O'Connor points the way for Mayo
Teenage sensation displays cool head to punish Roscommon indiscipline and regain Connacht crown for Horan's charges
THE wind howled, the rain cascaded and the temperatures dropped unseasonably low at Dr Hyde Park yesterday but Mayo beat the misery as they unseated Roscommon with a well-timed second-half run.
They took the lead for the first time in the 64th minute, extended it to two points early in stoppage time before Donie Shine pared it back to the minimum with a pointed free. The five previous Connacht finals had all been won by one-point margins but the remarkable sequence was broken as Mayo sub Enda Varley fired over a late point to leave Roscommon requiring a goal to win the game.
They managed it in similar circumstances against Mayo 10 years ago but the Mayo defence was tighter this time, massing back in front of goalkeeper Robert Hennelly as the seconds ran out.
Hennelly had made an important contribution a few minutes earlier when he fetched the ball above the crossbar just as it seemed certain that Shine's kick was on its way to levelling it up.
And so a game which was always going to be dominated by the awful weather saw Mayo return to the Connacht summit without exactly flashing out a warning to the rest of the football world that they are powerful All-Ireland contenders.
Still, they have achieved their first target, thanks to a gritty first-half performance against the wind and a well-organised drive after the interval.
Cillian O'Connor emerged as a central figure for Mayo, scoring eight points from frees which was quite a return in the conditions. The 19-year-old Ballintubber rookie was calmness personified as he punished Roscommon's defensive indiscipline from a range of distances and angles.
He also did well in other facets of play on a day when his full-forward colleagues Alan Freeman and Jason Doherty were a long way short of their best. Andy Moran (first half) and Alan Dillon (second half) had some good moments, while the O'Shea brothers, Aidan and Seamus, were more influential at midfield than Michael Finneran and Karol Mannion.
There was lots of broken play around midfield -- hardly surprising in the circumstances -- but Mayo were that bit sharper when it came to foraging for possession. That was especially significant in the first half as Roscommon, who won the toss, attempted to build up a lead which would sustain them against the elements later on.
Roscommon started brightly, scoring two points in the first seven minutes but O'Connor wiped out the deficit with two pointed frees. Roscommon led 0-6 to 0-2 after 27 minutes but, once again, Mayo pared two back. Those were crucial scores and while Roscommon added three more before the interval, Mayo were last to score when Kevin McLoughlin cleverly side-footed a point.
Roscommon manager Fergal O'Donnell admitted afterwards that he didn't think a four-point half-time lead (0-9 to 0-5) would be sufficient and he was proved right. Roscommon needed to get more possession into Donie Shine, their best forward, but tended to overdo the short passing game in the middle third of the pitch. Mayo defended doggedly, cleverly filling the approach routes to Roscommon full-forward Senan Kilbride, while also guarding possession extremely well.
Roscommon sent Cathal Cregg on defensive duty for much of the second half, which weakened them in the attacking zone. Indeed, there were times when Roscommon had very few forwards inside the Mayo 45-metre line and, while one of those was the opportunist Shine, he was living off very meagre rations.
Mayo had an early setback in the second half when referee Michael Collins cancelled a scoreable free chance, adjudging that O'Connor had spent too long on the preliminaries. However, it didn't unsettle him and shortly afterwards he began the task of reeling in Roscommon with a perfectly judged free-kick.
Roscommon took 15 minutes to register their first score of the second half, a whizzing drive from Shine which flew over the bar. It was unquestionably a goal chance and, had he found the net, it would have put Roscommon four points clear.
Instead, they were two up, an advantage which was never likely to be enough against a Mayo team which was growing in confidence with each passing minute.
Two O'Connor points brought them level on the hour mark and as they continued to build momentum it was only a matter of time before the winning points arrived.
As Roscommon reflect on how they became the third of the 2010 provincial champions to lose their crown, they will feel that the main damage was done in the first half when they failed to build up a bigger lead.
They were also outscored against the wind (0-5 to 0-2) but the key element was the fact that Mayo were so close at half-time. It meant that Mayo could go about their work calmly and systematically, something that wouldn't have come as easily if they were chasing a larger lead.
Manager James Horan said afterwards that he was happy with the amount of possession Mayo had won in the first half on the basis that if it continued with the wind, the scores would flow. It was a fair assessment.
Roscommon were left regretting a number of basic errors when possession was spilled just as they were moving into good positions. The wet conditions were partially responsible but there were times when Roscommon players had only themselves to blame for running into traffic and being dispossessed.
For Mayo, it was a question of a hard job done quite well but not with anything like sufficient authority to suggest they are up among the top All-Ireland contenders. Their starting forward line managed just 0-3 from open play between them, a return which wouldn't be enough against better opposition.
Luckily for Mayo, Roscommon defensive indiscipline presented lots of opportunities and with O'Connor striking the ball delightfully, the errors were punished often enough to provide Mayo with a winning edge.
Scorers -- Mayo: C O'Connor 0-8 (8f), A Moran, K McLoughlin, A Dillon, P Gardiner, E Varley 0-1 each. Roscommon: D Shine 0-8 (4f ,1 '45), S Kilbride, C Cregg, D Ward 0-1 each.
Mayo -- R Hennelly 7; K Higgins 7, A Feeney 6, T Cunniffe 7; R Feeney 7, D Vaughan 6, T Mortimer 6; A O'Shea 7, S O'Shea 7; K McLoughlin 6, A Dillon 7, A Moran 7; C O'Connor 9, A Freeman 5, J Doherty 5. Subs: G Cafferkey 7 for A Feeney (52), E Varley 7 for Doherty (60), R McGarrity for S O'Shea (64), P Gardiner for McLoughlin (67).
Roscommon -- G Claffey 7; S McDermott 7, N Carty 7, S Purcell 6; D Keenan 7, P Domican 7, D Ward 6; M Finneran 6, K Mannion 6; S O'Grady 5, K Higgins 6, C Cregg 7; C Devaney 5, S Kilbride 5, D Shine 8. Subs: C Dineen 5 for Warde (37), D McDermott 6 for O'Grady (54), S Ormsby 6 for Dineen (61), E Kenny 6 for Kilbride (61), G Heneghan for Devaney (65).
Ref -- M Collins (Cork).