Captain fantastic Moran inspires comeback
Skipper makes all the difference for Mayo in rip-roaring climax to remember in the west
We thought the first half of this semi-final would never end, yet wished the second would go on forever.
Mayo 0-13 Roscommon 1-9 - Connacht SFC
A game that yielded only four scores by the 33rd minute and was a stalemate (0-4 to 0-3 to Mayo) at the interval, thankfully burst into life to provide the sort of rip-roaring climax that hasn't been seen out west for many a year.
Four times they were level in the second half and Roscommon were three points up on the defending three in-a-row champions with 10 minutes left in a game that would climax with a frenetic five full minutes of injury-time.
Mayo needed all their experience and four points on the trot to give themselves a one-point lead going into it and a Kevin McLoughlin point in the 74th minute extended it to two.
Yet, Roscommon simply wouldn't give up.
A free from teen supersub Diarmuid Murtagh threw them another life-line and when Finbarr Cregg went on a run towards the Mayo goalmouth, they dared to dream. However, he was bottled up and Tom Cunniffe made the vital block to help the champions survive by the skin of their teeth.
"They lost nothing there, but a match" was the verdict of one departing Roscommon fan, indicating their delight in how close their young guns had come to pulling off a seismic shock.
Their manager John Evans echoed that sentiment with all the passion of an evangelical preacher.
"We absolutely believed that we could shake Mayo, more than shake them believe it or not," he exclaimed.
"Our team is young and they are devastated," he said. "But I'll tell you one thing fine and straight, I got them to stand up inside there, I'm proud of what they did.
"They made mistakes and it was absolute inexperience that beat them out there," he said of some naive late decisions.
"They had the game and had the chances. You can't put an old head on young shoulders, but how wonderful they were," he enthused.
Eyebrows were raised that he didn't start any of their good U-21 players of whom Mark Nally also made an impact but he remained defiant about just springing three of them from the bench.
"You can't be hanging your coats on young fellas," he stressed.
"You must build the foundation first and bring them into it because they are talented young players. There will come a time when Roscommon will have all those players and the experience underneath their belt and that'll be their time."
A half-time change of tactic – from a blanket defence to an orthodox formation – saw the Rossies hit the champions right between the eyes eight minutes after the restart when Seanie McDermott and Niall Daly combined to set Ciaran Cafferkey through to goal.
They lost Donie Shine in the third quarter to a knee injury, yet that hardly mattered, given the impact of 19-year-old Murtagh, whose contribution cost Tom Cunniffe the man of the match gong.
He rattled off two points to help them to that three-point lead yet Mayo had a supersub of their own to play.
Andy Moran has substantially higher mileage and had suffered the ignominy of being dropped, but, like all great captains, led the cavalry splendidly, scoring twice in a minute to kick-start their comeback.
Asked about dropping him, Mayo boss James Horan said: "It's always a tough decision, but we've always said we'll try and play form players.
"It was a tight call, but, with Andy the guy he is, you saw his response today. That's the way it should be."
It wasn't just scoring that Moran brought, but urgency and movement and Alan Dillon and Mikey Sweeney also made a difference when introduced to an attack that saw four starters replaced.
Up until then they were largely dependent on Cillian O'Connor who, while not scoring from play, gave great leadership, especially when they were on the ropes.
Close calls like this will surely be better for Mayo than last year's unfettered romp through Connacht, but Horan was mightily relieved.
"They had the momentum, the crowd, the wind. It would have been easy to lie down a little bit, but the character and resolve the guys showed out there was excellent," he said.
"We were playing badly and making poor decisions but we kept grinding away, so from that point of view I'd be very happy."
The dramatic conclusion was in stark contrast to the first half.
Ex-Connacht rugby player Gavin Duffy was not among Mayo's game-day panel, but was in their travelling party and Horan confirmed afterwards that he remains part of their plans.
Alan Freeman went down injured in the warm-up, but started and was kept very quiet by Niall Carty in a first half that was like watching paint dry.
The Rossies parked the proverbial bus – bringing wing-forward Ronan Stack to half-back and using Ian Kilbride as a sweeper – and did it brilliantly.
The surprise was that a team as experienced as Mayo couldn't find a way over or through it, kicking 10 dreadful first-half wides and hand-passing constantly when a few judicious kick-passes would surely have injected more pace and space.
But in the second half the game opened up and took flight. Ultimately it was only nous and experience that got Mayo over the line, but if Roscommon can reproduce this form their summer is far from over.
Scorers: Mayo: C O'Connor 0-5fs, K McLoughlin 0-4 (2fs), A Moran 0-2, S O'Shea. J O'Doherty 0-1 each. Roscommon: C Cafferkey 1-0, S Kilbride (1f), D Murtagh 0-3 (1f) each, K Higgins, M Nally each, D Shine (f) 0-1 each.
Mayo: R Hennelly 8; T Cunniffe 8, G Cafferkey 7, K Higgins 7; L Keegan (Capt) 7, C Boyle 8, D Vaughan 7; A O'Shea 7, S O'Shea 8; D O'Connor 6, C O'Shea 7, J Doherty 6; K McLoughlin 7, A Freeman 5, C O'Connor 8. Subs: A Moran 8 for C O'Shea (46), A Dillon 7 for D O'Connor (64), M Sweeney 6 for Freeman (61), R Feeney for Doherty (73).
Roscommon: D O'Malley 6; N Collins 7, N Carthy 8, S McDermott 8; I Kilbride 7, N Daly 7, C Cafferkey 7; C Shine 6, K Higgins 6; D O'Gara 5, D Shine 6, R Stack 7; S Kilbride 7, C Cregg 6, C Murtagh 5. Subs: E Smith 6 for Kilbride (43), D Murtagh 7 for C Murtagh (47), F Cregg 6 for D Shine (inj 55), M Nally 7 for O'Gara (55), M Finneran 7 for Kilbride (68), D Smith for C Cregg (68).
Referee: - E Kinsella (Laois).
The game at a glance
Man of the match
Cillian O'Connor (Mayo) - Tom Cunniffe was the front-runner until Diarmuid Murtagh's arrival but O'Connor was Mayo's leader throughout, even when the chips were down and his shooting wasn't the best.
Andy Moran's arrival. He was dropped from the starting 15 but showed why he is their captain, grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck on his 46th-minute introduction.
How close Roscommon came to pulling off a shock win and how incredibly toothless Mayo were when a blanket defence was thrown up in front of them.
A brilliant second-half free from O'Connor close to the touch-line, scored from an impossible-looking angle.
Eddie Kinsella, to the crowd's frustration, played the 'advantage rule' a lot but he was very consistent in that and made a few brave calls in the late stages.
What they said
James Horan (Mayo manager): "It would have been easy to lie down but the character the guys showed out there was excellent. We kept grinding away and got five points on the trot to win the game."
John Evans (Roscommon manager): "They were wonderful. It was absolute inexperience which beat them. They had the game and had the chances but you can't put an old head on young shoulders."
Mayo 13 (10 first half)
Roscommon 9 (4)
Mayo 20 (12)
Roscommon 19 (7)
Mayo 1 (C O'Connor 65), Roscommon 1 (Collins 44)
Mayo 0, Roscommon 0
Mayo are into the Connacht final on July 13 and Roscommon go to the second round of the qualifiers (2B) on July 12.