Sunday 22 October 2017

Evans sets Rossies on ambitious pathway 'to the top'

Roscommon 1-17 Down 0-15 Allianz NFL Division 2 Final

Ciaran Murtagh celebrates scoring Roscommon’s goal in yesterday’s Allianz NFL Division 2 final
Ciaran Murtagh celebrates scoring Roscommon’s goal in yesterday’s Allianz NFL Division 2 final
Roscommon’s Conor Daly and Down’s Carolan Mooney jostle off the ball before both are yellow carded
Roscommon’s Senan Kilbride challenges Down’s Stephen Kane and Luke Howard
Roscommon's Conor Daly attempts to block Caolan Mooney, Down
Down's Aidan Carr closes down Cathal Cregg, Roscommon
John Evans wants to guide Roscommon 'to the top'
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

In an era of so much bland rhetoric and a reluctance to publicly crystallise ambitions in Gaelic football, it was refreshing to listen to John Evans set out a road map for Roscommon after this Division 2 final win over Down in Croke Park.

Evans wants to guide Roscommon "to the top." By that he means an All-Ireland title, nothing less, something he says they are "absolutely" capable of in the future.

It will, he concedes, take some time. But he has done an audit of the teams around over the next few seasons and he sees an opening.

"I've gone through every team. There are a lot of them and they will be losing a lot of star players over the next two, three, four years. We'll be growing in stature," he confidently predicted.

CONSOLIDATION

Evans isn't afraid of stating such ambition. He recalled an involvement he had with a club team in Kerry that went from Division 5 in the county to Division 3 and sought consolidation at that point.

To him, it was against everything he stood for and even if his conviction about this Roscommon team is so strong and now so public, he is not concerned about how it might be portrayed.

Some believe they might just be moving quicker than their legs can carry them but Evans insists they are right where they have intended to be.

"Gay Sheerin (selector and former goalkeeper) visited my house two years ago and we are bang on where I wanted them to be. Now you might say that is far-fetched but it is not - it is exactly where we wanted to be."

"I was a year into the job. We had lost out on nine points and I think 10 (points) got promoted. I said then, 'Look lads, we are hanging around'. We actually changed an awful lot of stuff after the first year," he said, recalling adjustments to training venues and the addition of extra coaching personnel including former Limerick manager Liam Kearns.

He qualifies his optimism with warnings about the trip to London in four weeks' time for a tricky Connacht Championship opener, not to mention the shark-infested rapids of Division 1 next season. If they can navigate that then there is an ocean of open water ahead of them.

"The biggest problem we'll have is trying to calm them down a small bit and keep it one step at a time," he said.

"It's how we cope with this now. This is the big question.

"How do we cope with winning two successive finals in Croke Park, silverware? If it takes the edge off us then it's no good to us."

On the back of last year's Division 3 success and their first FBD Connacht League victory in 16 years, allied to four Connacht u-21 titles in six years, the rise of Roscommon football has been quite relentless.

Evans could count on up to six players who were missing in action yesterday and yet they could afford to leave off quality players like Ultan Harney, Diarmuid Murtagh and Donie Shine and still ease to a comfortable win over decent opposition.

Down have undergone an extensive makeover since Jim McCorry stepped in for James McCartan after last season, so much so that only Kevin McKernan from their 2010 All-Ireland final team started here.

That figure would have doubled but for a freak accident in the warm-up that saw them lose their orchestrator-in-chief Mark Poland to an eye injury after he was struck by a ball. With concern for his vision, he was brought to hospital.

"Mark has been fantastic this year," said their manager McCorry. "He has been back to his old self again, delivering the ball, setting everything up on that inside left line.

"(He's a) great leader," added McCorry. "So that interrupted us a wee bit. He actually got it right on the eye with the ball full force and we were concerned about the vision."

For the entire first half, though, Down were still able to match Roscommon point for point as both sides played cautiously and without any real ambition.

It was mundane and static, a fact acknowledged by Evans afterwards. "To me, it was a damp squib. I didn't think any team was going anywhere. Both teams going flat across the field, not the style of football we wanted to play."

