To win a provincial final is always sweet. To do so against all odds is all the sweeter. Fergal O’Donnell’s men tore up the script in Castlebar last Sunday to record a famous victory that will live long in the memory of all primrose and blue supporters.
Sligo were the hottest of favourites and perhaps deservedly so having performed well against “the big two”, Mayo and Galway. Roscommon, in many people’s eyes, were only there to make up the numbers. After all, they had been relegated to division four and were not overly impressive against either London and Leitrim.
Yet somehow, and presumably O’Donnell and his backroom team played a big part in this, they played with a confidence and self-belief that belied their underdog status. The 4/1 on offer about them looks very generous now.
Clann na Gael’s Donie Shine deservedly stole many of the headlines with an outstanding contribution of ten points, but in truth this was the classic team performance. Roscommon had heroes in every line, starting with goalkeeper Geoffrey Claffey who denied Sligo’s David Kelly a certain goal early in the second half.
The full-back line of McDermott, Dominican, and Ormsby provided a solid platform on which this victory was built, holding Sligo’s highly rated inside line to just two points from play. The half back line of Purcell, Dineen, and Casey mopped up a mountain of breaking ball.
Karol Mannion and Michael Finneran put in a masterclass in midfield play and dominated that vital sector. Mannion has plenty of experience and has proven himself before. Yet Finneran certainly put himself on the map with a flawless performance of fielding and hardwork.
The two Davids, Keenan and O’Gara and Cathal Cregg each chipped in with a point from play from the half-forward line whose efforts played a big part in bringing the Nestor Cup to Roscommon for the first time since 2001.
Inside it was Donie Shine who did most of the damage with seven points from placed balls and three from play. The former Athlone Community College student is without doubt one of the best young talents in the country. John Rodgers and Ger Heneghan completed the full-forward line which tormented the Sligo defence.
Kevin Higgins, Johnnie Dunning, and Paul and Colm Garvey were all introduced and each played their part in Roscommon claiming their 20th ever Connacht title.
Roscommon held a four point half-time advantage, 0-10 to 0-06 and were still four points to the good as they entered the final quarter. Yet Sligo began to claw their way back and managed to draw level. The game was well and truly in the melting pot. Momentum seemed to be with Sligo but this Roscommon lot are a stubborn sort and refused to consider defeat. Cathal Cregg drew a free which Shine pointed to edge Roscommon ahead only for Sligo’s Alan Costello to equalize.
Yet it was the Clann na Gael duo of Dunning and Shine who had the final say. Dunning won the free and young Donie did what he does best to bring back memories of the minor win in Ennis only a few short years ago. As the final whistle sounded I couldn’t help feeling that the late Dermot Earley must have been smiling down on McHale Park. How proud he would be of all concerned.
I also wondered what Willie Hegarty had to say as the long whistle sounded. No doubt it would have been worth tuning in for.
Roscommon now face one of the teams who emerge from the qualifiers in an all-Ireland quarter-final. Fergal O’Donnell has already pretty much indicated that they are in bonus territory from here on in but it would be a silly team that would take them for granted. Just ask Sligo.