When we were eight points behind, as well as a man down, midway through the second half of this afternoon’s lively FBD League encounter against Roscommon at Kiltoom, it was all looking more than a little grim. Indeed, with all the momentum with the home team a bit of a paddling seemed to be in prospect for us.
At that stage, defeat with honour would have been more than enough to send us home satisfied. What we got instead, though, was a sensational smash-and-grab win, plundered courtesy of three late goals, two of them from the evergreen Andy Moran.
Even if I hadn’t decided in advance to get to this one, I’d hardly have been able to resist the temptation when the day dawned. It began for me away from base as I was on an overnight hiking trip in the Wicklow mountains but on the drive back home this morning I could see that it was an ideal day for football.
The drive down to Kiltoom on the motorway a bit later on was a breeze and the local parking arrangements were excellent too, as we got sorted out with a spot in a field right beside the ground that was rapidly filling with other vehicles.
I’d never been to Kiltoom before and was well impressed with the St Brigid’s club facilities. The pitch has a good sod to it and there was ample room on the terracing for the smallish attendance that turned up for today’s pre-season encounter. We even managed to get a seat in the little stand less than half an hour ahead of the throw-in.
The Rossies made the early running today and when Enda Smith palmed to the net after a move that saw our backline sliced open they were four clear. Conor O’Shea had got our opening point after they’d bagged the game’s first two scores, with Liam Irwin (a free), Danny Kirby and Paddy Durcan all finding the target as we traded points with them.
We got right back into it, though, when a swift upfield burst ended with Liam Irwin sent in for a well-taken goal. Soon after this two Cillian O’Connor frees restored parity to the contest and then Fergal Boland shot over to give us the lead for the first time.
Further point-trading ensued before half-time, with Fergal Boland – from a quickly taken ’45 by Cillian – and then Cillian from a free adding to our tally. We went in a point in front.
The biggest talking-point in that opening half, though, was the bust-up that occurred over the far side of the pitch, involving several players on both sides. It started with a hit on one of our lads while he was on the ground and Conor O’Shea drove into the offender with other players from both sides piling in rapidly after them. When peace was eventually restored the ref flashed a pile of yellow cards, three for us and two for them.
Although we got the opening score after the break, another Cillian free, it was the Rossies who seized the initiative when Enda Smith drove through our rearguard and smashed in their second goal of the afternoon. Smith took what looked like a good dozen steps before pulling the trigger but our defensive cover parted with alarming ease in the build-up to the goal.
Cillian responded for us with his fifth pointed free to cut the gap to one but it was all Roscommon for the next while after that. They shot seven points without reply in this period and with Conor O’Shea ordered off on a second yellow and Paddy Durcan (black) following him off soon after we looked to be in major bother.
Only a few goals would save us now but, with Roscommon’s well-organised blanket in place and our lot down to fourteen men, our hopes appeared forlorn. Incredibly, though, it was goals we got to snatch a victory few saw coming.
The first came from a Cillian O’Connor penalty, awarded when Jason Gibbons stumbled and fell as he lost possession coming into contact as he bore down on goal. I thought it was a soft enough award, to be honest, but was still glad of it. Cillian dispatched it with his usual efficiency.
Andy Moran’s goal soon after really brought the place to life. Now we were just two points behind and the tide had turned strongly in our favour. Deep into injury time we kept pouring forward, the home side, with mounting panic, trying to keep us at bay. Eventually, in the dying seconds the ball was fed in once more to Andy who buried it in the corner of the net to complete what was an amazing comeback win.
I know it’s only January and today’s match was only an FBD one but had Roscommon gone on to thump us by a double-digit margin this afternoon, it wouldn’t have left us in a good mood heading into the start of the League. Instead, the way we battled back to win the match leaves us in a decidedly upbeat frame of mind ahead of the spring campaign, to say nothing of the comedy value arising from beating the Rossies in the manner that we did.
We looked rusty enough for most of the afternoon, never a surprising complaint at this time of year, and the concession of another big score is probably the point of greatest concern from today. We need to tighten things up several notches at the back before we get going in the League.
As today showed, though, there’s absolutely nothing amiss with our will-to-win at the minute. The lads showed an admirable level of cussedness in their refusal to accept defeat this afternoon and that indomitable spirit will, no doubt, stand them in good stead for the far bigger challenges that lie ahead of us this year.
Mayo: Robbie Hennelly; Donie Newcombe, Ray O’Malley, Paddy Durcan (0-1); Michael Plunkett, Stephen Coen, David Drake; Jason Gibbons, Danny Kirby (0-1); Fergal Boland (0-2), Kevin McLoughlin, Jason Doherty; Liam Irwin (1-1, point a free), Cillian O’Connor (1-5), Conor O’Shea (0-1). Subs: Evan Regan for Irwin, Keith Higgins for O’Malley, Tom Parsons for Kirby, Shane Nally for Durcan (black card), Andy Moran (2-0) for Boland, Cathal Carolan for Gibbons.
My first post-match audio report of 2017 is below: