we instead ballooned the leather Bezos-like towards space, more than once when the shooter was under no obvious pressure. There are no marks for extra altitude and no credit at all for efforts sailing wide.
We’d shot a total of thirteen wides by the finish but, then again, so did they. We may have cancelled each other out on that metric but the same certainly wasn’t the case in relation to scores taken.
We hit four wides in the opening quarter, while our scores came from Jack Carney, Jack Mahon (a mark) and Connell Dempsey, the latter from a free off the ground well out to the left. We were also denied a goal in what was, on second view, a fairly questionable, albeit marginal, square ball call.
The visitors sat back early on and we laboured to break them down. Instead when we hit the fifty we resorted to lateral handpassing – surely the Gaelic football equivalent of scratching your head as you seek inspiration about what to do next – with the attack petering out.
By half-time the tenor of this contest had altered. Roscommon went in a point ahead, having emerged from their shell with intent in the second quarter, with five points on the spin putting them two clear.
It was a lead they wouldn’t lose from then to the finish but, while this was a wake-up call for us, things didn’t look overly ominous at that stage. We’d loads of ball but we definitely needed some better ideas about what to do with it.
Jack Carney’s point on the stroke of half-time was our first for twenty minutes and it reduced the gap to one at the break. Our wide count of nine at the half-way mark told its own story, though we still had no idea what an unpleasant tale it was going to turn out to be for us.
That became clear over the course of an increasingly calamitous second half. After Connell Dempsey knocked over a fine point two minutes after the restart we failed to score again for in excess of another twenty minutes.
Connell’s point had cut the gap to just one but our next point, scored by Owen McHale, came five minutes from the end of normal time and it reduced the visitors’ lead to ten points. In that barren spell for us, the Rossies had rightly rumbled us.
We had a shout for a free in the lead-up to their first goal. From a restart Conor Dunleavy stooped to take possession rather clumsily and he was bundled off the ball in short order by the excellent McDermott who found the net with ease.
We were thrown a lifeline soon after when we were awarded what looked like a very soft penalty. The Roscommon full-back stood his ground as a high ball we’d pumped in – yet another one – was falling back to earth. The ref adjudged Walsh to have impeded our man and so as well as the spot-kick the Roscommon player was off for ten minutes on a black card.
Jack Mahon’s penalty was hit with little conviction and the ‘keeper saved with ease. It was hard not to conclude that justice had been served there.
Seven down at the second water break, our goose was already well cooked. It got worse when Fitzpatrick rifled home their second goal after Ryan Baynes was expertly stripped of the ball while trying to break out of defence, the gap between the teams now in double digits.
We put a gloss on the scoreline when Connell Dempsey emphatically dispatched our second penalty to the net. This one was kosher – Paddy Heneghan got wrapped in the large square after he’d claimed possession – but by now it was a case of too little, way too late.
It was, on this sweltering summer’s day, in Roscommon that the hottest temperature in the country was recorded and the young Rossies certainly proved too hot to handle for large stretches tonight. For us, it’s the end of the road in this year’s U20 Championship, for Roscommon it’s now a tilt at All-Ireland glory. Good luck to them in their endeavours there and commiserations to our lads on their Championship exit tonight.
Mayo: Ronan Connolly; Seán Holmes (0-1), Ruairí Keane, Donnacha McHugh; Conor Flynn, Ryan Baynes, Aidan Cosgrove; Conor Dunleavy, Jack Carney (0-2); Ethan Henry, Conor Reid, Connell Dempsey (1-2, penalty goal and a free); Ultan O’Reilly, Frank Irwin, Jack Mahon (0-1, mark). Subs: Paddy Heneghan for O’Reilly, Dylan Thornton for Reid, Ewan Duffy for McHugh, Owen McHale (0-1) for Cosgrove, Rory Morrin for Mahon.