Impressive Roscommon brush aside Leitrim

John Evans’s side look capable of providing a challenge to Mayo in Connacht

Roscommon 1-18 Leitrim 0-13

The sun broke out in Hyde Park and Roscommon did enough to suggest the Connacht championship may not be the one-horse race the nation believes it to be. If James Horan and the Mayo stats men snuck out of here after half-time, they might have been more than a little concerned by the threat that John Evans's team represents.

But by the final whistle, Roscommon had a few questions of their own to address as they prepare for the defining match of their season.

For the first 35 minutes, the Roscommon forwards gave a terrific shooting exhibition, with three lazily brilliant scores from Senan Kilbride and a sharply-worked injury-time goal for Ronan Stack.

At they went in at the interval they led 1-12 to 0-5 and were warmed by the applause of the locals in the crowd 8,055.

Defensive structure
In addition to having their complex defensive structure torn to ribbons, Leitrim lost their first-choice midfielder Darren Sweeney to the only black card of the game. The January promise of the FBD final, when Leitrim enjoyed a second successive winter bout against their neighbours seemed to mean nothing here.

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Leitrim needed certain things to happen. They needed to hit everything but didn’t. And they needed Roscommon to struggle in front of goal. They didn’t. Forcing Roscommon to break them down, with Barry McWeeney dropping back to corner -back and the versatile Wayne McKeon playing as a covering wing-forward wasn’t a bad plan.

The problem was Roscommon’s front men had one of those days when the goalposts seemed to be a mile wide. They couldn’t miss. Diligently as they covered, the Leitrim men couldn’t seem to close the corridor of possession through to Ciarán Murtagh, who was in murderous form at full forward, winning a series of low, well-placed balls sent into him.

Roscommon’s economy from those possessions must have delighted Evans, who watched as Kilbride led what appeared to be an internal competition to see who could land the most spectacular point. Five of Roscommon’s forwards scored from play in the first half, with their most prolific scorer, Donie Shine, the sole exception.

There was a cruelty about the timing of Roscommon's goal: in the third minute of injury time. They transferred the ball sharply through Cathal Cregg and Ciarán Cafferkey and Murtagh inevitably popped up with the assist pass for Ronan Stack to palm into an empty net. With that, Leitrim's flame seemed extinguished.

However, the predicted stroll-in-the-park never materialised. The loss of Cathal Shine to injury ended Roscommon's midfield dominance and Leitrim slowly began to showcase their strengths. Emlyn Mulligan was central to that revival but Wayne McKeon and Gary Reynolds made their experience tell and Robert Lowe came in to add a bit of mischief to the Leitrim attack.

After Leitrim hit four unanswered points between the 57th and 65th minute, it was possible to imagine an alternative game in which the visitors had attacked with more adventure in the opening period rather than try to soak up the Roscommon pressure.

Inspiring points
The visitors required a goal to really make the Hyde Park faithful edgy and that never looked like coming. Niall Carty bossed what was an impressive Roscommon full-back line and Leitrim had to be content with the dead-ball scores from Mulligan and a couple of inspiring points from play.

Roscommon had worked up such a handsome lead that they kept out of dangerous waters though the occasional counter attack, with Diarmuid Murtagh and Craig Burns coming in from the bench to keep the scoreboard ticking over.

Donie Shine's 53rd minute pint ensured all six Roscommon forwards scored from play. They had 12 different scorers in total and just two points came from frees. They look comfortable on the ball, with half backs Niall Daly and Ciarán Cafferkey drifting up to join the attack and the confidence with which they struck for points underlined a season in which they have steadily built momentum.

Reproducing that shooting form against Mayo will be a tougher proposition. But there was evidence here that the terrific work which Roscommon have done at underage level has led to a formidable senior team that looks capable of having a shout in the West on June 8th.
ROSCOMMON: 1 D O'Malley; 2 S McDermott, 3 N Carty, 4 N Collins; 6 N Daly (0-2), 5 D Keenan, 7 C Cafferkey (0-1); 8 C Shine (0-1), 9 K Higgins (0-3); 10 D O'Gara, 11 D Shine (0-2, 1 free), 12 R Stack (1-0); 11 S Kilbride (0-3), 15 C Murtagh (0-2), 14 C Cregg (0-1). Subs: E Smith for C Shine (41 mins inj), M Nally for C Cafferkey (49 mins), D Murtagh (0-2, 1 free) for S Kilbride (55 mins), F Cregg for C Cregg (63 ), C Burns (0-1) for D O'Gara, D Donnelly for R Stack (both 69 ).
LEITRIM: 1 C McCrann; 12 B McWeeney, 4 P Maguire, 7 P Brennan; 2 B Prior, 3 D Wrynn, 6 G Reynolds (0-1), 5 W McKeon (0-1); 8 D Sweeney, 9 D Moran; 10 K Conlon (0-1 ), 19 M McWeeney, 22 C Beirne (0-2 frees); 13 E Mulligan (0-8, 6 frees); 14 J Clancy. Subs: R Lowe for M McWeeney (25 mins), G Hickey for D Sweeney (31 mins black card), S McWeeney for J Clancy (46 mins), A McLaughlin for C Beirne (54 mins), R Cox for P Brennan (64 mins).
Referee: C Lane ( Cork).