TIGHT MARKING Roscommon’s Cathal Cregg comes under pressure from Mayo’s Brendan Harrison during Sunday’s National League clash at Hyde Park. Pic: Sportsfile
THE Mayo footballers haven’t been outside of the top flight of the National Football League since 1997, and on the evidence of this performance at Hyde Park last Sunday they don’t intend going back there anytime soon.
A trademark display of pace and power, epitomised by man of the match Seamie O’Shea, carried the visitors to a fully-deserved four point victory in front of an audience of around 12,000 people.
On a day when heavy rain left the surface soft and sticky, and the wind blew a gale down the field, Mayo used all their superior strength and conditioning to outmuscle and overpower their Roscommon opponents.
Donie Vaughan and Alan Freeman were late additions to Mayo’s starting team, two changes that turned out to be a sign of intent from Stephen Rochford.
Mayo had designs on dictating the rules of engagement, and Roscommon were unable to resist when the Connacht champions flexed their muscles and took control of the midfield battleground.
Tom Parsons, Aidan O’Shea, Diarmuid O’Connor and the aforementioned Vaughan and Seamie O’Shea were key players in this area. They took no prisoners and went hard from the off.
It took Roscommon twenty-four minutes in the first half to register their opening score, and the second period was twenty-three minutes old when they added to their half-time tally.
Kevin McStay, Fergal O’Donnell and Liam McHale could only watch on as Mayo played with an intensity that suggested they were in no mood for another moral victory.
In fact, were it for ten first half wides, Mayo would have been out the gap by half-time.
Instead they clocked up the match-winning scores in the third quarter, blitzing the Rossies with an unanswered 1-4.
Evan Regan scored the goal on 38 minutes after winning a ball ahead of his marker, cutting in along the endline, and evading a second defender before shooting low past the otherwise-excellent Geoffrey Claffey.
The number of steps taken by Regan seemed debatable, to say the least, but the goal was given and Mayo kicked on.
Frees from Regan and Alan Freeman, along with an inspirational point from sub Paddy Durcan and another superb solo effort from the razor-sharp Regan left Mayo ahead by 1-10 to 0-4 after 48 minutes.
Roscommon were in dire straits as they struggled to make any inroads against Mayo’s well-constructed defence where Brendan Harrison and Lee Keegan had locked down Cathal Cregg and Ciaran Murtagh respectively.
The match looked to be petering out to a very inevitable conclusion when Roscommon finally sparked into life with less than fifteen minutes to go.
A well-taken goal from substitute Diarmuid Murtagh gave the home crowd something to shout about, and white flags from Fintan Cregg (free), Conor Devaney and impact sub’ Murtagh pared the deficit back to just three points as time ran out.
Roscommon were chasing hard and trying to find a way to dig out an equalising goal, but Mayo stuck to the game-plan with Ballintubber duo Cillian O’Connor and Alan Dillon making key contributions off the bench.
A late free from O’Connor on his return to the Mayo colours for the first time this year turned out to the insurance point as Roscommon were kept at arm’s length in stoppage-time.
Mayo’s wayward shooting and passing while playing with the strong wind in the first half spoiled some excellent approach work and meant that the visitors only led by 0-6 to 0-4 at the interval.
The winners had hit the ground running and were four points clear after twenty-two minutes as Evan Regan and Conor O’Shea both slotted points from play, while Alan Freeman (free) and Robbie Hennelly (45) also hit the target.
Mayo were utterly dominant on Roscommon’s kick-outs too so the locals were relieved to see two frees arrive from Ciaran Murtagh to lift the siege. The team captain also pointed from play on the stroke of half-time.
Mayo should have been further ahead at that stage while Roscommon looked like a team that were only getting started.
Instead Mayo produced a brilliant third quarter, and never looked back as Roscommon were given a reality-check.
A third win of the campaign at home to Down next Sunday will secure Mayo’s top-flight status for next year.
That would see their first objective of the season achieved, and set them up nicely for a shot at their next goal.
R Hennelly (0-2, 2’45s); B Harrison, G Cafferkey, C Barrett; L Keegan, C Boyle, D Vaughan; T Parsons, S O’Shea; D O’Connor, A O’Shea, J Doherty; E Regan (1-3, 2fs), A Freeman (0-3, 3fs), C O’Shea (0-1).
Subs used: P Durcan (0-1) for Vaughan (ht), S Coen for Cafferkey (45), C O’Connor (0-1, 1f) for C O’Shea (52), C O’Connor for Freeman (52 b/c), S McHale for D O’Connor (60), J Gibbons for Doherty (66).
G Claffey; S McDermott, N Collins, N McInerney; J McManus, S Purcell, D Murray; F Cregg (0-1, 1f), I Kilbride, C Daly, C Murtagh (0-3, 2fs), C Devaney (0-2); N Kilroy, E Smith, C Cregg.
Subs used: C Compton for Kilbride (43); S Mullooly for McManus (57); D Murtagh (1-1) for Daly (59); R Daly for Devaney (63); J McDermott for Smith (66).
Referee: M Deegan (Laois)