Roscommon go top of the group after finishing strong against Sligo

Davy Burke’s side give themselves every chance of automatic quarter-final berth

All-Ireland SFC Group 3 Round 2: Roscommon 1-21 Sligo 1-11

Davy Burke is a man known to wear a woolly hat in all seasons. Only not on days like this.

Standing in the blissful sunshine of Dr Hyde Park, sweat still dripping from his brow, Burke is busy reflecting on what just happened and what comes next.

The game already won, the clock almost run down, Enda Smith scored the last point for Roscommon, his fifth from play after a suitably dazzling performance.

It restored their advantage to 10 points, enough for Roscommon to top Group 3 on scoring difference, their one win, and one draw, otherwise similar to Dublin. Their quarter-final schedule, preliminary or otherwise, will ultimately be decided by their last game against Kildare, Burke’s native county. The championship has always loved it this way.


It also leaves Group 3 all to play for, Sligo and Kildare’s fate set to be decided on scoring difference too, unless they can get something from their last game.

“Well it wasn’t that I wanted to be top of the table tonight,” Burke says on the importance of Smith’s last point. “I wanted to be top of the table in two weeks. Every point matters, I was conscious of that. We’d just given away a soft free, now it was a free, but that had to be eclipsed.

“So if we win the (Kildare) game, yeah. But if Kildare beat us, we’re down to third. So it all depends, scoring difference may not come into it. But I certainly think Kildare will fancy a cut (at Roscommon), so it will be 50-50, I think.”

Before a crowd of 5,773, passing light clouds bringing some relief, Roscommon were made to work for their win, a goal from the excellent Alan Reilly on 49 minutes bringing Sligo right back into contention, 0-14 to 1-9.

That only spurred Roscommon to raise their game again, Dylan Ruane wrapping up the result with seven minutes remaining, surviving a push in the back to finish off his shot on goal, bursting through the middle.

The Roscommon inside forward line were certainly making hay all afternoon, Cian McKeon a constant provider in the first half, finishing with 0-3 of his own. Donie Smith also came off the bench to add two more of his own, Roscommon finishing with eight scorers in all.

The finest score of the first half came in the 25th minute, Diarmuid Murtagh dispossessing Finnian Cawley, just inside his own half, then promptly turned his nose towards goal. After a quick one-two with Ben O’Carroll, Murtagh then struck clean between the posts.

By then Murtagh was well charged up, having missed a fine goal chance earlier, on 11 minutes, O’Carroll again the provider, Aidan Devaney getting the close-up block. Murtagh finished with 0-6, three from play.

Sligo were only playing in patches, their confidence and flow not helped by kicking 10 wides in the first half alone, some less excusable than others. And that was playing with the warm breeze.

Reilly, a replacement for Keelan Cawley, hit two points before half-time, keeping Sligo within distance, Roscommon up 0-8 to 0-6 as they headed for the slices of cold watermelon.

His goal came straight from a Sligo kick-out, which Roscommon pressed, only for Seán Carrabine to fetch, and pass off to Reilly: “It’s pure risk-reward,” Burke says of that concession. “We pressed the kick-out, they got over the top of us, simple as that. I wouldn’t be worried about pace, we’ve plenty of pace in our team. When you press the kick-out, you’re pressing it to hurt them. Ultimately Carrabine got the ball, but we’re not going to stop pressing.

“But look, some of it was poor, wasn’t it? We were eight (scores) from 17 (chances) at half-time, very poor for this standard of football. There was a swirling enough wind, at least that’s what the lads told me. We’ll give them that one. There are 16 teams in this competition, and no bad team in it. We were fully prepared to go down the straight with Sligo today, and we did.”

Despite the advantage of playing with the breeze, Sligo went 27 minutes before their first score from play, reliant on frees from Niall Murphy and a long-range Carrabine strike off the ground early on.

“It’s disappointing,” says Sligo manager Tony McEntee, “because this was a game we could have kept to four or five points, which would have been respectable, and would have been fair. But the last 10 minutes, between mistakes, fatigue, it ended a 10-point game, and that’s disappointing.”

“For us, really, progression would be an added bonus. I’ve been saying that all year, our goal here is to learn and develop and try to improve game to game.

“We want to compete against these top teams, and learn from it. If we progress, great, but it’s not the over-riding issue, we still have a gap to close. From a conditioning perspective, and a football perspective, but we do need to cut down on our mistakes as well.”

So what of Sligo’s prospects against Dublin, perhaps keeping their quarter-final hopes alive?

“I don’t think anyone expects us to beat Dublin, let’s be honest.”

ROSCOMMON: C Carroll; C Walsh (0-1), B Stack, D Murray; N Daly, E McCormack, C Daly; D Ruane (1-1), E Nolan; C Murtagh (0-2, one free), E Smith (0-5), C Lennon; C McKeon (0-3), B O’Carroll (0-1), D Murtagh (0-6, three frees).

Subs: N Kilroy for C Daly (45 mins), D Smith (0-2) for Lennon (48), R Hughes for E McCormack (61), C Hussey for N Daly (63), C Cox for Ruane (66).

SLIGO: A Devaney; E Lyons, E McGuinness, N Mullen (0-1); P McNamara, B Cox, L Towey; C Lally, P Kilcoyne; F Cawley, S Carrabine (0-3, one free), A Reilly (1-3); L Nicholson, P O’Connor, N Murphy (0-4, two frees).

Subs: P Spillane for Cawley, M Walsh for Nicholson (both h-t), M Gordon for O’Connor (57 mins), K Cawley for Towey (67), D Quinn for Carrabine (70).

Referee: Conor Lane (Cork)

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics