Colm Keys: Roscommon blow Moran's men away in windswept west
A couple of myths were dispelled in the wind and rain that engulfed Pairc Sean MacDiarmada for this semi-final yesterday.
The first was that Carrick-on-Shannon is a difficult place to come and win for opponents in the province; that the ground becomes a fortress on days like these and enlarges Leitrim's belief and sense of belligerence.
It's not, and no other county has exposed that more than Roscommon. This was their 13th Connacht championship win in the town out of 16 visits. Two more were draws and one in 1927, which Leitrim won, ended up in the boardroom and was declared void and required a replay at a different venue.
The other myth is much more relevant to the championship. The popular perception of Roscommon is that they are essentially a one-man team, who were gifted the 2010 Connacht title through sheer negligence on Sligo's behalf.
The evidence yesterday suggests there is a lot more substance to them than just Donie Shine's marksmanship and that their improvement from 2010 may be significant. Favourites for the Connacht final now? They are as entitled to think it as much as either Mayo or Galway at this stage.
Shine got the important goal on 21 minutes that would effectively keep Leitrim at arm's length for the rest of the game, but they were in no way dependent on him after that as other players contributed on a desperate day for football.
Collectively Roscommon had far greater physical strength which told in the majority of exchanges and the pressure they were able to exert on weaker opponents forced them into mistakes. Too often Leitrim players were easily pushed off the ball.
The goal came from such pressure as Leitrim half-forward Robert Lowe coughed up possession to Kevin Higgins. Shine was able to protect Higgins' subsequent delivery and despite goalkeeper Cathal McCrann getting a touch, it nicked the inside of the upright on the way in for a 1-4 to 0-1 lead.
From that point on the result was never in doubt. Michael Finneran completely dominated midfield; Seanie McDermott, Niall Carthy and Peter Domican all had the measure of their opponents; half-forwards Cathal Cregg and Senan O'Grady grew in influence as the game progressed and Senan Kilbride oozed class inside with his accuracy and intelligent lay offs.
Leitrim will be disappointed they haven't been able to capitalise on their win against Sligo three weeks earlier.
The county's pool of players is so much smaller than anywhere else and with emigration perhaps hitting harder than most other counties, they are essentially fighting with a hand tied behind their back. Mickey Moran talked of a turnover of some 40 players over the last three years through emigration, injury and, in some cases, apathy.
That said, they sought no sympathy and genuinely expected to be much more competitive than they were. In the two previous fixtures, the difference was four and five points. They had reason to believe. But they clearly didn't help their cause by electing to play against the strong wind in the first half after winning the toss. For the momentum of Markievicz Park to be carried over, they needed the best start possible and to be in touch early in the second half too. But as it was, they trailed by 1-8 to 0-2 at the interval, too great a challenge to face in such conditions.
Moran believed the ploy would have worked if it wasn't for Shine's goal -- but they always ran that risk given the strength of the wind.
"We won the toss, because the way we figured it, the weather was going to deteriorate during the day. As it turned out, it was very strong in the first half, but again, 0-4 to 0-1 and hanging in there ... the goal was the killer."
Their Achilles heel was midfield, where Finneran imposed himself on the game and Leitrim scrambled around him. Daniel Lowe eventually succumbed to injury and Tomas Beirne came off, with what Moran felt was "an off day."
Eventually the release of Ronan Gallagher to midfield from full-back after the arrival of John McKeon improved conditions for them.
"If you don't take that middle third of the field any team, even Kerry, will struggle," figured McKeon.
"Roscommon took advantage of us and they had the midfield. I thought if we could make an impact in midfield in the second half ... but we had to replace our two midfielders.
"They have starred for us all year, so don't be too critical. We have a lot of work done, everybody got carried away with Sligo. I don't think we should have been 12 points off there."
That deficit may have been more but for some superb goalkeeping by McCrann early in the second half to deny Kilbride and Higgins from close range.
Leitrim half-backs Wayne McKeon and Gary Reynolds were industrious and lively in the first half but the influence of O'Grady, Higgins and Cregg after the break grew.
The home side went without a score from the 23rd to the 52 minute when Emlyn Mulligan finally broke the deadlock and Gallagher and Conor Beirne (free) followed up with points to give just a glimmer of hope -- with substitute Brian McDonald's pace clearly a worry for Roscommon.
They may have had a goal on 62 minutes when a McDonald shot was blocked by Geoffrey Claffey, with a suspicion that the ball may have crossed the line -- Adrian Croal's point came from the rebound so they got something out of it.
Near the end Roscommon wrapped it up when Sean Purcell grabbed a break off Shine from a Kilbride delivery and popped a pass into the path of Conor Devaney who stepped around McCrann for their second goal.
It left Roscommon manager Fergal O'Donnell satisfied and bemused that they had won by 12 points.
Maybe they are selling themselves short too.
Scorers -- Roscommon: S Kilbride 0-5 (2f), D Shine, C Devaney 1-1 each, K Higgins 0-2, K Mannion, C Cregg, S O'Grady 0-1 each. Leitrim: E Mulligan, C Beirne (2f) 0-2 each, A Croal, R Gallagher 0-1 each.
Roscommon -- G Claffey 7; S McDermott 8, N Carthy 7, S Ormsby 7; D Ward 7, P Domican 7, D Keenan 6; M Finneran 8, K Mannion 7; K Higgins 7, C Cregg 8, S O'Grady 7; C Devaney 7, S Kilbride 8, D Shine 6. Subs: S Purcell 6 for Ward (52), E Kenny 6 for Mannion (57), G Heneghan for Devaney (66), I Kilbride for Ormsby (69)
Leitrim -- C McCrann 8; D Reynolds 7, R Gallagher 7, P Maguire 6; B Prior 6, G Reynolds 7, W McKeon 7; T Beirne 5, D Lowe 5; P Brennan 5, E Mulligan 7, R Lowe 5; A Croal 5, C Beirne 5, J Glancy 5. Subs: D Sweeney 6 for D Lowe (h-t), B McDonald 7 for Brennan (43), J McKeon 7 for T Beirne (46), C Clarke for R Lowe (63).
Ref -- P McEnaney (Monaghan).