Mayo survive late Roscommon charge in an unlikely blockbuster of a game

Two late goals for the home team turned what had been a one-sided affair into a dramatic nail-biter

Roscommon 2-11 Mayo 1-16

Out of nowhere, this one turned into a blockbuster. Mayo were eight points up heading into the final quarter and yet they needed a brilliant block from Diarmuid O’Connor to quell the final Roscommon attack and get out the gap alive. It would have been pure burglary on the Rossies’ part but so careless were Mayo in allowing it, they would have had a job getting the insurance company to pay out.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. As the well-clipped PA announcer cleared his throat before throw-in by announcing the late changes, it gradually became clear that the teams had no fewer than 10 to make between them. The hubbub that went through the stand as it was announced that the likes of Ciarán Murtagh, Aidan O’Shea and Ryan O’Donoghue wouldn’t be starting was vaguely comical.

You’d have had a hard time convincing the 12,491 here that this was a game either side was going to be raising a gallop to win. All the talk in the build-up was the prospect of this being the first of maybe four matches between the sides this season. Did either of them really want to be in a league final against each other the week before the Connacht Championship?


But when a team like Mayo, under new management and riddled with backstory, goes five games unbeaten to start the year, who cares if they want to win the league or not? You only had to watch the opening 20 minutes to see a team that wants to win everything, from a 50/50 ball to the league, to the All-Ireland to the Best Original Screenplay Oscar.

And when a team like Roscommon, coming off a defeat but still rising, with a home crowd rattling the old place to its buttresses, is chasing down a goal with the last attack of the game and very nearly stitching it, it’s no sort of question to be asking. Win the league? Win the moment.

That’s what this game ultimately became. A roiling, thundering succession of moments, most of them won by Kevin McStay’s side but enough going the way of Davy Burke’s to keep it interesting all the way to the end. Mayo led by seven after the first 20 minutes and by eight with 20 to go. This didn’t need to turn into any cause for the visitors to worry. And yet...

“I felt we had it tidied up a few times but we gave Roscommon opportunities and they took them,” McStay reflected afterwards. “Two great goals, I have to say and they rocked us a bit. I think we regained our composure and played it out in the end. Lots to take from the game. Wouldn’t be happy with some aspects of it but we played through it. I suppose if you are being clinical about it, we came up for two points as a National League fixture and we’re going home with them.”

In truth, it would have been a terrible day’s work if they’d gone home with any fewer. They had seven points on the board before Roscommon scored their first. Tommy Conroy galloped in to nail the opener inside 30 seconds and James Carr followed him in. Cillian O’Connor was looking sharp in his first start of the year and though his opening two contributions were from frees, it was elite-level place kicking. Suddenly, the Mayo inside line has five players gunning for three positions. When has that ever been a thing?

Roscommon by contrast were slow and laboured and didn’t look overly interested in those opening exchanges. Diarmuid Murtagh got them going with a free and a point from play and Conor Daly took matters into his own hands to rock up from full-back and ping one just before the break. But it was thin enough gruel for the home crowd to be living on and Mayo led by 0-9 to 0-4 at half-time.

Although Murtagh flicked the first score after the restart following a nice one-two with Enda Smith, Mayo basically shrugged and kept trucking. Cillian O’Connor drilled a fantastic effort with the outside of his boot from out on the right, Jack Carney split the posts while falling. And when Carney capitalised on a dropped pass on 48 minutes to finish to an empty net, it put Mayo 1-12 to 0-7 ahead.

That should have been that, really. That it wasn’t came down to a little looseness in the Mayo defence and a burst of energy from the Roscommon bench. Enda Smith drove into the game and shuffled his feet cleverly to slide home a goal on 54 minutes. Conor Cox came off the bench to land a huge free on 63 minutes and bury a goal on 71. Conroy should have ended it in between but his palm came off the crossbar and left Roscommon with a chance.

They very nearly pulled it off too. Ben O’Carroll squirmed through in the 76th minute but his shot was smothered by the indefatigable Diarmuid O’Connor and Mayo survived.

Roscommon: Colm Lavin; Conor Hussey, Conor Daly (0-1), David Murray; Colin Walsh, Brian Stack, Niall Daly; Tadhg O’Rourke (0-1), Keith Doyle; Richard Hughes, Ciarán Lennon, Enda Smith (1-1); Ben O’Carroll, Diarmuid Murtagh (0-4, 0-3 frees), Robbie Dolan. Subs: Ciarán Murtagh (0-2, 0-1 free) for Dolan, 22 mins; Daire Cregg (0-1) for Lennon, half-time; Donie Smith for C Daly, 53 mins; Conor Cox (1-1, free) for D Murtagh, 62 minss

Mayo: Rory Byrne (0-1, 45); Jack Coyne, David McBrien, Sam Callinan; Stephen Coen, Conor Loftus, Paddy Durcan; Mattie Ruane (0-1), Diarmuid O’Connor; Fionn McDonagh (0-1), Jack Carney (1-1), Jordan Flynn; Cillian O’Connor (0-7, 0-6 frees), James Carr (0-3), Tommy Conroy (0-1). Subs: Bob Tuohy (0-1) for McDonagh, 49 mins; Aidan O’Shea for Flynn, 55 mins; Ryan O’Donoghue for C O’Connor, 62 mins; Jason Doherty for Carr, 68 mins; Conor McStay for Conroy, 68 mins

Referee: Brendan Cawley (Kildare)

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times