Roscommon show they belong with convincing Donegal win
Kevin McStay delighted as his team achieve league target of survival in Letterkenny
Roscommon’s Cathal Cregg celebrates scoring a goal. Photograph: Lorcan Doherty/Inpho
The Rossies are turning to into a thrilling flying column of a football team. After their opening day defeat - to Monaghan in a Kiltoom tornado - they have gone to Kerry, Cork and now Donegal and didn’t so much make raids as proclamations. They look like a side that belongs in elite company.
True, Donegal have a weirdly miserable record in Letterkenny with just two wins in thirteen matches now. But they aren’t accustomed to being bossed around in their own back yard and that is what happened here. 1-19 is a handsome score line to post in March. But for two fine, reflex saves by Peter Boyle, the Donegal defence would have been thoroughly ransacked. There is a wonderful innocence about this Roscommon team: they haven’t been afraid to celebrate these landmark league wins or to show it means something. They are a young team on the up.
“Today is great because we are absolutely nailed-on Division 1 next year which is a big thing for us, a big target,” enthused McStay. It was notable that McStay and Liam McHale took to the stands armed with note books and Cornettos, leaving Fergal O’Donnell to patrol the sideline.
“We’ll get another seven games next year into these young boys. It’s great: we played quite well and there’s no denying it. We were dreaming about beating Donegal up in Donegal and now we’ve done it. Coming into the game and I’ll be dead on honest, we’d have been very realistic that we could have got a scotching today if we were a little bit off.”
Instead, it was Donegal who were forced to contemplate a scotching. This was a very accomplished and progressive performance by the division one newbies. Donegal seemed to ship much of the blame for last week’s MMA-event against Kerry in Austin Stack park and Roscommon might have anticipated an under-the-cosh afternoon. That may have been Donegal’s intention but from minute one, the home team looked startled by the pace, invention and confidence of the Roscommon attack. They showed no inhibition and no fear. Captain Ciaran Murtagh set the tone by shaking off Ryan McHugh with an early shoulder to supply the free-running Daly with his first point. They pressed the Donegal kick-out and crowded their 45 metre line. They rotated their inside forwards, with big Senan Kilbride the go to man. They had willing support runners in Sean McDermott and Niall McInerney. They had their fullback, Neil Collins, shadow Michael Murphy all over the pitch. They confined to Donegal to just one first half score from play - a trademark left-foot curler from Odhran MacNiallais. They finished the half with just two wides. The second of those stunned the home crowd as Niall Daly ballooned wide with the Donegal goal at his mercy. Daly had tortured Donegal in the first half. He was a late replacement for Ian Kilbride and promptly gave the selectors something to think about, popping up all over the shop and firing three nifty points. You’d have bet on him hitting the target when he was clean through in the 28th minute but although he fluffed his lines, no Donegal defender could get near the ball as Ciaran Murtagh and Senan Kilbride slickly transferred possession to Daly.
“They got off to a blistering start and we never looked like pegging it back,” acknowledged Rory Gallagher.
“We rode our luck for a long while and we were lucky to be only five points down at half-time.”
Donegal fell into a 0-13 to 0-6 hole early in the second half before they finally roused themselves. The introduction of Christy Toye gave them central strength and directness and for ten minutes, Murphy absolutely lorded it over the crowd. It is a frustration to see him trail behind the play so much when he terrifies defences whenever he is on the ball. He contested three balls as a conventional edge-of-square full-forward. The result was 0-2 and a half-pass away from a goal chance. Roscommon were outscored 0-6 to 0-2 in 14 minutes, with the hard-running Eoin McHugh finding gaps in the visitors defence. Two incidents - Odhran MacNiallas’s dismissal for two silly tackles and Cathal Cregg’s brilliant 58th minute goal on the counter-attack -ended Donegal’s chances.
“We were well and truly beaten,” said Gallagher.
“We were beaten by the better, hungrier team. It was too open for our liking. We responded well in the second half and we kept at it. The sending off was a critical moment, but there was no denying that Roscommon were much sharper. It was a lethargic display against a very hungry team. We got to grips with it well at the start of the second half, but us losing the man made it easy for them. Look, they were just sharper and they were just hungrier.”
Few teams can declare themselves safe as the Allianz league enters its last phase. Roscommon can. If summer is as smooth, the Primrose County will be in dreamland.
ROSCOMMON 1 G Claffey; 2 S McDermott, 3 N Collins, 4 N McInerney; 26 R Stack, 6 S Purcell, 7 D Murray; 10 F Cregg (0-5, 3 frees), 9 N Daly (0-3); 5 C Daly (0-1), 11 C Murtagh (0-6, 5 frees), 12 C Devaney (0-1); 13 C Connolly; 14, S Kilbride, 15 C Cregg (1-2).
Substitutes: 19 N Kilroy for 5 C Daly (36 mins black card), 8 E Smith (0-1) for 13 C Connolly (52 mins), 17 C Compton for 9 N Daly (56 mins), 22 J McManus for 26 R Stack (66 mins).
DONEGAL: 1 P Boyle; 2 P McGrath, 3 E McGee, 6 A Thompson; 4 E Doherty, 5 R McHugh (0-1), 7 E ‘Ban’ Gallagher; 8 R Kavanagh, 19 N Gallagher; 14 M Murphy (0-7, 4 frees); 15 M O’Reilly, 18 M McEelhinney; 11 O MacNiallais (0-1), 12 E McHugh (0-1); 13 P McBrearty (0-6 frees).
Substitutes: 22 M McHugh for A Thompson ( 22 mins), 25 K Lacey for 3 E McGee (32 mins), 21 C Toye (0-1) for N Gallagher (half-time), 20 S McBrearty for 18 M McElhinney (50 mins), 19 N Gallagher for 7 E ‘Ban’ Gallagher (65 mins).
Referee: P Hughes (Armagh).