'No need for panic' - Roscommon defiance leaves Kerry in a spin
Roscommon 0-14 Kerry 1-10
Published 08/02/2016 | 02:30
At least Kerry can draw faint comfort from the fact that they have been down this road before, not just once but twice in the previous three years.
So losing their first two Division 1 games once more shouldn't cause that much alarm, given how it hasn't affected long-term performances before.
But things are still a little fragile in the county after last year's All-Ireland final defeat to Dublin, not helped by a repeat dose in Croke Park last week.
In that context this was a poor day for Kerry against a defiant Roscommon side that fully deserved their first points in the division. At the outset they would have targeted two points from four, perhaps not necessarily in the order they have come.
But the lift in spirits that they will get from this victory, a first over the Kingdom since the 2001 League, will be incalculable.
Joint manager Fergie O'Donnell envisaged the journey home being a lot shorter and judging by his enthusiasm for the win they'll have enjoyed it. And why not? It was everything a management team could ask for in their position.
His colleague Kevin McStay has repeatedly said that Roscommon can't be considered a Division 1 team until they actually go and earn that status. By that he means survival. But this felt like a considerable down payment.
Having trailed by a point at the break, 1-6 to 0-8, they faced into a breeze that was even stronger than it had been for the second half in Kiltoom seven days earlier. At least then they were protecting a half-decent lead.
It all pointed to a home win at that stage but Roscommon reduced the unforced errors on last week, and indeed the first half here where the turnover count was operating at about one a minute at one stage early on.
They looked a lot more comfortable in possession against the wind and used the ball much more economically. They scored 11 points from 17 shots from play (five from six in the second half).
By contrast Kerry's return was six from 18 attempts. But it was the hard running and support play of the likes of Niall Daly, Niall McInerney, Ciaran Murtagh, Fintan Cregg and Conor Devanney which typified Roscommon's performance in that second half and delighted their large support in the 4,507 crowd.
The irony is that Roscommon won despite being comprehensively beaten in most of the big midfield battles. They won only three of their 11 kick-outs in the first half as Johnny Buckley and David Moran essentially caught as they pleased, fielding seven cleanly between them, though Cathal Shine did improve matters on his introduction.
But on the ground Roscommon fared much better and in Enda Smith they had a really penetrating runner. Every time he ran at the Kerry defence he looked likely to cause them trouble.
With Cathal Cregg kicking four spectacular points, between them they accounted for half of Roscommon's tally from play.
Cregg was black-carded on 58 minutes after reacting when carrying the ball into contact but by then his two second-half points had given Roscommon parity, 1-9 to 0-12, and laid the platform for victory.
Kerry had led by 0-3 to 0-0 early but then conceded eight successive points between the 10th and 25th minutes as Roscommon took over. Some of their scores in the conditions were of the highest quality, Cian Connolly hooking over in beauty in that sequence after Cregg had landed two from distance.
Barry John Keane from a free and Tommy Walsh steadied the ship at the other end before Stephen O'Brien took liberty with the number of steps to almost walk in a goal after splitting the Roscommon defence with embarrassing ease on 32 minutes.
Buckley had been in fine form through the first half, positioning himself so well for a number of interceptions on top of his fielding, and his sliced effort just before the break gave Kerry a 1-6 to 0-8 lead that should have changed the terms.
Kerry's problem was hitting their targetman Walsh with the right type of ball. With the wind it just didn't work out after the break and Walsh was unable to bring control to what ball did land his way. With Keane misfiring a little (he missed two scoreable frees) the edge was missing from the home attack.
O'Brien worked well, though, and his 49th-minute point was their last before substitute Conor Cox's 78th-minute free, the last action of the game.
Kerry's lack of cohesion in this period was in contrast to a Roscommon side full of running, the legacy of a very hard and clearly rewarding pre-season.
"We put in a lot of work, we felt we had to get something in the first two games because we probably have a bit more work, fitness-wise, than some of the other teams. Kerry wouldn't be back as long," said O'Donnell.
He accepted they had absorbed lessons from the Monaghan defeat.
"We were wondering would we be miles out of our depth. That was a worry, would we be miles off it? Even though we were disappointed (losing last week) we were more disappointed after we went the point up that we didn't hold on. Today we were that bit smarter at the end, more clever."
Not surprisingly Fitzmaurice wasn't ruffled.
"They are all big games for us now. We have been in this situation before. We are not going to panic," he said.
"There is a bigger picture. But we would have liked to get something out of the game today. We don't things easy, we tend to make things difficult for ourselves. We did improve (on Dublin performance). There was an improvement from last weekend in a lot of things but we didn't finish the job. The better team won."
He accepted they worsened as the game progressed and maybe panicked but there was encouragement from the performance of 19-year-old corner-back Brian O Beaglaoich, who really stepped up after a tough debut last weekend, while Buckley - until he retired injured - and Moran went well.
However, the day belonged to Roscommon, who made a statement about their intent to remain a top-flight team.
Scorers - Roscommon: C Cregg 0-4, E Smith 0-3, C Devanney, F Cox (2fs) C Murtagh (1f) 0-2 each, C Connolly 0-1. Kerry: BJ Keane 0-5 (4fs), S O'Brien 1-1, J Buckley 0-2, T Walsh, C Cox (f) 0-1.
Kerry - B Kelly 7; B O Beaglaoich 8, M Griffin 7, S Enright 5; P Murphy, 6, A O'Mahony 6, K Young 6; D Moran 7, J Buckley 8; J Lyne, D O'Sullivan 6, D Walsh 5; BJ Keane 5, T Walsh 6, S O'Brien 7. Subs: T O'Sullivan 6 for Lyne inj (12), A Fitzgerald 5 for D Walsh (48), C Cox 5 for Keane (57), F Fitzgerald for Enright (59), Barry O'Sullivan for Buckley inj (63), Brendan O'Sullivan for Walsh (69).
Roscommon - D O'Malley 6; S McDermott 6, N Collins 7, N McInerney 7; N Daly 8, D Murray 7, R Stack 7; E Smith 8, I Kilbride 5; F Cregg 7, C Cregg 8, C Daly 6; C Connolly 6, C Devanney 7, C Murtagh 7. Subs: C Shine 7 for Kilbride (54), S Purcell 6 for C Daly (58),R Daly for Cregg BC (59), C McHugh for Connolly (63).
Ref - F Kelly (Longford).