John Evans demands Rossies raise it for Mayo clash
ROSCOMMON 1-18 LEITRIM 0-13 Connacht SFC Round 1
ROSCOMMON boss John Evans is a man well known for the verbal flourish and charm that is characteristic of his native Kerry – but even he couldn't deny that this competition started with a whimper, not a bang, yesterday.
"It wasn't the most exciting game," was his understatement of leading them to a victory which sent Leitrim away from 'the Hyde' with their tails between their legs and Roscommon fans figuring that this wouldn't be enough to trouble Mayo in the semi-final.
Their scepticism was fuelled by the Division 3 champions letting their impressive 10-point half-time lead drift to five by the hour, but they never once looked in danger.
They may have mentally lifted their foot off the pedal, but Leitrim's gutsy fightback came after Evans had made a lot of changes and his side lost some shape and momentum during those switches.
But three unanswered points to finish – including two (one free) from highly rated U-21 star Diarmuid Murtagh – powered them home and they demonstrated the sort of individual brilliance and depth that they will need to trouble the reigning Connacht champions.
The big pre-match talking point was why Evans (pictured below) had not picked any of Roscommon's highly rated U-21s who lost the All-Ireland U-21 final to Dublin.
Unlike most of his cohorts, he actually stuck to his original 15 and only introduced the U-21s gradually, explaining that this was because their spirits were so low after losing that final two weeks ago.
"They're after a heartbreak," he said. "It takes a while for lads to get over the trauma of not performing and that was their only sin.
"They feel aggrieved about that and it takes a while to get over that; you can bring them on and feed them back into it slowly. The guys who had been preparing all along for us had a big advantage in terms of fitness and slickness and teamwork, so it wasn't that difficult a decision."
He also revealed that Senan Kilbride and Cathal Shine had both been on antibiotics for the past week – the latter due to a cyst on his leg – but you certainly wouldn't have known it.
Shine and midfield partner Kevin Higgins were both fantastic, helping to win the game's first seven kick-outs that laid the platform for Roscommon's victory; though Leitrim weren't helped by losing Darren Sweeney to a black card before the half-hour, which was, remarkably, the only card of the game.
Kilbride has a reputation for not matching his club brilliance at county level, but he tore up that theory yesterday with three sublime long-range points off either foot before being taken off as a precaution.
By the break, Roscommon had scored 1-12 to 0-5 from nine different scorers. Donie Shine had an off-day, missing 0-4 (2fs) by half-time, but all of Leitrim's first five scores were from frees. The home side's goal, on the stroke of half-time, involved Cathal Cregg, Ciaran Murtagh and Ciaran Cafferkey before Ronan Stack palmed it to the net; conceding 1-1 in injury-time was a killer blow for the visitors.
Leitrim rallied bravely after the break and the early substitution, which saw Rob Lowe brought in, definitely made a difference.
Emlyn Mulligan, Donal Wrynn, Wayne McKeon, Paul Brennan and Kevin Conlon also ran themselves to a frazzle in a gutsy fightback that saw Leitrim outscore their opponents by eight points to six early in the second half and cut the deficit to five (1-15 to 0-13) in the 62nd minute.
Paddy Maguire kept Cathal Cregg very quiet throughout, but their problems were up front, where they were far too prone to hit-and-hope balls.
Mulligan apart, they badly lacked the scoring flair needed at this level, shooting seven second-half wides, with Conor Beirne, recalled to the squad since the league, particularly wasteful.
"They kicked phenomenal scores in the first half, as good as you'll see anywhere in the country, and we just couldn't recover from a 10-point deficit," said Leitrim boss Sean Hagan.
"But I thought our backs, as a unit, were magnificent in the second half, they really tightened up and outplayed their men after that. The positive is that a team that were that much down didn't go missing."
Leitrim's defence still wasn't as watertight as Roscommon's brilliant full-back line, where Niall Carty was imperious and Niall Daly, who started at centre-back, put in a great shift at either end of the field.
The Rossies were too often allowed to handpass their way out of defence and then hit their superior forwards with intelligent long ball, and Evans was particularly delighted at the amount scored and the huge spread of 11 scorers, including impressive corner-forward Ciaran Murtagh, the older brother of substitute Diarmuid.
"So, Mayo next?" Evans was asked.
"We got a trimming from them last year and we just hope we'll perform a bit better and maybe our teamwork and a few more fellas will rise to it," he said. "You would want to be firing through the whole game, but you can't be too critical today, we kicked 1-18 and we're not relying on any one player for scores."
Scorers – Roscommon: R Stack 1-0, S Kilbride, K Higgins 0-3 each, C Murtagh, N Daly, D Shine, D Murtagh (1f) 0-2 each, C Cafferkey, C Shine, C Cregg, C Burns 0-1 each. Leitrim: E Mulligan 0-8 (6fs), C Beirn 0-2 (2f), W McKeon, G Reynolds, K Conlon (f) 0-1 each.
Roscommon – D O'Malley 7; S McDermott 8, N Carty 8, N Collins 8; D Keenan 5, N Daly 8, C Cafferkey 5; C Shine 8, K Higgins 8; D O'Gara 6, D Shine 6, R Stack 7; S Kilbride 8, C Cregg 6, C Murtagh 7. Subs: E Smith 6 for C Shine (inj, 42), M Nally 6 for McCafferkey (49), D Murtagh 7 for Kilbride (54), F Cregg 6 for C Cregg (62), C Burns for O'Gara (70), D Donnelly for Stack (70).
Leitrim – C McCrann 6; B McSweeney 6, P Maguire 6, P Brennan 7; G Reynolds 6, D Wrynn 7, B Prior 7; D Sweeney 5, D Moran 5; W McKeon 7, E Mulligan 8, M McWeeney 5; J Glancy 5, C Beirne 7, K Conlon 8. Subs: R Lowe 7 for M McWeeney (25), G Hickey 7 for Sweeney (bc, 28), S McWeeney 6 for Glancy (47), A McLoughlin 6 for Beirne (56), R Cox 5 for Brennan (63).
REF – G Lane (Cork).