Murt Connolly's Mayo came unstuck at the final fence in the National Hurling League on Sunday when they were pipped to the title by a hungrier Roscommon in Carrick on Shannon. Mayo had gone through the league stages of he competition unbeaten until last weekends shock defeat to a Monaghan side who were on their way out of the division and into division four for next season. The Mayo cause wasn't helped by the fact that dual star Keith Higgins was ruled out of the contest after picking up and injury playing for the Mayo football side the previous week. He was replaced in the side by Cathal Freeman, but the absence of the talismanic Ballyhaunis man was something that Mayo never got over. They now have seven day's to shake off the hangover before they open their Christy Ring Cup campaign next weekend against a Wicklow side who were themselves defeated in the Division 3A final by Derry on Sunday.
The sun beat down on Pairc Seán Mac Dirmada and the sprinkling of buttercups in the far right hand corner of the field, gave everyone in attendance the hint that summer was on the way and bigger challenges were on the horizon in the near future. The game itself was played at championship ferocity with neither side willing to give an inch in the physical stakes. Stephen Connell the Mayo corner back in particular put in a number of powerful hits on men all afternoon, and at times walked a very tight line after he picked up a yellow card early on the proceedings. In general the Mayo defence put in a very good shift all afternoon with Derek McConn giving a really captains display at full back and Shane Morley also impressing in the number six shirt. What killed Mayo was their persistence in giving away cheap frees in scorable positions, which were gladly converted by Gary Fallon for Roscommon. Fallon along with the peerless Declan Nolan and Kevin Connelly were the main men for Roscommon, in particular Nolan lorded the midfield battle was the corner stone to his sides victory. Mayo went in at the break leading by 1-8 to 0-9, thanks to a late goal from Ronan Cullinane, the Mayo corner forward was in the right place at the right time to pull on the sliothar from close range after Pádraig Dolan in the Roscommon goal had failed to collect a long punt into the danger area. That should have been Mayo's third goal in the half but Cullinane and Eoin Madigan both spurned glorious chances to find the net.
Mayo were moving well and looked to have the beating of their men especially in the forward line, but they were getting swamped in the middle of the field by the hard working Roscommon midfield ably supported by their half back and half forward lines. This was the key battle ground area that swung the game in the eventual winners favour. The second half saw Roscommon add another eight points to their total while Mayo could only manage a paltry four points over the final 35 minutes. Gary Fallon hit Roscommon's first four points in the second half all from placed balls after Mayo had given away cheap fouls in scoring positions. Niall Murphy was the first Mayo man to score in the second half ten minutes into it, by that stage Roscommon had had pulled the game level and less than a minute later Fallon would land his eighth and final score to push them into a lead they never surrendered again. Kevin Connelly added on a brace of points along with scores from Peter Kellehan and Michael Keavney, while Mayo clung on thanks to a trio of frees from Stephen Broderick but it wasn't enough.
Mayo: D O'Brien; S Connell, D McConn, G Henry; B Higgins, S Morley, M Morley; K Feeney, C Freeman; N Murphy, D McDonnell, E Madigan; R Cullinane, S Broderick, D McTighe. Subs: B Hunt, A Connolly
Roscommon: P Dolan; S Curley, I Delaney, B Donnelly; A Moore, M Kelly, P Kelly; J Moran, D Nolan; P Kellehan, K Connelly, G Fallon; J Lawlor, D Loughnane, J Coyne. Subs: M Keavney, M McLoughlin, E Kenny
Ref: P Greene (Galway )