The only goal chance fell to Cathal Cregg who fluffed his lines after tracking a decent ball from Cathal Shine in the 20th minute.

What changed the game for Down was a second yellow card for their centre-back Brendan McArdle on 34 minutes after he obstructed Senan Kilbride who had just been blocked by Aidan Carr.

There was no need for it but, that said, it wasn't the most forceful collision and Kilbride admitted afterwards making the most of it. Having picked up a previous yellow card in the 10th minute - the Down management as well as the media weren't aware of it - McArdle was sent off.

"The red card was one that just really knocked us back. The disappointing thing is that we had a red card the last time we played against Roscommon as well," said McCorry.

"We don't like to criticise referees because they have a hard enough job. But we thought the decisions overall were very, very harsh," he added.

RESTRICTION

The sides went in level, 0-7 each, at the break but Roscommon were a different team in the second half, exploiting their numerical advantage and playing with a lot less restriction.

In the grim exchanges of that opening half Senan Kilbride's opening point had been the outstanding moment but his second effort just after the break had a real uplifting effect, not just on his team but on the crowd and the game in general.

It pushed Roscommon into a two-point lead and they stretched it to four with points from Ciaran Murtagh and Cian Connolly.

Connolly was a late replacement for Diarmuid Murtagh, his involvement 'concealed' by Evans because of his inexperience, but after a nervous start he became one of their most important players.

Evans admitted the impact of their midfield partnership, Kevin Higgins and Cathal Shine, had been poor but they stormed into the game in the third quarter, and with the superb Cathal Daly raiding constantly from half-back Roscommon had a strong platform.

"We were very disappointed at half-time, our two midfielders were out of it, they weren't contributing. They were a good few harsh words said to a good few guys. They answered the call."

Daly set up Kilbride's last two points, while Niall Daly's run created the opening for Diarmuid Murtagh's point that established a 0-15 to 0-12 lead on 56 minutes.

The key score on 61 minutes was Ciaran Murtagh's goal for a 1-16 to 0-12 lead. It was a thunderous strike from Murtagh after he had gathered from a Donie Shine break off an Ultan Harney delivery. One straight off the training ground, said a pleased Evans.

Down were a disappointment and really only opened up to play a bit when they fell four points behind in the opening five minutes of the second half.

Kevin McKernan, Conor Laverty and Donal O'Hare kept pressing and probing, but Poland's absence was telling and their propensity to take a step back in possession was all too common.

Scorers - Roscommon: C Connolly 0-5 (4fs), C Murtagh 1-2 (1f), S Kilbride 0-4, U Harney, D Shine (f), C Cafferkey, D Smith, C Cregg, D Murtagh all 0-1 each. Down: D O'Hare 0-5 (3fs), K McKernan 0-2, B McArdle, C Maginn, C Laverty, P Fitzpatrick, J Johnston (f), R Johnston, P Devlin (f), B McArdle all 0-1 each.

Roscommon - D O'Malley 7; N Collins 7, N Carty 7, D Murray 6; C Daly 8, N Daly 7, C Cafferky 7; K Higgins 7, C Shine 7; D Smith 5, C Murtagh 7, R Stack 6; C Connolly 7, S Kilbride 8, C Cregg 5. Subs: D Murtagh 6 for Smith (h-t), U Harney 7 for Cregg (47), B Murtagh 6 for Murray (BC, 52), D Shine 6 for Connolly (54), I Kilbride for Higgins (66), C Compton for C Murtagh (61)

Down - S Kane 7; G Collins 6, A Carr 6, D O'Hagan 7; K McKernan 7, B McArdle 5, L Howard 6; C Mooney 7, P Turley 6; D O'Hanlon 6, C Maginn 6, C McGovern 5; P Devlin 5, C Laverty 7, D O'Hare 6. Subs: P Fitzpatrick 6 for Turley (h-t), R Johnston 6 for Devlin (47), N Madine 5 for Carr (59), A McConville for Maginn (63), J Johnston for McKernan (66), R Boyle for Collins (69).

Ref - Maurice Deegan (Laois)

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