Roscommon back on track as Leitrim lose discipline
Cregg the key influence but home side finish with 12 players
For the opening 10 minutes of this Connacht quarter-final Roscommon looked like they were still, to quote the song title, in a New York state of mind. They were edgy and tentative with a ‘look over their shoulder’ air about them that bore the scars of their traumatic transatlantic trip that came so close to ending in tears at the beginning of the month.
Roscommon 1-21 Leitrim 0-11
Leitrim had the lead within 40 seconds through their midfielder Donal Wrynn before a Roscommon hand had even touched the ball and if they had been ruthless enough they might have pushed on to lead by two more.
But once Diarmuid Murtagh got them off the mark on 10 minutes, it settled them and when Cathal Cregg, Niall Daly, Donie Shine and Murtagh again added on points on the back of success with Leitrim’s long kick-outs in a very decent four-minute spell, it was like a huge weight lifted off their shoulders. It felt good that they could play with a little bit of freedom again.
More mistakes and lulls followed and Leitrim closed to two at one stage but never enough to suggest that they’d be hanging on for dear life again. This was all about straightening themselves on the road again after two very disappointing performances and making the journey within the speed limits. On that front this trip to Carrick-on-Shannon can be deemed a modest success.
That it was chiefly influenced by a player making his ‘home’ championship debut, 10 years after winning an All-Ireland minor medal, will add a little sauce to it for the Fergal O’Donnell/Kevin McStay management team.
Fintan Cregg had stepped away from inter-county football in recent years but bringing him and Conor Devaney, who was also on the sidelines, back has been one of the early successes of their project and there was big justification here as they repeatedly punched holes in a hapless Leitrim half-back line. By the break all three were in the stands, Ronan Gallagher and Sean McWeeney hauled off, captain Gary Reynolds sent off on a black card after taking down John McManus in the 34th minute.
It was a portent for things to come for Leitrim who had Adrian Croal black-carded later on after they had used their six substitutes and had substitutes Killian McGriskin and Darren Sweeney sent off on straight black cards, leaving them with just 12 players for the final seven minutes.
The final deficit will disappoint Leitrim who struggled in Division 4 and physically were no match for Roscommon in contact. Cregg, Devaney and Ciaran Murtagh always looked like doing damage with their skill and energy and, significantly, this was the combination for the game’s only goal on 27 minutes that was perfect timing for Roscommon.
Having conceded a point to the impressive Kevin Conlan after Niall Daly lost possession to make it 0-6 to 0-4, it was Daly who claimed the subsequent kick-out and set the ball rolling, Cregg and Murtagh combining to send Devaney in for the easiest of tasks. That was the cue for more freedom of expression and they drove on with five unanswered points before Nevin O’Donnell stemmed the tide before the break from a free.
Emlyn Mulligan, for too long a peripheral figure, from a free and Adrian Croal gave brief hope but it was quickly extinguished as Cregg kicked off with the first of his four points from a free.
Leitrim had five substitutes used by the break and the toll of effort began to tell as Roscommon found gaps.
Donie Shine had a chance himself on 60 minutes but Brendan Flynn got to down to save smartly and avert the danger. It was routine at that stage with Sweeney off following an incident just after a spurned McManus chance in the 53rd minute.
With Cathal McHugh, Ronan Daly and Cathal Shine coming off the bench to good effect Roscommon forced home their advantage.
Their midfield vulnerability wasn’t exposed here despite some good passages of play from Donal Wrynn but as the standard moves up it may become another issue.
Inconsistent free-taking also loomed large again following on from the league semi-final defeat to Kerry. This time five of their 14 wides came from placed balls with three different kickers off the mark.
“The scoreboard flatters us,” conceded O’Donnell. “They had two men sent off and we racked on a lot of scores. We didn’t get it for the full 70. If you told me beforehand that we’d score 1-21 though, we’d be happy with that.
“Coming into this game after New York there was a lot of disappointment, a lot of worry. Every team hits a lull and we’ve hit a lull. Today was an improvement but we’ll need a bigger improvement the next day,” he added.
Leitrim manager Shane Ward didn’t hide his disappointment with his players, suggesting they pressed the “self-destruct button”.
“I’m disappointed with the way they went about their business today. I felt we started really well but after that we just hit the self-destruct button; be under no illusion, a lot of the things that went wrong out there was down to the players themselves. We totally played hard ball with Roscommon when we just needed to play our own ball.”
Their lack of discipline surprised him but he wondered whether some of the decisions were weighted in favour of the more established team.
“Discipline should be kept at all times and should be seen out to the last. Why react today when there was no need to? They didn’t do that before,” he pointed out.
“Sometimes it can be easier to make a call for the bigger team rather than the smaller team because it is less controversial from the referee’s point of view. I would just hope in due course that the lesser teams get more respect on game days. For referees to step out and make that brave call when it needs to be made.
“I thought Emlyn Mulligan came in for some very harsh treatment in the first half and there was no black or yellow cards. He got a box in the corner in the second half with a clenched fist to the face.”
Scorers – Roscommon: C Devaney 1-1, F Cregg 0-4 (1f), C Murtagh (f), D Shine (f) 0-3 each, N Daly, C Cregg, D Murtagh, R Daly (1f) 0-2 each, C McHugh, C Shine 0-1 each.
Leitrim: K Conlan, E Mulligan (1f) 0-3 each, R Kennedy (f), A Croal, N O’Donnell (f), D Wrynn, K McHugh all 0-1 each.
Roscommon – G Claffey 7; S McDermott 7, N Collins 8, N McInerney 8; J McManus 6, S Purcell 7, D Murray 6; N Daly 8, J McDermott 5; F Cregg 9, C Murtagh 7, C Devaney 8; D Murtagh 7, C Cregg 6, D Shine 7. Subs: S Kilbride 5 for D Murtagh (50), R Daly 6 for McDermott (54), C McHugh 6 for Shine (61), S Mullooly for McManus (62), C Shine for Cregg (66), D Keenan for Purcell (66).
Leitrim – B Flynn 8; M McWeeney 7, P Maguire 6, M Murphy 6; S McWeeney 5, G Reynolds 5, R Gallagher 5; D Wrynn 7, S Moran 6; J Rooney 6, N O’Donnell 5, K Conlan 8; E Mulligan 6, R Kennedy 5, A Croal 5. Subs: K McHugh 6 for Murphy inj (15), K McGriskin 6 for Gallagher (32), B Prior 5 for Reynolds BC (34), C Gaffney 6 for Rooney (h-t), D Sweeney 4 for O’Donnell (ht), N Woods for Kennedy (62).
Ref – B Cassidy (Derry)