Horan rues wasted opportunities as Rossies hold nerve
Roscommon 2-12 Mayo 0-17
No sooner had David Gough blown the final whistle in Castlebar on Saturday night than the heavens opened. It was as if the Gods were weeping for the vanquished Mayo footballers, who had celebrated their first national title in 18 years just eight weeks ago. Fate had just dealt them another cruel blow.
The oldest cliché in Gaelic football is still the truest: the only statistic that matters is the scoreline.
Roscommon harvested their first championship win over Mayo in Castlebar in 33 years, though they scored on three fewer occasions, created ten fewer chances and had only one player - Kerry native Conor Cox - who scored more than once from play.
Yet again Mayo were the authors of their own downfall, as James Horan - who, in his first term as manager, had never lost a provincial championship game - acknowledged.
He said: "We had 15 wides. It is just too many. I think we made poor decisions. Our shot selection was poor. Maybe we didn't back ourselves enough to make sure we took the right shot at the right time.
"Roscommon are a very good team. They obviously got two early goals. They were two poor goals from our point of view. We did get back in the second-half, but we just couldn't finish it out."
When Mayo wing-forward Fergal Boland kicked back-to-back points around the hour mark to put his side ahead for the first time since the sixth minute, they looked poised to kick on and secure a place in the provincial final for the first time since 2015.
But in the championship minutes it was Roscommon - relegated from Division 1 in March - who held their nerve. Their six replacements made a more telling contribution than Mayo's four substitutes. And Horan's decision to replace Darren Coen - who was the team's leading scorer with 0-5 from play - after an hour was puzzling.
Apart from Fintan Cregg's 73rd-minute winner, two other Roscommon substitutes made crucial plays. Enda Smith kicked a point in the third quarter while Conor Devaney executed a series of crucial turn-overs when the game was in the melting-pot.
Roscommon played the last seven minutes with 14 men after David Murray was black carded, by which time they had used all their subs. But according to their boss Anthony Cunningham, their inner steel had begun to be forged in January when they pushed Mayo close in the League in MacHale Park, in the end losing by one point.
"We knew that we could match them for sure from that night. But for us, Mayo are also an inspiration really. To see where they have got to and Roscommon are just over the border from them. A lot of the guys know each other. So why can't we aspire to be a Mayo in the future?"
The fate of goalkeepers Robert Hennelly and Darren O'Malley illustrated the contradictions inherent in the contest, which featured a brief fracas after the half-time whistle was sounded.
O'Malley had a catastrophic first half with his restarts. As Mayo applied a full court press, he was forced to kick long and his team-mates only secured seven of his 19 restarts as Matthew Ruane and Aidan O'Shea dominated the midfield exchanges.
But O'Malley still held his nerve to convert three long-range placed balls - two from 45s - and significantly, he didn't have a single save of note to make.
His opposite number Hennelly was beaten twice. Roscommon's second goal, in the 12th minute, came as a result of his misdirected kick-out which was intercepted by Ultan Harvey. He played a one-two with Andrew Glennon before punching the ball to the net.
Hennelly also missed three long-range placed kicks and Kevin McLoughlin was their fourth free-taker on the night when he failed to bring the game to extra time at the death.
"In fairness to our fellas, they showed a great resilience and stuck to the task. It is something we want to build on," said Cunningham, who must now plot the downfall of his native Galway in the provincial final.
SCORERS - Roscommon: C Cox 0-5 (2f), C Cregg, U Harney 1-0 each, D O'Malley (2 45s, 1f) 0-3, A Glennon, C Daly, E Smith, F Cregg 0-1 each. Mayo: D Coen 0-5, E Regan 0-3 (2f), M Ruane, F Boland, P Durcan 0-2 each, L Keegan, A Moran, J Doherty (1f) 0-1 each.
Roscommon - D O'Malley 7; D Murray 7, S Mullooly 6, C Daly 7; N Daly 8, C Hussey 7, R Daly 7; T O'Rourke 6, S Killoran 7; H Darcy 6, C Cregg 7, N Kilroy 7; U Harney 7, C Cox 9, A Glennon 6. Subs: D Murtagh 6 for Glennon (ht); B Stack 6 for R Daly (45), C Devaney 7 for Darcy (47), E Smith 7 for C Cregg (50), D Smith 6 for Harney (54), F Cregg 7 for Killoran (60).
Mayo - R Hennelly 6; C Barrett 6, B Harrison 6, K Higgins 5; P Durcan 7, M Plunkett 6, L Keegan 6; M Ruane 8, A O'Shea 7; F Boland 7, J Doherty 6, D O'Connor 5; E Regan 6, D Coen 8 K McLoughlin 5. Subs: A Moran 5 for Regan (45); C Diskin 5 for Coen (60); C Loftus for Doherty (70), C Treacy for Moran (b/c, 70+3).
Ref - David Gough (Meath).