Mayo 4-19 Roscommon 0-9
Alternative histories: what if Donie Smith had hit a blameless wide into the teeth of the squall eight days previously, consigning Roscommon to an honourable one-point defeat? It would have spared the Connacht champions the indignity of getting trimmed by their neighbours and a degree of mirthless banter about the provincial title around Ballaghaderreen over the winter.
Roscommon's discomfort wasn't, however, the story of the day on a rare Croke Park bank holiday before a decent crowd of 39,154. Rather it was the return of Mayo to yet another GAA All-Ireland football semi-final, the county's seventh in succession where they will face Kerry.
Stephen Rochford’s team has staggered through the winding paths of the qualifiers, looking on occasion as if they might get run over and getting dragged down boreens of extra time and in this case a replay, but on Monday they looked restored and up for the fight.
Their energetic pressing of Roscommon’s kick-out forced long restarts and a bonanza of turnovers. With an abundance of possession and faced with a defence that had apparently installed revolving doors, Mayo scored early and often, swapping the early inexorable accumulation of points for a goal rush just before half-time that left them 13 clear at the interval and the prospect of getting caught as remote as Pluto.
This crushing (22 points!) victory in the last quarter-final for at least three years provided little reason to mourn the shutting down of the round but equally few grounds to celebrate the prospect of next year’s round-robin series. Unless teams five to eight get a lot more competitive, sustained exposure to this sort of thing will leave half of the Super 8 teams in need of counselling.
The day started with significant team news and both teams making two changes. Ger Cafferkey didn’t start for Mayo but the big news was the absence of Lee Keegan because of an infection in his foot. Unfortunately for Roscommon that affliction came a week too late and after the Footballer of the Year had single-handedly kept them at bay in the drawn match.
Kevin McStay rolled the dice on a couple on fronts. Leaving Fintan Cregg and captain Ciaráin Murtagh out of the starting 15 with maybe a view to later impact didn't work out particularly well with Cregg condensing his contribution to the point of picking up two yellow cards and swift dismissal in his 18 minutes on the pitch.
It was hard to judge with Murtagh because in common with the other forwards he was starved of serviceable ball. From the start Roscommon’s counter-attacking was so ponderous that the breaking player at times had to wheel around to wait for support while isolated and outnumbered forwards tried to find a bit of space to themselves.
The match-ups, which had gone well the first day, didn't this time. Sean McDermott was run ragged by Andy Moran, who attracted a few half-hearted pantomime boos – despite the Roscommon county board's pleas for tolerance – while those so inclined were still interested, and was replaced at half-time.
In the absence of Keegan, Mayo put Donal Vaughan on Enda Smith, who after a short start at centrefield relocated to full forward with rookie replacement Caoileann Fitzmaurice going to the middle. It seemed a curious ploy given the power and experience of Mayo's pair, Tom Parsons and Seamus O'Shea, but it wasn't a game changer of itself.
Smith wandered as is his wont but Vaughan simply stuck with him and at one stage fired over a point when he found himself in the neighbourhood.
Aidan O'Shea bounced back from an indifferent showing in the drawn match and gave a classic display of physicality and bustling hard work, making runs and drawing fouls. He feasted on contested ball – swooping on a couple of throw-ins, predatory as a pterodactyl – and earned the RTÉ Man of the Match award.
The roof came in on the Roscommon challenge in the 24th minute when they were leading by 0-6 to 0-2, which given the flow of the match already looked daunting. Kevin McLaughlin made ground right through the middle of the defence and planted the first goal.
Seconds later Keith Higgins opened up a chance for Moran to palm into the net. Four minutes later, dispensing with the need for a middle man, he carved through for an exquisitely taken goal and the margin was now well in double figures.
The goals were only indicative of Mayo's superiority, as there could have been a couple more. Colm Lavin, who was being persecuted on his kick-outs, made a point-blank save from Brendan Harrison, the latest Mayo defender up taking pot shots.
We wondered at half-time how long the second 35 minutes would be for Roscommon but to their credit they battled away with no prospect of even consolation. Cillian O’Connor added a goal to his flawless haul of frees and Mayo ran the bench to good effect.
Kerry are next and Mayo won’t lack animus after the epic replayed semi-final of three years ago. Cuimhnigh ar Luimneach and all that. Anyway the four best teams are now safely ensconced in the semi-finals and we await developments.
MAYO: 1. D Clarke; 2. B Harrison, 20. D Vaughan, 4. K Higgins (1-0); 5. C Boyle, 6. C Barrett (0-1), 7. P Durcan; 21. T Parsons (0-1), 9. S O'Shea; 10. K McLoughlin (1-0), 11. A O'Shea (0-2), 12. D O'Connor (0-1); 13. J Doherty (0-2), 14. C O'Connor (1-6, five points frees), A Moran (1-1).
Subs: 22. C Loftus for Doherty (47 mins), 18. D Drake (0-1) for McLoughlin (55 mins), 25. A Dillon for Moran (61 mins), 23. D Kirby for A O’Shea (62 mins), 17. S Coen (0-1) for Vaughan (62 mins), 19. S Nally (0-2) for Barrett (66 mins).
ROSCOMMON: 1. C Lavin; 2. S McDermott, 3. N McInerney, 4. D Murray; 5. J McManus, 6. S Mullooly (0-1), 7. B Stack; 8. T O'Rourke, 9. E Smith (0-1); 8. T O'Rourke, 9. E Smith; 18. C Fitzmaurice, 15. C Connolly, 12. C Devaney (0-1); 19. Cathal Compton, 14. D Murtagh (0-4, one free), 11. N Kilroy (0-1).
Subs: 23. G Patterson for McDermott (half-time), 10. F Cregg for Connolly (half-time), 13 C Murtagh for Compton (half-time), 21. D Smith for Stack (47 mins), 24. I Kilbride for Devaney (60 mins), 20. Colin Compton for E Smith (63 mins).
Referee: Anthony Nolan (Wicklow).