SEEING THE FUNNY SIDE Mayo's Andy Moran and Roscommon's Fintan Cregg (near-neighbours in Ballaghaderreen and Frenchpark) share a joke after Sunday's All-Ireland SFC quarter-final finished in a draw. Pic: Damien Eagers
AH, lads. Seriously. We can’t take much more of this.
The safety net nowhere to be seen, Mayo and Roscommon danced on an unsteady tightrope ... and both lived to tell the tale.
What a tale it was, played out in front of a huge crowd. And if it wasn’t over-laden with quality, we got another cliffhanger ending.
Two Roscommon goals in the opening 11 minutes left them leading by seven points. Lee Keegan’s goal (and general first-half tour de force) was the foundation for Mayo’s unlikely half-time lead ... which was promptly overturned within two minutes of the restart.
Some parts of the story were familiar. As in Limerick, Mayo’s defensive frailties were exposed with the concession of two goals. As against Cork, Paddy Durcan’s late point looked to have given Mayo victory, only to see a free from an opposing substitute level matters again. But Cillian O’Connor, the star of the show against the Rebels, uncharacteristically spurned four late chances to add to his tally of three points on Sunday. Mayo’s second-half wide count eventually reached ten. Mistakes and slips were common, and both sides will feel they have room for improvement, though the quick turnaround to the replay will do nothing to quell fears of Mayo fatigue.
It may have been 1980 since Roscommon won a championship game in Croke Park, but Kevin McStay’s young charges began with a flourish – no stabilisers, in ‘Look-Ma-no-hands’ mode. Ciaran Murtagh picked out Fintan Cregg for their first goal in the ninth minute. Only a further two minutes had passed when Murtagh himself fired home number two following a pop pass from his brother Diarmuid. It was 2-2 to 0-1.
Responses to goals don’t come much quicker – or more emphatic – than Lee Keegan’s last Sunday. The Westport clubman, scorer of Mayo’s first point, blasted home a goal despite the best efforts of his opposite number Niall McInerney, and those who glanced at the big screen in Croke Park afterwards will have seen the intent on his face.
When Mayo needed someone to take the game by the scruff of the neck, the 2016 Footballer of the Year stood up and was counted. He finished the opening period with 1-3 from play, before taking up a position at full-back as he followed his man Enda Smith. Others took their cue from him. By the time Ciaran Murtagh ended a 24-minute Roscommon drought, Mayo had added another six points – two from play by Keegan, two frees from Cillian O’Connor, and one apiece from Colm Boyle and Andy Moran. Jason Doherty, liable to pop up anywhere, tacked on another in first-half injury time.
That 1-8 to 2-3 interval advantage might have been a springboard for Mayo. But Conor Devaney and Diarmuid Murtagh instantly cancelled out that deficit, and they traded blows for the remainder of the game. Murtagh’s fisted effort (tipped over by David Clarke) nudged the Rossies ahead; Paddy Durcan, named to start at the last minute, landed the equaliser. Ciaran Murtagh’s free was (eventually) cancelled out by Andy Moran (who was, shamefully, booed repeatedly by some Roscommon fans). Roscommon sub Donal Smith (teed up by his brother Enda) fired the Shannonsiders back into the ascendancy; a beauty from Cillian O’Connor left them tied again.
Moments after a big interception from Aidan O’Shea, Durcan’s 68th-minute effort put Mayo back in front for the first time in over half an hour, and left us daring to dream. But Donal Smith’s free – awarded after Stephen Coen was penalised for picking the ball up illegally – tied things up once again. We had a couple of Cillian O’Connor wides at one end, a few scares at the other, and ultimately, another day out. It was one Mayo should have won and could have lost. A draw was probably the fairest result.
HL Mencken called the British abdication crisis of the 1930s ‘the greatest story since the Crucifixion’. But having died in 1956, the American journalist didn’t have the twists and turns of modern Mayo football to compare it with. Surely the adventures of King Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson didn’t hold a candle to the search for Sam?
D Clarke; G Cafferkey, B Harrison, K Higgins; C Boyle (0-1), C Barrett, P Durcan (0-2); S O’Shea, L Keegan (1-3); J Doherty (0-1), A O’Shea, D O’Connor; K McLoughlin, C O’Connor (0-3, 2f), A Moran (0-2).
Subs used: D Vaughan for C Boyle (52 mins); C Loftus for A Moran (58 mins); T Parsons for S O’Shea (62 mins); S Coen for D O’Connor (65 mins); D Drake for J Doherty (71 mins).
C Lavin; S McDermott, N McInerney, D Murray; N Kilroy, J McManus, S Mullooly; T O’Rourke, E Smith (0-1); F Cregg (1-1), C Devaney (0-1), B Stack; C Murtagh (1-2, 0-2f), D Murtagh (0-2, 1f), C Connolly.
Subs used: I Kilbride for T O’Rourke (18 mins, temp); D Smith (0-2) for C Connolly (51 mins); Colin Compton for C Murtagh (58 mins); Cathal Compton for D Murtagh (62 mins); I Kilbride for S McDermott (64 mins); R Stack for C Devaney (70 mins).
Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan)