After setbacks Roscommon claim statement win over Mayo but what impact will it have?
FOR THE SECOND Saturday night in succession, a stadium in a county town was lit up by the joy generated from a landmark early summer victory.
The parallels can be easily drawn between events in Castlebar on Saturday night and those in Cavan a week previous.
The ending of barren spells against near neighbours, both Roscommon and Cavan witnessing 18-year losing runs grind to a halt.
The taste of championship success after both had plummeted from the heights of Division 1 in the league this spring.
And the claiming of major scalps in the championship arena, Roscommon disposing of league kingpins Mayo and Cavan dismantling last August’s All-Ireland semi-finalists Monaghan, that infuse the rest of their 2019 campaigns with anticipation.
Cavan may have paved the way for sides relegated from the top tier yet Roscommon’s win will generate the greater tremors. As is the way with championship upsets, that can be attributed to the tale of the vanquished. There is no team over the last decade more compelling or forensically studied than Mayo. Their loss at home in a Connacht semi-final will always thrust them into the spotlight and even more so when it arrives two months after a Croke Park breakthrough in the form of league silverware.
But Mayo’s local woes – after completing five-in-a-row in Connacht in 2015 they have not contested a final there since – and the challenge they will confront in embarking on another qualifier odyssey, should not detract from the sense of achievement that Roscommon can enjoy. A first championship success over Mayo since 2001 and a first in Castlebar since 1986 are milestones their supporters will cling to.
Andrew Glennon celebrates Roscommon’s victory over Mayo on Saturday night.
Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO
For the current Roscommon players there have been enough setbacks to endure at the hands of Mayo and they should take plenty personal satisfaction from this result. Since 2011 their sides have had five attempts at taking down Mayo in a championship encounter but it has been a fruitless record with a quartet of defeats and a draw at the All-Ireland quarter-final stage two years ago.
Conor Devaney and Cathal Cregg are the survivors from the 2011 Connacht final loss by 0-13 to 0-11. Darren O’Malley, Niall Daly, Cregg, Diarmuid Murtagh and the Smith brothers were involved when they fell short by a point in a Connacht semi-final in 2014. Mayo were emphatic 12-point victors in the province in 2013 and the two-game All-Ireland saga in 2017 culminated with Roscommon being crushed as they shipped 4-19.
On Saturday Roscommon made amends. They got the boost of early goals, just like they did in the 2017 draw with Mayo, but this time managed to kick on sufficiently. Last summer they made a bright start in the Connacht final against Galway yet strikingly failed to score from play in the second half. With Mayo piling the pressure on during the second half on Saturday night, Roscommon’s capacity to raid for quality points from play by Conor Cox, Enda Smith and Fintan Cregg was a vital ingredient.
They had an important reserve of firepower to utilise as the match wore on. From those Croke Park 2017 clashes, the complexion of the Roscommon team has changed. They began with only four players – David Murray, Sean Mullooly, Tadhg O’Rourke and Niall Kilroy – who had started both games whereas Mayo’s teamsheets had eight names in common. It meant in the second half that Anthony Cunningham was able to nudge the Smith brothers, match-winner Cregg, Diarmuid Murtagh and Conor Devaney into the exchanges. They all put in the shifts that helped swing the game in Roscommon’s direction.
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Donal Smith in action for Roscommon against Mayo’s Fergal Boland.
Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO
It makes for a fine start to Cunningham’s championship reign. They had breezed past Leitrim as expected but a fortnight later achieved a win of greater significance for a side who are defended with added steel. They got some fortune in the manner in which Mayo spurned clearcut chances but Roscommon profited from being more clinical up front and not as porous at the back.
In May they have claimed two clean sheets in their Connacht ties after a league run that saw Roscommon concede ten goals across seven games. The inaugural Super 8s had not been kind to them either, Tyrone and Dublin both rattling off four goals in their meetings last summer. They lost out by an average of 13 points in that trio of ties in Group 2 and conceded 8-68 in the process.
Brushing shoulders with the elite has been a bruising experience for Roscommon. They are one of those sides that been on the fringes of the leading pack in the league and championship of late. Relegation from Division 1 in 2017 and 2019 sandwiched a Division 2 promotion in 2018. The championship has delivered a brilliant Connacht title in 2017 but they have lost two of the last three provincial finals to Galway and suffered resounding losses in the All-Ireland series over the past two summers.
They have spoken honestly about the eye-opening experience when they journeyed deep into the 2018 championship. Since last winter their squad have gathered under a new leader and resolved to improve. League outcomes may not have reflected that they had made strides but the championship to date has seen them make their mark. Another Connacht decider against Galway awaits and they are only one win away from a return to joining exalted company in the Super 8s.
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Saturday against Mayo represented a statement win.
What happens next for Roscommon will be the interesting part.
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