Friday 18 October 2019

Mayo crash out of Connacht Championship as Roscommon upset the odds in Castlebar thriller

Roscommon players and supporters celebrate
Roscommon players and supporters celebrate
Players tussle before leaving the pitch at half-time

Sean McGoldrick

League champions Mayo crashed out of the Connacht championship when they lost to Roscommon for the first time in championship football in Castlebar since 1986.

Substitute Fintan Cregg kicked the winning point deep in injury time and Mayo squandered a chance to draw level with the last kick of the game when Kevin McLoughlin missed a free. But it was two first-half goals from Cathal Cregg and Ultan Harney which did the real damage to Mayo.

For the second week in a row, a team relegated from the top flight beat a Division 1 team in the provincial series. But Roscommon have a better record than Mayo in Connacht championship having contested the last three finals whereas Mayo last appeared in a final in 2016.

Psychologically this was a crushing blow for Mayo, whose league final victory has suddenly plummeted in value. This was the first time since 2010 that the reigning league champions failed to reach a provincial final – nine years ago title holders Cork lost to Kerry in the Munster semi-final.

It was also a serious wake-up call for James Horan, who in his first term as team boss had never lost a Connacht championshp game.

Roscommon fans celebrated enthusiastically as they came to terms with winning a championship match against the home side in McHale Park for the first time in 33 years.

They will be underdogs again when they meet Galway in the provincial final on June 1, having won just one of their last four provincial final encounters against the Tribesmen – the 2017 final went to a replay – but they won't be intimidated at the prospect of taking on Kevin Walsh's side. After all, Mayo were supposed to be the team to beat in this year's championship.

Bidding to extend their unbeaten record in encounters against Roscommon to 11 games, the league champions lined out as selected. The visitors made a tactical switch in their full forward line with Andrew Glennon replacing Diarmuid Murtagh.

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As expected Anthony Cunningham opted for a defensive formation but, playing with the breeze, Mayo exerted huge pressure on Roscommon's kick-outs right from the throw-in. They created five scoring chances in as many minutes after winning three of Darren O'Malley's first four re-starts. But they only availed of two of those chances with Matthew Ruane and the impressive Darren Coen kicking points.

The first time O'Malley went short with a kick-out it yielded a huge dividend when Roscommon attacked down the right flank and after a quick free Cathal Cregg got through and blasted an unstoppable shot to the roof of the Mayo net.

Normal service resumed in terms of how the game was developing with the home side kicking the next two scores before an error from Mayo goalkeeper Rob Hennelly gifted Roscommon a second goal after 12 minutes.

His short kick-out was intercepted by Ultan Harney, who combined with Andrew Glennon and the corner-forward was on hand to punch Glennon's cross into the empty Mayo net.

Hennelly was clearly rattled, as were his team mates, and they coughed up the next two re-starts. Roscommon's decision to attack the right flank of the Mayo defence was paying rich dividends as they outscored their opponents 3-2 during the next ten minutes.

Mayo's finishing was very wayward and their defensive frailties resurfaced again when Keith Higgins was booked after being the third man into a tackle in the 26th minute

As a result a Mayo free was disallowed and from the resultant hopped ball, Andrew Glennon found himself in the clear but he opted not to pick up the ball and his first-time shot was saved at the expense of a 45, which goalkeeper Darren O'Malley nailed.

But Roscommon's re-start woes resurfaced again in the latter stages of the half - which lasted 40 minutes - with the visitors only winning one of O'Malley's last eight kick-outs. They outscored Roscommon 4-1 during that period to leave the visitors 2-6 to 0-10 ahead. But Mayo's tally of nine wides compared to four for Roscommon underlined the overall pattern of the play.

A row broke out just as the referee blew the half-time whistle and as the players made their way to the tunnel there was plenty of jostling, pushing and shoving. And there were unconfirmed reports that the Gardai on duty had to keep the warring parties separated as they made their way to the dressing rooms underneath the stand.

Before the start of the second half referee David Gough booked four players, Mayo's Paddy Durcan and Lee Keegan and the Rosocmmon pair Niall Daly and Cathal Cregg for their roles in the melee.

The first early exchanges in the half were dominated by a free-taking competition between the two goalkeepers with O'Malley landed a 45 while Hennelly kicked Mayo's 11th in the 40th minute.

Mayo were experiencing huge problems attempting to find a way through the massed Roscommon defence but the visitors' inability to secure possession from their own kick-outs was haunting them.

The individual excellence of Conor Cox, who kicked a brace of points, kept Roscommon's noses in front but gradually the pressure told and after Darren Coen kicked two on the spin – though the second looked wide – Mayo's scoring rate improved.

Substitute Enda Smith and Fergal Smith exchanged scores as the excitement mounted in the misty rain. Boland edged Mayo ahead for the first time since the fifth minute on the hour mark but after O'Malley had missed a scorable free, Cox nailed one to level an absorbing tie again.

Two minutes from the end of normal time Roscommon's David Murray was black carded, reducing his side to 14 men as they had used their quota of six substitutes. Lee Keegan missed a great chance to win it but his shot dropped short.

Every play counted now as the tension mounted. A brilliant block by Niall Daly on Andy Moran – who was later black carded - resulted in the crucial turnover which Roscommon capitalised on. Conor Hussey linked up with substitute Fintan Cregg who held his nerve to kick what proved the winning score in the third of the five minutes of injury time.

Still, Mayo could have sent the tie into extra time at the death after a foul on Matthew Ruane but from a kickable 25-metre free on the right, Kevin McLoughlin kicked Mayo's 15th wide and there was time for no more action.

Scorers: 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), each.

Roscommon: C Cox (2f), 0-5, C Cregg, U Harney 1-0 each, D O'Malley (2 45, 1f) 0-3 A Glennon C Daly, E Smith, F Cregg 0-1 each. .

Mayo: R Hennelly; C Barrett, B Harrison, K Higgins; P Durcan, M Plunkett, L Keegan; M Ruane,A O'Shea; F Boland, J Doherty, D O'Connor; E Regan, D Coen, K McLoughlin. Subs A Moran for Regan 45m; C Diskin for Coen 60m; C Loftus for Doherty 70m, C Treacy for Moran BC 70 + 3

Roscommon: D O'Malley; D Murray, S Mullooly, C Daly; N Daly, C Hussey, R Daly; T O'Rourke, S Killoran; H Darcy, C Cregg, N Kilroy; U Harney, C Cox, A Glennon. Subs: D Murtagh for Glennon ht; B Stack for R Daly 45m, C Devaney for Darcy 47m, E Smith for Cregg 50m, D Smith for Harney 54m, F Cregg for Killoran 60m

Referee: David Gough (Meath)

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