Roscommon 2-13 Down 1-10
On the bank holiday Monday in June, the Roscommon and Offaly under-20 managers parted on jovial terms after their latest challenge game, joking that they might meet again in the EirGrid All-Ireland final.
That unlikely fixture is now a reality and the midlands neighbours will reconvene at Croke Park next Sunday, although for long stages on Saturday evening, Roscommon’s progression was in doubt.
Two points behind at half-time, and still two back with five minutes of normal time remaining at Kingspan Breffni Park, a first final place since 2014 appeared unlikely.
Then came their remarkable finale, a 1-5 scoring blitz that began with a point from top-scorer Daire Cregg and ended with Adam McDermott kicking into an empty net after the Down goalkeeper had pushed up the field in desperation.
“I am very friendly with the Offaly manager, myself and Declan Kelly have had challenge matches and chats for the last year and a half,” said Roscommon manager Liam Tully, who reflected on the side’s last meeting in June.
“We had a bit of a laugh and a joke about maybe we’d meet again further down the road and thankfully that has happened because I have huge time for the amount of work that Declan has done with that Offaly team, and for all the people around him.
“They have worked hard and it’s fantastic to see the likes of Offaly, Down and Roscommon involved and getting their asses off the seats and working hard. They’re not looking at other counties thinking, ‘We can never reach that level’. Of course you can reach that level, just put in the work when it should be put in.”
Roscommon’s hard-working performance on Saturday had Tully’s fingerprints all over it, although there was more to it than mere bull-headed effort.
Tully himself can take plenty of credit for unloading four subs from the bench between the 41st and 46th minutes, a move which helped reshape the game in Roscommon’s favour, particularly around midfield.
They won the third quarter by a point and outscored a Down side mentored by the likes of Marty Clarke and Seán Boylan by 1-5 to no score from the 55th minute to the end of a game that had 10 minutes of stoppage time.
Six minutes of additional time was initially signalled but a series of flashpoints, resulting in the straight red card dismissals of captain and goalscorer Shealan Johnston and midfielder Tom Close, stretched the game out.
In truth, the six-point win flattered Roscommon, not just because of McDermott’s tap-in goal but because of all the scoring chances that Down butchered. Danny Magill hit the crossbar in the 36th minute for the Ulster champions and Andrew Gilmore’s follow up attempt was blocked.
Two minutes later, Tom Smyth crashed a shot off the angle of the bar and post. There were 10 wides too from Conor Laverty’s side who’d overcome Monaghan after extra-time in the provincial decider.
“Our first goal was to win the Ulster championship and when the dust settles the boys will be delighted with that but at the moment we had ambitions of being the best team in Ireland and we just fell short of that,” said Laverty. “It turned into a battle. The conditions led to that and I just felt Roscommon wanted it a wee bit more than us.”
On a slippery pitch and with intermittent rain spells, Roscommon started well and finished well. Down were on top in between and were three points up at one stage in the third quarter.
Down goalkeeper Charlie Smyth cut an adventurous figure, playing as an auxiliary defender and scoring two points though he was caught out late on for the Roscommon goal.
Down full back Ryan Magill executed a terrific interception in the 51st minute to deny James Fitzpatrick his second goal of the game.
It looked like being a potential match-winning tackle and preserved Down’s two-point lead though Roscommon rallied superbly from there.
ROSCOMMON: C Carroll; C Lohan, C Walsh, D Gaughan; P Gavin (0-2), T Crean, R Fallon; K Doyle, E Crawley; B O'Carroll (0-2, one free), D Cregg (0-5, one free), D Heneghan; R Dolan (0-1), A McDermott (1-1), J Fitzpatrick (1-1).
Subs: C Carthy (0-1) for Heneghan (20-22 mins), S Trundle for Crawley, Carthy for Heneghan (both 41), J Lohan for Crean (44), D Wynne for Dolan (46), J Doory for Gaughan (53).
DOWN: C Smyth (0-2, two frees); R Magill, L Toal, A Morgan; T Smyth (0-1), P McCarthy, T Fettes; O Murdock, T Close; D Magill (0-2), R O'Hare (0-2, one free), S Johnston (1-0); A Gilmore (0-2, one free), E Brown, J McGovern (0-1).
Subs: P McMullan for Fettes (20), S Og McCusker for D Magill (44), S Croskery for Brown (48), J Clarke for McGovern (54), J Murtagh for O'Hare (58).
Referee: B Cawley (Kildare).