I have no doubt Stephen Rochford slept soundly last Sunday night after his team finally put 70 minutes together that all his hard work merited. This was a big game which attracted all the national media, Roscommon against Mayo in the 2016 national league was the main event on the GAA calender. It’s a long time since that was said about two Connacht counties going head to head in a league game, the last time probably the 2001 league final between Mayo and Galway.
The game in Hyde Park was in jeopardy right up until throw in. I arrived very early and the pitch looked fine however after a serious deluge you could see the mass of water lodging on the surface. It didn’t look too bad from the height of the press box, it was atrocious at ground level. I never remember it been so bad. Both Mayo mid-fielders found the going tough with the underfoot conditions, Seamie O’Shea’s legs wrecked after slogging his way through the mud, Tom Parson’s said it was the worst pitch he ever played on in his life, at club or county level. With The Rossies likely to be in division one for the foreseeable future they need to get their playing surface sorted out. They have no other venue capable of holding a crowd like they had last Sunday. It was almost of championship proportions. Hindsight is a great thing though, I’m glad the game went ahead now. Don’t be in any doubt I would have complained profusely had the result been different.
Wides could have caught out Mayo
From the outset you could see that Mayo’s need to win was greater than that of Roscommon and that the Mayo players were really up for the fight. Mayo’s total dominance around the middle third where Seamus O’Shea and Tom parsons dictated proceedings not reflecting on the scoreboard, Mayo kicking ten first half wides five of which were from overcooked passes which is very frustrating for an inside forward, at least three more were from very scoreable positions. Going in only two points up playing with the breeze despite having 75% possession had even the most optimistic Mayo fan on tender hooks and nervy for the second half.
It was in the third quarter that Mayo turned the screw. Evan Regan finishing brilliantly to the Roscommon net after turning experienced Roscommon defender Seanie McDermott inside out although I felt he was lucky to get away with taking quite a few steps. The huge Mayo support in turn responded and gave thunderous applause when experienced club-mates Cillian O’Connor and Alan Dillon were introduced although the Mayo faithful were left nervous again. After being nine points up at one stage and in cruise control Roscommon got back in the game again thanks mainly in kind to the introduction of Diarmuid Murtagh who scored 1-01 with his first two touches of the ball. With five minute to play Mayo were only three points to the good. It took some experienced play from established Mayo players to get their team a vital and deserved victory.
Great to see Cillian back in action
The impressive way Cathal Cregg and Enda Smith were nullified by a well drilled defensive unit has to be applauded as these two are contenders for league players of the year. Stephen Rochford won’t get carried away, too many first half wides and leaking a goal to Murtagh when he had two defenders for company will help keep their feet firmly on the ground for the arrival of Down on Sunday. At least our destiny is in our own hands. It’s great to see Cillian O’Connor and Alan Dillon back on the field but news of Tom Cunniffe’s unavailability due to travel commitments has left a void but has opened the door for someone else. I’m sure Brendan Harrisson’s eyes lit up at the news. Best of luck to Tom, he obviously doesn’t believe what was written in Old Moore’s almanac.
A big one for the u21s
The Mayo u21s will have their work cut out when taking on Roscommon in the u21 final in Sligo on Saturday evening. Roscommon are going for three titles in a row at this grade which will be a first for them. This is a repeat of the minor final of 2013 which was a splendid game that saw Mayo hang on for dear life at the end. Mayo will need big games from senior players Diarmuid O’Connor, Conor Loftus, Stephen Coen and Michael Hall. It’s hard to believe it’s seven years since Mayo were in a provincial final at u21 level.
Back in action
In sensational news Ciaran McDonald has rejoined the Mayo set up to boost Stephen Rochford’s chances of landing that elusive All-Ireland title. The former Mayo star has given a full commitment to Mayo manager and former club mate Rochford for the 2016 season. His unquestionable experience and talent will be a welcome addition to the squad. Happy April everyone.