Mayo grind out result
WE will find out in due course whether this was just a badly-needed stress test on the road back to Croke Park or a warning that all may not be as it seems.
But, make no mistake about it, Mayo haven’t been asked too many harder questions in championship football at this early stage of the season under James Horan’s watch.
The unbridled celebrations of some of Mayo’s most senior players at the final whistle last Sunday gave a clear indication of just what this particular victory meant to them.
This was one that was hard-earned, and dug out by good, old-fashioned heart and soul.
Mayo weren’t at their best, the attack misfired for more than an hour, and mistakes and unforced errors pockmarked many of the individual performances.
And yet, they came out on the right side of the result. Surely that will count for something when bigger days and even bigger hurdles are to be jumped in the months ahead.
On a day when the thunder roared and the rain fell in sheets at times, Roscommon tested Mayo’s mettle from pillar to post and the Connacht champions’ had to call on all their experience, composure and winning habits to finally break their stubborn resistance.
Three points down with 61 minutes on the clock, and driven to distraction by Roscommon’s suffocating defensive set-up, Mayo’s battle-hardened side finished with a flourish to stumble across the line.
Inspired by the arrival of captain Andy Moran off the bench ten minutes into the second half, the winners kicked five of the last six points of an absorbing war of attrition to book their place in their fourth successive Connacht Final.
Roscommon were left heartbroken at the final whistle, their woes compounded by Finbar Cregg’s inability to lose two defenders when an equalising point seemed to be there for the taking.
A ‘delighted’ James Horan was making no efforts to hide his emotions afterwards.
“They went three or four ahead of us at one stage, they had momentum, they had the crowd and the wind, they had everything with them, it could have been easy to lie down a little bit,” admitted the Mayo manager.
“But the character and resolve the guys showed out there was excellent. We weren't playing well, we knew that, we were making poor decisions but we kept grinding away. From that point of view I'd be very happy.
“Our flow and movement wasn't near the standard we know, but the resolve they showed was really satisfying.”
Roscommon set their stall out early, defending en masse, and trying to hit an out-of-sorts Mayo on the break at every opportunity.
And even though the homeside failed to score for 29 minutes during a dour first half, Mayo were still only a solitary point ahead at the break: 0-4 to 0-3.
Ten wides from a variety of angles and positions didn’t help the visitor’s cause, but Roscommon’s well-organised and well-engineered gameplan was the major factor.
Jason Doherty and Kevin McLoughlin were their only scorers from play in that opening period, with two frees from Cillian O’Connor sandwiched in between.
Two well-taken points from Kevin Higgins and Senan Kilbride, allied to a trademark long-range free by Donie Shine (who retired with a knee injury during the third quarter) was all a cautious Roscommon could muster.
The spark a lacklustre match was crying out for arrived eight minutes into the second half when Roscommon wing-back Ciaran Cafferkey crashed in the only goal of the game.
It propelled the challengers into a 1-4 to 0-5 lead, and brought the home fans in the large crowd to their feet. Game on.
Mayo’s response was impressive; they upped the ante and hit three points in a row in five minutes from Cillian O’Connor and Kevin McLoughlin (two frees) to retake the initiative.
Once more Roscommon came roaring back and four points in quick succession from impact sub Diarmuid Murtagh (2), Senan Kilbride (free) and Mark Nally meant they were a goal ahead as the game swung for home.
It looked at that stage like this young Roscommon side were about to rewrite the history books, and beat their neighbours for the first time in the championship for 13 years.
But Mayo had other ideas and a string of scores from Andy Moran (2), Seamie O’Shea, Cillian O’Connor (free) and Kevin McLoughlin were enough to get the job done.
“We're delighted to get out of here today,” said James Horan. “I'd say we were a little bit lucky but some of the traits we showed are hugely encouraging.”
More of the same, but with a much sharper attacking edge, will be required when Mayo lock horns with either Galway or Sligo in the Connacht Final on Sunday, July 13.
R Hennelly; T Cunniffe, G Cafferkey, K Higgins (0-1); L Keegan, C Boyle, D Vaughan; A O'Shea, S O'Shea (0-1); D O'Connor, C O'Shea, J Doherty (0-1); K McLoughlin (0-4, 2fs), A Freeman, C O'Connor (0-5, 5fs).
Subs used: A Moran (0-2) for C O'Shea (46); A Dillon for D O'Connor (64); M Sweeney for Freeman (61); R Feeney for Doherty (73).
D O'Malley; N Collins, N Carty, S McDermott; I Kilbride, N Daly, C Cafferkey (1-0); C Shine, K Higgins; D O'Gara, D Shine (0-1, 1f), R Stack; S Kilbride (0-3, 1f), C Cregg, C Murtagh.
Subs used: E Smith for Kilbride (43); D Murtagh (0-3, 1f) for C Murtagh (47); F Cregg for D Shine (inj 55); M Nally (0-1) for O'Gara (55); M Finneran for Kilbride (68); D Smith for C Cregg (68).
Referee: E Kinsella (Laois)