Monday 22 January 2018

Mayo steady the ship on voyage out of drop zone

Mayo 1-11 Roscommon 1-7

Mayo's Diarmuid O'Connor competes for possession with Roscommon's Fintan Cregg. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Mayo's Diarmuid O'Connor competes for possession with Roscommon's Fintan Cregg. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Mayo's Evan Regan celebrates scoring his side's first goal. Photo: James Crombie/INPHO
Mayo's Aidan O'Shea is tackled by Roscommon's Conor Devaney. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Mayo manager Stephen Rochford. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Was it the approach of summer, as ordained by the clocks rather than the weather, the fear of relegation or a single-minded determination to reach the powerhouse levels of the past five years that inspired Mayo?

Whatever the origin, the impact was most impressive as the much-improved Connacht champions slogged their way through the Dr Hyde Park mud to deliver their second win of the league.

In doing so, they moved out of the relegation zone, albeit on scoring difference, ahead of their final game at home to Down next Sunday.

It leaves Mayo reasonably well placed to avoid the drop before turning their attentions to the championship.

And, on the evidence of yesterday's performance, they are cranking up for another big campaign. For while Roscommon facilitated them to a degree that would not have been expected, there was still a whole lot to admire about much of Mayo's performance.

Advanced

Despite the setback Roscommon are still in with a good chance of reaching the semi-finals, even if they lose to Dublin next Sunday. They will have learned a lot from yesterday's game where the conditions were better suited to a physically stronger Mayo squad, which is more advanced in development terms.

There were fears that the game might have to be called off when heavy rain left pools of water dotted around the pitch but thankfully the showers eased off an hour before throw-in and referee Maurice Deegan was happy to proceed.

It was the correct call but while the surface was definitely playable, it placed huge physical demands on the players.

"We're not as strong as Mayo so we were always going to struggle in those conditions. And so it proved but we didn't fall away. We made a game of it in the end," said Roscommon joint manager Fergal O'Donnell.

Indeed they pinned Mayo back in the final 15 minutes but had left themselves with too much to do after falling 1-10 to 0-4 in the third quarter.

Mayo, who led by 0-6 to 0-4 at half-time after playing with the wind, added an unanswered 1-4, the goal coming from the impressive Evan Regan in the 38th minute.

Similar to the first half, Roscommon's first score of the second period didn't arrive until the 23rd minute when Fintan Cregg pointed a free.

It provided the catalyst for a spirited revival which had the home supporters in the crowd of 12,000 believing that the day might be saved when sub Diarmuid Murtagh scored a goal on the hour mark.

Points by Conor Devaney and Murtagh cut the deficit to three points in the 68th minute and with four minutes' stoppage time to be added, Mayo suddenly looked vulnerable.

However, they held their nerve and closed out the game with a pointed free from Cillian O' Connor.

"We had it back to a three-point game and we had a free to get it back to two points. But look, Mayo were the better team on the day. We won four games on the trot and I suppose it couldn't keep going like that," said O'Donnell.

Mayo showed their intent from the start, taking control around midfield and pushing forward in powerful waves. Slick passing was difficult in the heavy conditions but Mayo still managed to stretch the Roscommon defence close to breaking point.

Indeed, were it not for some dreadful shooting and excellent goalkeeping by Geoffrey Claffey, Mayo would have been out of sight at half-time.

They shot ten wides in the first half - nine in the opening 20 minutes - while Claffey made three excellent saves.

Roscommon, who lined out without some familiar faces, would have been relatively happy with the half-time situation but, unfortunately for them, they were unable to exploit the wind advantage on the restart.

"I'd have liked to be much more ahead at half-time but there was no sense of panic. We were able to dictate the terms of the game for a long time in the second half before Roscommon put on a bit of pressure in the final quarter, which we had to deal with," said Mayo manager Stephen Rochford.

He can take a lot of satisfaction from this win as there were very definite signs that Mayo are returning to the levels to which they are accustomed.

"We came here focused to win the game and we did that. But we must do it all over again next Sunday. Down will want to go out on a positive fashion," he said.

Given Down's dismal record so far - six defeats and an average scoring rate of less than eight points per game - it's unlikely they will extend Mayo to any great degree. However, it's important for Mayo to rack up as big a win as possible as scoring difference could well decide who drops into Division 2.

It's a great relief for Mayo to have put themselves in a good position to avoid relegation and they have also put down a clear marker that they intend to remain on the Connacht summit.

Expectations

Roscommon's four-match winning run has raised expectations in the county but the reality is that they remain very much a work-in-progress.

In fairness, those close to the camp have always acknowledged that.

"I would be disappointed with aspects of our performance but happy that we didn't fall away. We could have been looking at a 10- or 12-point beating but the lads soldiered on," said O'Donnell.

Roscommon's biggest problems were in the middle third where Mayo won far more possession, except for the final 15 minutes.

Seamus O'Shea and Tom Parsons set the midfield agenda from the start, enabling Mayo to exert a control which should have yielded more scores.

Still, they were creating the chances, unlike Roscommon who found it very difficult to get to close to the Mayo goal for long periods. That changed in the final quarter but Mayo's vast experience was always going to be crucial.

Monaghan's defeat by Kerry helps Mayo but there's still some work to be done next Sunday.

"We couldn't go looking at anyone else's results. It's about picking up as many points as we can and see where it takes us," said Rochford.

Chances are, it will see them prolong their Division 1 tenure.

Scorers - Mayo: E Regan 1-3 (2f), A Freeman 0-3 (3f), R Hennelly 0-2 (2 '45s'), C O'Shea, P Durcan, C O'Connor (f) 0-1 each.

Roscommon: D Murtagh 1-1, C Murtagh 0-3 (2f), C Devaney 0-2, F Cregg 0-1 (f).

Mayo - R Hennelly 7; B Harrison 7, G Cafferkey 7, C Barrett 7; L Keegan 7, C Boyle 7, D Vaughan 6; T Parsons 7, S O'Shea 8; D O'Connor 7, A O'Shea 7, J Doherty 6; E Regan 8, A Freeeman 7, C O'Shea 6. Subs: P Durcan 7 for Vaughan (h-t), S Coen 6 for Cafferkey (45), C O'Connor 7 for C O'Shea (52), A Dillon 6 for Freeman (BC, 57), D Drake 6 for D O'Connor (60), J Gibbons for Doherty (66).

Roscommon - G Claffey 9; S McDermott 7, N Collins 6, N McInerney 6; J McManus 6, S Purcell 6, D Murray 6; F Cregg 6, I Kilbride 5; C Daly 6, C Murtagh 7, C Devaney 7; N Kilroy 5, E Smith 5, C Cregg 6. Subs: C Compton 6 for Kilbride (43), S Mullooly 6 for McManus (57), D Murtagh 7 for Daly (59), R Daly 6 for Devaney (63), J McDermott for Smith (66).

Ref - M Deegan (Laois)

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