Wednesday 13 December 2017

Rossies produce perfect ambush to conquer Tribe

Roscommon 2-15 Galway 0-12 Connacht SFC final

Tadgh O'Rourke and Niall Kilrory of Roscommon celebrate with supporters at the end of the game. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Tadgh O'Rourke and Niall Kilrory of Roscommon celebrate with supporters at the end of the game. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

The significance of what Roscommon did on the last regulation day of the league only really came to light in Pearse Stadium yesterday as a perfect ambush was executed in great style.

Already relegated after a harrowing sequence of six successive defeats, they dusted themselves down and landed their only win of the campaign against a Cavan team fresh from beating Mayo and drawing with Kerry in their previous two games.

In the greater scheme of things Roscommon had no business winning the game but their vision was long-term and what they got out of it that afternoon turned their season around and sustained them when the pressure came on in the second-half.

This was a thunderous win for Roscommon football, only a third Connacht title since 1991 but arguably their best performance in a provincial final since 1980. They were resilient and showed courage beyond physical dimensions that must qualify them as one of the smaller teams in business.

But that wasn't much in evidence, not when Sean Mullooly charged down a Michael Daly shot in the first-half, or when Ciarain Murtagh dived in brilliantly to rip possession from beneath the bulkier Gareth Bradshaw to create a late scoring chance, or when substitute Cathal Compton stripped Danny Cummins with a shuddering tackle near the end.

All these gritty moments were reflective of a team that wasn't going to yield. They packed a punch far greater than their weight.

Brian Stack scores Roscommon's second goal. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Brian Stack scores Roscommon's second goal. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile

But beyond the grit there were so many moments of sharp, classy football. You won't see many better-constructed goals than Cian Connolly's effort in the 14th minute. Two passes - the last a perfect cross-field delivery from Diarmuid Murtagh - set up Connolly to round Declan Kyne and slide past Ruairi Lavelle for a 1-6 0-2 lead.

All this against the backdrop of acrimony that has stalked Roscommon since the split between joint managers Kevin McStay and Fergie O'Donnell after last season.

The succession wasn't always smooth and over the winter some players quietly slipped away. As the league lurched from one crisis to another, the criticism from within ramped up with former goalkeeper Gay Sheerin the most vocal on local radio.

Hammering

Damien Comer of Galway tussles with John McManus of Roscommon late in the game. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Damien Comer of Galway tussles with John McManus of Roscommon late in the game. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

But McStay and his coach Liam MacHale stuck with it, McStay stating on the night of a hammering from Dublin in the league that they should only be judged on championship. Prophetic words now. This was a rich reward for their patience.

Before the game's conclusion McStay had already shaken hands with opposite number Kevin Walsh and walked down the tunnel before returning soon after to enjoy the celebration. Clearly some thought and emotion to a challenging year.

They effectively had to win this game twice. After building that seven-point lead they failed to capitalise on Connolly's goal and kicked seven wides in the 22 minutes that followed, Diarmuid Murtagh's point from play their only respite on 31 minutes.

But their defence was magnificent as they showed patience to force Galway into shots that weren't really on.

Still, a seven-point cushion at the interval, 1-7 to 0-3, looked precarious given Pearse Stadium's notorious wind.

Damien Comer is shown a red card by referee David Gough. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Damien Comer is shown a red card by referee David Gough. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Roscommon's second goal will haunt Galway most. Lavelle sought to drop it 30 metres out but 19-year-old Brian Stack, the recipient of so many of Colm Lavin's restarts in the opening half, nipped in and drove forward instantly to clear the paltry cover and slip a shot past Lavelle.

It's easy to blame the goalkeeper but those in receipt and those who continue to lay these plans are equally culpable. It has cost dearly.

That goal left Galway nine adrift, 2-8 to 0-5, six minutes into the second-half but they showed composure to get back in touch, Paul Conroy stepping it up where Enda Smith had been so dominant and Shane Walsh and Damien Comer hurting Roscommon almost every time they had ball in hand.

Within three minutes the value of the goal was cancelled out and by the 49th minute the lead was down to three, courtesy of Daly's point set up by the Comer/Walsh axis. In pushing up on the Roscommon kick-out they got their own return during that run.

Roscommon players and management celebrate with the Nestor Cup after victory over Galway in Salthill. Photo: DAVID MAHER/SPORTSFILE
Roscommon players and management celebrate with the Nestor Cup after victory over Galway in Salthill. Photo: DAVID MAHER/SPORTSFILE

The lead briefly went back to four before Comer cut it again and you thought that Galway will squeeze again, especially when Diarmuid Murtagh retired with injury. But, bizarrely, Galway didn't score again.

Murtagh's replacement Donie Smith kept standards high, setting up Connolly and then whipping over a spectacular point on 59 minutes that energised Roscommon. They kicked on impressively, Devaney's chip and score almost supplanting Smith's for its daring nature.

Liberation was coursing through their veins at this stage and by the end Roscommon had accumulated more scores against the wind, 1-8, than they had with it. Galway will be disappointed with their kick-out execution and generally how they defended.

Afterwards, McStay heralded Smith's arrival beyond the local and colleges scene. Devaney matched him with his vision and accuracy from half-back.

Galway need to address their frailties in the full-back line ahead of a qualifier with Donegal.

They lost their discipline too with three players sent off after an added-time skirmish, substitute Michael Lundy on a straight red card, Comer for a second yellow and a black for Conroy.

Once again a championship of twists and turns threw up a curve ball. For Roscommon to win was one thing, but to apply some polish at the end really makes this memorable.

Scorers - Roscommon: D Murtagh 0-5 (3fs), C Connolly 1-1, B Stack 1-0, C Murtagh, C Devaney (2fs) 0-3 each, D Smith 0-2 (1f), S Killoran 0-1. Galway: S Walsh 0-6 (4fs), P Conroy (1f), D Comer 0-2 each, G O'Donnell, M Daly 0-1 each.

Roscommon - C Lavin 7; D Murray 8, J McManus 7, N McInerney 6; S McDermott 6, S Mullooly 8, C Devaney 9; T O'Rourke 7, E Smith 9; F Cregg 6, N Kilroy 7, B Stack 7; C Connolly 7, D Murtagh 8, C Murtagh 7. Subs: I Kilbride 6 for Cregg (47), D Smith 8 for D Murtagh (53), C Compton for C Murtagh (65), R Stack for Kilroy (70), S Killoran for B Stack (75).

Galway - R Lavelle 5; C Sweeney 6, D Kyne 5, E Kerin 6; G O'Donnell 7, G Bradshaw 6, L Silke 5; P Conroy 8, F Ó Curraoin 5; T Flynn 6, E Brannigan 5, J Heaney 5; M Daly 7, D Comer 8, S Walsh 8. Subs: G Sice 5 for Heaney (h-t), D Cummins 6 for Brannigan (h-t), M Lundy for Flynn (60), E Tierney for O Curraoin (65).

Ref - David Gough (Meath).

Irish Independent

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