Roscommon beat experimental Galway team to secure promotion

The Rossies finish up as the only unbeaten team across all four divisions in the league

Roscommon 1-20 Galway 1-15

No one with a living memory in Roscommon could recall the last time Galway arrived to Dr Hyde Park not necessarily needing or even wanting to beat them. It’s always been among the most accommodating of grounds in the country, only rarely in this sense.

Once the ball was thrown in under the cloudless blue sky the pre-match needs and intentions became abundantly clear. Roscommon had to win to ensure promotion to Division One, which they did, racing into an 11-point lead at half-time and finishing up as the only unbeaten team across all four divisions. Plenty for the bumper crown to cheer about, which they did too.

Galway were already promoted and rested several players in anticipation of the Division Two final in Croke Park next Sunday, where they’ll again meet Roscommon. Still they didn’t want this one to end without leaving some sort of note, duly outscoring their hosts by six points in the second half.

Both managers openly admitted it will be a different sort of ball game next Sunday; still it’s been good league either side of the Shannon, two fresh promotions making it three Connacht teams in the top tier next year.

For a team with their "backs to the wall", as manager Anthony Cunningham said afterwards, Roscommon started in a flat-out sprint, with Cian McKeon and Richard Hughes helping set the pace, while Galway appeared to be jogging around in comparison.

When on 20 minutes Galway lost lively wing back Cathal Sweeney to a black card, Roscommon stretched their legs again, scoring 1-7 without reply, McKeon finishing off the goal on 32 minutes with a deft palm into the next after a brilliant one-two with Donie Smith.

Ultan Harney and Eddie Nolan were showing the way from midfield, although Galway midfielder Niall Daly hit two from either boot into the breeze, his unveiled potential the brightest note of the half for Galway.

“Look, we had to win, it was different for Galway,” said Cunningham. “It was backs against the wall for us, down to the last match, we had to win, and I’m happy with the performance. We definitely treated every game in this league like it was knock-out, and we wouldn’t have got promoted if we didn’t.”

Omen

Both managers know the championship is calling, Galway are out against Mayo three weeks after next Sunday, while Roscommon are out a week later against Sligo or New York.

“I don’t know if that’s a good or bad omen,” Cunningham said of the unbeaten run. “Look, Galway have been the standard bearers in Division Two, and it’s a hard one for them when they’re already through, resting a few players. Sunday in Croke Park will be a totally different game, and it will be easier to get the Galway players up for that one than the Roscommon players. But we’ll try to work on that during the week.”

Among those who didn’t start for Galway were Damien Comer and Shane Walsh, nursing a slight hamstring and back strain respectively. They did hit some highs in the second half, Johnny Heaney shooting a superb goal in the 65th minute from 20 metres out, straight into the top right corner of the net. Daly brought his tally to five from play from midfield, and Dessie Conneely was also in good form, scoring 0-4.

As if to prove there was some bite too, both teams finished with 14 men - Galway captain Sean Kelly dismissed in injury time for a second booking, along with a black card for Conor Cox.

Even with nothing to play for, pride or place, Joyce was adamant this wasn’t the result he wanted or needed either: “It appeared that way, but at the same time we didn’t want to lose the game. We probably left ourselves with a mountain to climb in the second half, but in fairness the lads battled back, put some respectability on the score, and that sets up some fight spirit for next week.

Development

“We won’t want to lose two games, we saw today what Roscommon can do, they’re still unbeaten, but that’s a challenge we’re looking forward to, and we’ll be gung-ho to win that match next Sunday.”

Roscommon finished with six different scorers, with Enda and Donie Smith handling buckets of ball, while Cox scored 0-7, including two from play.

“For the development of young players coming through, Division One is super,” added Cunningham. “To really cut their teeth. One more match before the championship will suit us too, which is ultimately what we’ll be judged on.”

Joyce saw no downside to playing Roscommon again in seven days: “Absolutely not, they give a good hard physical game, and that’s what we need going into the championship on April 24th. One of our targets this year was to get out of Division Two.

“Imagine being down in Division Two next year with all the teams down there, Dublin, Kildare, Louth and Limerick coming up, we’ve won most of our games, got some game time in 33, 34 lads, and that’s what it is about, being into a good position going into the championship in four weeks’ time.”

ROSCOMMON: C Lavin; D Murray, B Stack, E McCormack; R Hughes (0-1), N Daly, R Daly; U Harney, E Nolan; C Murtagh (0-3), E Smith (0-1), C Heneghan; C McKeon (1-3), D Smith (0-4, three frees), C Cox (0-7, three frees, one 45).

Subs: C Sugrue for Nolan, N Kilroy (0-1) for Heneghan (both 53 mins), D Murtagh for McKeon (57 mins), C Hussey for N Daly (61 mins), C Daly for Harney (63 mins).

GALWAY: C Flaherty; S Fitzgerald, K Molloy, J Glynn (0-1); T Gill (0-1), S Kelly, C Sweeney (0-1); M Tierney (0-1 free), N Daly (0-5); F O Laoi, P Kelly, J Heaney (1-0); D Canney, E Finnerty, D Conneely (0-4, two frees).

Subs: D McHugh for O Laoi (28 mins), O Gallagher (0-1) for Finnerty (32 mins), Liam Silke (0-1) for Sweeney (half-time), J McLoughlin for P Kelly (49 mins), C McWalter for Canney (58 mins).

Referee: Derek O'Mahony (Tipperary).

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

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