Roscommon shine once again as Sligo can't live up to expectations


GAELIC GAMES:A PITCH invasion of a different sort in McHale Park yesterday evening, this one resulting from sheer elation. Roscommon’s first Connacht football title in nine years, their 20th in all, was received with the sort of hysterical celebrations normally reserved for counties that never win anything. Entirely understandable, considering where Roscommon came from this season.

“We were written off,” said their manager Fergal O’Donnell, who by cosmic coincidence had also captained Roscommon to their last title, in 2001.

“We didn’t get a write up at all. This is our All-Ireland. All we wanted was to play in Croke Park in August. So we’re in bonus territory now.

“I was lucky enough to win this title myself as a player. But this is better. Because it’s been the hardest two years I ever had. The biggest thing that drove us on, really, was last year here in Castlebar.”

Yes indeed. Last year in Castlebar. In the Connacht semi-final, Roscommon lost to Mayo by 20 points. Since then they lost six of their seven league games, and were relegated to Division Four.

Yesterday was different. This time they had their shining light. A player to take the shine off Sligo. His name is Donie Shine – and by hitting 0-10 of their total of 0-14, the 21 year-old shone above everybody else on the field.

“Some people on the radio this week referred to Donie Shine as Donie Shannon,” added O’Donnell. “That’s the sort of respect we got. And Donie showed then today that he’s a top man. All the lads worked so hard, right down to Kevin Higgins’ block there at the end. They were tremendous. I’m so proud.”

It was an extraordinary team effort and while Sligo didn’t deliver on their expectations, there was no denying Roscommon’s determination, particularly in the final choking minutes – when Sligo twice levelled it, only for Shine to land the winner at the death.

So within minutes of the final whistle, Sligo’s name went into the draw for the fourth qualifier round. Dublin, Cork, Kildare and Down were awaiting the four beaten provincial finalists; and what transpired was Sligo against Down, Dublin against Louth, Cork versus Limerick, and Monaghan – who fell hopelessly to Tyrone in yesterday’s Ulster football final – to take on Kildare.

All four games are scheduled for next weekend, with venues to be decided by the GAA later today.

“We allowed Tyrone bully us, especially in the last half of the field,” said Monaghan manager Séamus McEnaney after their inexplicably poor 1-14 to 0-7 defeat in Clones. Monaghan also allowed themselves to go 41 minutes without a score, and that was never going to win them anything.

Instead, Tyrone collected their first back-to-back Ulster titles since 1995-96, and the scary thing for those still in the football championship is the best has yet to come. Tyrone had 10 players in scoring mood yesterday, with star Stephen O’Neill making only a token appearance.

“It probably wasn’t the prettiest of games for the neutrals to watch,” said manager Mickey Harte, “but it was pretty effective for us. It’s an Ulster title, and we’re very happy with it, but there are harder challenges ahead. We’re not going to swing from the rooftops and say we are the finished product but we are a decent product. And a decent product that can get better. If we can say that at this time of the year I will always take that.”

Results elsewhere suggest this year’s football championship may once again boil down to Tyrone and Kerry. Cork were only mildly impressive in their 0-12 to 0-5 qualifier win over Wexford yesterday, scoring just once in the closing 30 minutes at Wexford Park. Kildare were a little more convincing in their win over Derry on Saturday.

And as for Dublin? “We’re no world beaters,” admitted manager Pat Gilroy after their three-point win over a generally poor Armagh on Saturday.

“I still think we have to be practical about where we’re at. But our year is all about getting consistent performances, like that, in the championship. If we get that now for the rest of the championship I’ll be happy. Where it takes us, who knows?”

The big question about the Dublin-Louth pairing is how well Louth can recover from last Sunday’s Leinster final fiasco against Meath, because unless they come out fighting again, Dublin have a great chance of making the All-Ireland quarter-final.

The two All-Ireland hurling quarter-finals, also set for next weekend, are now decided. Cork, who fell, eventually, to Waterford and Dan Shanahan’s late goal in Saturday’s Munster final replay in Thurles, have something of a soft landing as they face Dublin’s conquerors Antrim.

Teams who have met previously in the championship cannot meet again at this stage so Tipperary, who yesterday beat Offaly 0-21 to 1-12, and have already played Cork, are handed the arguably more difficult task of facing Galway.