When Donal Smith crashed the ball past Paul Mannion in the Mayo goal with seven minutes to go in Kiltoom on Wednesday night it all but ended Mayo’s interest in this year’s u21 football championship. Smith’s goal came after he chased down a wayward shot from Ciaran Murtagh and stopped the ball from going over the end-line. He held off the challenge of Niall Freeman and drove a left footed shot past Mannion at the near post to put his side 1-10 to 0-8 up with only a few minutes left on the clock.
Up to the goal, Mayo were still in with a chance of taking something from the game, despite being completely outplayed by the hosts in the second half. Roscommon had turned a one point deficit at the break into a two point lead which should have been more if they had been able to take advantage of the chances earlier in the second half.
Mayo were dealt a serious blow before the game with Danny Kirby not being able to start after picking up a hand injury in training after last weekend’s Galway game. The big Castlebar man was replaced by Aghamore’s Brendan Harrison in the starting 15. Harrision moved to the half forward line, with Aidan Walsh dropping into midfield alongside Mayo captain Danny Geraghty. In other positional changes, Darren Coen moved into the full forward line with Cillian O’Connor moving out to centre half forward. Harrison’s positioning on the half forward line did raise a few eyebrows in the Mayo supporters before the game, as he would be much better known as a defender not an attacker.
End to end stuff early on
The game kicked off in lightning fashion with Roscommon going straight for Mayo from the off, with Niall Kilroy opening the scoring with a point from distance with less than a minute on the clock and a minute later they doubled their lead. The ball was driven into the full forward line from deep. Colin Compton broke out ahead of David Gavin to win the ball before slotting the ball over the bar with his left foot.
Mayo got out on the scoreboard after four minutes when Aidan Walsh drove a 45’ over the bar which had more than a few yards to spare when it went between the posts. Mayo pulled the game level a minute later when Mícheál Forde drove down the flank and exchanged play with Conor O’Shea, who in turn passed the ball to Evan Regan who put the ball over the bar from close range.
The game was going from end to end at a fierce pace in these opening stages Donal Smith opened his account for the evening with a pointed free to put Roscommon back into the lead with six minutes on the watch, that lead was doubled on eight minutes when Cian Connolly was the last member of the Roscommon full forward line to get on the scoreboard finishing off a move down the right flank. Conor O’Shea cut the gap back to a single point on the 10 minute mark when he collected the ball on the end line and drove at goal before hitting a dipping left footed shot that forced Naos Connaughton in the Roscommon goal to make a smart save to put it over the bar.
A Donal Smith pointed free pushed Roscommon’s lead out to two points once again on the quarter hour mark. Mayo kept up the pressure and had pulled the game level on 22 minutes thanks to pointed frees from Evan Regan and Cillian O’Connor. With six minutes to go in the half a moment of quick thinking by O’Connor almost bagged a goal for Mayo. Roscommon keeper Naos Connaughton fielded a Mayo pointed effort that dropped short under his bar. He broke from his line brushing past the challenge of Evan Regan, but he took the ball a challenge too far and was dispossessed out near the sideline. The ball was worked to O’Connor who, rather than taking on a shot for a point, went for goal with Connaughton stranded off his line. He hit his effort with power and purpose. But Fintan Kelly chasing back to cover got there just in time to claw the ball away from crossing the line and past the post for the safety of a 45’.
Mayo went into the lead four minutes before the break for the first time when O’Connor converted what looked like a soft free from close range. Conor O’Shea put two between the sides after he was picked out by Darren Coen from a quick free. The gap was cut back to a single point before the break when Niall Daly pointed from close range after Mayo had failed to properly clear their lines.
Hosts take over in second half
While the first half had been a very competitive contest, the second was almost all Roscommon with Mayo only getting their first score of the half after 15 minutes had gone by. Roscommon took control early on and were not going to give it up easy. Smith levelled the game on 32 minutes, and Finbar Cregg pushed them back into the lead three minutes later. But much like Galway the previous week, they were well on top, but they were not putting their chances away. Roscommon hit wide after wide in the opening stages of the half and were leaving the door open for Mayo to hit them with a potential sucker punch. Mayo were able to level the game through the hard working Conor O’Shea who kicked his third point of the game on 45 minutes, but that was as good as it got for Ray Dempsey’s men. Roscommon introduced Cathal Shine from the bench, and Mayo brought on Kirby who was heavily strapped on one of his hands and placed the Castlebar man in the full forward line.
A Donal Smith free put Roscommon back into the lead and Scott Oates who had come off the bench at the break was given all the time in the world to extend that gap to two with eight minutes left on the clock. When Smith crashed home his goal a minute later the jig was up for Mayo. Ciaran Murtagh added another Roscommon point after Mayo coughed up the ball in Roscommon territory and the hosts swarmed forward looking to end the game in style.
Mayo did manage to put another two points on the board in injury time thanks to frees from O’Connor and sub James Shaughnessey, but it was too little too late. Being able to only score a single point in normal time during the second half was never going to be enough to win this contest. For the third year in a row, Mayo have failed to make a provincial decider at this grade, with Roscommon stopping them in each of those years. There were some positive performances for Mayo to take from the game, with Shane McDermott and Mícheál Forde solid in the half back line. Aidan Walsh showed flashes of quality in the middle of the park winning three high balls in style and Conor O’Shea when he got on the ball was more than a handful for the Roscommon defence.
Roscommon: N Connaughton; R Stack, C Duignan, D Murray; C Daly, P Brogan, C Cafferkey; F Kelly, N Daly (0-1 ); F Cregg (0-1 ), N Kilroy (0-1 ), D Clabby; C Connolly (0-1 ), C Compton (0-1 ), D Smith (1-4, 3fs ).
Subs: S Oates (0-1 ) for Clabby (half-time ); J McManus for Kelly, C Shine for Connolly (both 41 ); C Murtagh (0-1 ) for Cregg (51 ).
Mayo: P Mannion; N Freeman, D Gavin, M Walsh; C Crowe, S McDermott, M Forde; A Walsh (0-1, 45 ), D Geraghty; A Farrell, C OConnor (0-3, 3f ), B Harrison; E Regan (0-2, 1f ), D Coen, C O’Shea (0-3, 2f ).
Subs: J Shaughnessey (0-1, f ) for Harrison (36 mins ); D Kirby for Farrell (44 ); C Walsh for Coen (51 ); A O’Toole for Regan (58 ).
Referee: R McBrien (Leitrim ).