THE events of last Sunday will be long forgotten when The Championship rolls around next summer but there was no mistaking the disappointment in the Mayo ranks as the players and management made their way off the field in Ballyhaunis last Sunday.
It may have been a ‘dead rubber’ FBD Connacht League match, with nothing at stake bar the bragging rights that go with any local derby, but Mayo have set high standards for themselves in recent years and this performance was not what they had hoped for.
Considering that James Horan selected nine of the team that started the All-Ireland Final, and a number of fringe players were looking to make an impression, it was easy to see why they were frustrated with their day’s work.
On a bitterly cold day, this familiar-looking Mayo team only clicked sporadically, were overpowered around the middle for long spells in the second half, and the starting forwards could only muster one point from play between them.
A third game in seven days was always going to take its toll on the likes of Keith Rogers, Lee Keegan and Alan Freeman, and they are training with May 19 in mind, but Mayo still left plenty of room for improvement ahead of the visit of Kerry on Sunday week next.
Two late frees from debutant Alan Murphy may have snatched a draw for the record books, but a wasteful Roscommon will be bitterly disappointed to have let their illustrious neighbours off the hook.
John Evans’ experimental side had recovered from a sluggish start to lead at half-time, and they held Mayo scoreless for twenty minutes of the second period.
Sheer hard work and graft, allied to some smart football from the likes of Niall Daly, Michael Finneran, Kevin Higgins and Donie Smith put Roscommon in the box seat coming down the home straight.
In fact, when Fintan Cregg outfielded Donal Vaughan and kicked them into a 1-7 to 0-8 lead on 58 minutes, Mayo seemed destined to leave empty-handed.
However, a combination of perseverance and two debatable decisions from referee, Ray McBrien, handed Alan Murphy two of the easiest frees he’ll ever kick for club or county.
A draw was scarcely what Mayo deserved and James Horan was left to lament the ‘basic mistakes’ and ‘inconsistency’ that dogged his team’s efforts.
These kind of games are mostly about the bigger picture though and, in that regard, it was informative to see Shane McHale’s composure at full-back until he retired injured, and the way newcomer Keith Rogers went about his business in the corner for the third game in a row.
The versatility of Keith Higgins, Donal Vaughan’s spirit of adventure, and the sheer power of the O’Shea brothers at midfield were also hard to miss.
On the flip-side the attack certainly missed the guile and creativity of Messrs Dillon and O’Connor, and the experiment of playing both Richie Feeney and Lee Keegan up front is likely to happen only in an emergency in future.
In terms of the minor details, Mayo started impressively and they played hard and fast early on to build up a 0-5 to 0-2 lead by the 20th minute.
Aidan O’Shea, Jason Doherty, Seamus O’Shea, Keith Higgins and Alan Murphy (free) all hit the target during that purple patch as Roscommon struggled to get going.
They actually went more than a quarter of an hour without a score as Mayo held them at arm’s length, but then came roaring back into contention with 1-2 in the space of four remarkable minutes.
Cathal Cregg’s well-taken goal in the 27th minute meant they were 1-4 to 0-6 up at half-time, and they bossed the game during the third quarter as Mayo began to fade alarmingly.
However, despite a lengthy scoring drought, the homeside hung on in there and managed to salvage something from a topsy-turvy day.
The serious business starts against Kerry.
D Clarke; G Cafferkey, S McHale, K Rogers; K Higgins (0-1), D Vaughan (0-1), C Boyle; A O’Shea (0-2), S O’Shea (0-2); K McLoughlin, R Feeney, L Keegan; A Murphy (0-3, 3fs), A Freeman, J Doherty (0-1).
Subs used: C Barrett for McHale (inj, 25m); M Conroy for Doherty, B Gallagher for Keegan, B Moran for S O’Shea (all 37m); T Cunniffe for Cafferkey (47m).
G Claffey; P Brogan, N Carty, C Daly; S Purcell, N Daly, J McKeague; M Finneran (0-1), K Higgins; C Dineen, F Cregg (0-1), C Cregg (1-1, 1f); D Smith (0-1), D Shine (0-2, 1f), D Keane (0-1).
Subs used: S Oates for Shine (inj, 20m); N Collins for Purcell (HT); D Keenan for Dineen (36m); D Hoey for Keane (52m).
Referee: R McBrien (Leitrim)