Finished? After this afternoon’s devastating destruction of Roscommon at Croke Park it would appear that there’s life in this old dog yet. And some.
I said this morning that August in Croke Park is when – in this wonderful post-2011 era for the county – we tend to get motoring. I felt we could up it today but there’s no way I thought we could produce a performance like the one we did, a display of utter ruthlessness that laid waste to Roscommon’s challenge well before half-time and eventually sent them packing by a margin of 22 points.
Back in 2013, we did a similar number on the then defending All-Ireland champions Donegal. That day we started brightly and when we saw the chance to go for the jugular we did it. Today we did exactly the same.
I recall hailing that performance as one delivered by the demolition men. It seems appropriate, then, to accord the same language to today’s annihilation of the neighbours.
It was frustrating not to be there myself today to witness this performance. The GAA GO stream worked perfectly, though, so I got to see the whole thing, including RTÉ’s awful, amateurish attempts at “analysis”.
Prior to throw-in the Three Stooges were all about the woes of the world facing us. By half-time, though, they had switched with alacrity to lamenting about how poor Roscommon were. Then Brolly had a cut at Andy Moran over his goal celebrations. Yes, you read that right. What clowns they are – truly an embarrassment to the nation.
Down on the field ahead of throw-in, meanwhile, the fears about Lee Keegan became reality when the news broke that he wouldn’t be starting. No, he didn’t have his appendix out but whatever was ailing him was serious enough to keep the Footballer of the Year from playing.
Tom Parsons started in Lee’s place and Donal Vaughan came in for Ger Cafferkey at the back. Donie didn’t, though, operate as an orthodox full-back, pushing further up while Brendan Harrison went mano a mano with dangerman Diarmuid Murtagh.
The Rossies had switches to make too. Their two goalscorers from the drawn game – Fintan Cregg and captain Ciaran Murtagh – failed to line out. Cregg’s absence from the middle combined with Tom’s introduction altered the dynamic around the middle profoundly, a fact that soon became obvious once the ball was thrown in.
Last weekend, Roscommon grabbed the initiative right from the start but this time we were the ones to burst from the traps early. We won the throw-in, despite the Rossies using the same take-the-man-out-of-it tactic they’d employed in the drawn game.
We gradually made our dominance show on the scoreboard. Aidan O’Shea was fouled as he thundered forward and Cillian O’Connor knocked over the resultant free with two minutes on the clock.
A further four minutes would pass before our next score but it came via the same route. Another foul on Aidan resulted in a second pointed free by Cillian.
Already we looked the more settled team, the side with greater purpose. We were dominating the physical exchanges and we had a greater intensity to what we were doing.
The third point was when the first hint came of what was to follow. From the kickout after Cillian’s free, Donal Vaughan won the turnover, starting a sweeping move that ended with Donie himself firing over. Now we were beginning to motor, the gaps in their backline becoming obvious.
Another seven minutes passed without a further score but, importantly, Roscommon made no headway at all in our half in this period. The only shot on goal they’d had at this point was a ’45 their ‘keeper ballooned wide after our opening score. Every time they came forward, the danger was snuffed out effortlessly.
Eventually we broke again. This time it was Andy who was fouled. Cillian made no mistake with the free and we were four up.
Two points from play followed in rapid succession. Diarmuid O’Connor bagged the first and Jason Doherty the second. Six up and starting to clear our throats, the alarm bells surely now going off all over the place for the opposition.
We were nearly in on goal soon after, Roscommon’s jugular now exposed. We butchered the opportunity, however, and it looked as if they’d finally got a foothold in the contest when Enda Smith got their opening score of the day with twenty minutes on the clock. That came from play and so too did Sean Mullooly’s point two minutes later.
But the jugular was still exposed. Three goals in as many minutes saw us go for it with no little amount of ruthlessness.
The first was an absolute cracker, which had shades of 2011 all over it. Kevin McLoughlin picked up possession sixty yards out and hit off at speed on a mazy run towards the Davin End goal. He twisted and turned before eventually finding himself in space less than 20 yards out from where he delicately passed the ball into the Roscommon net.
Seconds later we rampaged forward again. This time it was Keith Higgins making the burst, the Ballyhaunis man offloading to Andy Moran who finished it emphatically.
Roscommon made a bags of the restart and we damn near made them pay. They managed to avert catastrophe then but catastrophe was still lurking and his name was Keith Higgins.
Like the first goal, there was no immediate danger to Roscommon’s net when Keith gained possession. He came forward initially at half-pace, sussing out the space ahead of him. Then a narrow channel opened up around the middle and he was off like a rocket.
The burst of speed carried Keith clear and in an instant he was eyeball-to-eyeball with the ‘keeper. You know the rest. Game over and only 23 minutes played.
Keith’s goal put us thirteen clear and that was the gap at the break. They posted two more points but so did we, courtesy of Aidan O’Shea and Jason Doherty. We were in for a possible fourth goal too, but Brendan Harrison – who in his spare time was keeping Murtagh in his pocket at the other end – saw his effort batted away.
The second half was little more than a training match. Bewildered, battered and beaten out the gate, Roscommon could do little to stop us winning the game by as much as we fancied. In the end we fancied a bit of a 22-point drilling.
An Aidan O’Shea point from play and another Cillian free, with Murtagh notching one for them, was all the scoring that occurred during the first ten pedestrian minutes on the resumption.
Then another turnover high up the field saw Diarmuid O’Connor feed big brother Cillian. The skipper had reversed sharply just before receiving the offload, giving him the space and time to pick his spot and nail the opportunity for the goal.
We began to run the bench at this stage. Jason Doherty – another strong and brave performance from the Burishoole man today – was first off, soon after banging his knee in a nasty fall. On came Conor Loftus in his place.
Further scores followed as the pace of the game slackened more and more. Tom Parsons meandered forward and lazily stroked it over from distance. They got one back but Andy responded in kind for us.
Then came the final talking point of the game. Diarmuid O’Connor was dragged down in the large square – a penalty all day long, by the way, but ref Anthony Nolan (who did okay, all told) was now in Lord-save-us-the-poor-buggers-are-getting-thrashed mode and gave a rather comical free out.
Diarmuid was on the floor surrounded by a few Rossies and wasn’t in any hurry to release the ball. Then Fintan Cregg, who’d come on at half-time, did a really dumb and sneaky thing by punching Diarmuid in the nuts while he lay prone on the turf.
The ref didn’t spot it but fair play to the umpires – they did. Cregg, already on yellow, got his marching orders with a second yellow but the ref clearly signalled it was for a punch and so it should have been a straight red. Never mind, it was the same result.
The hapless Rossies were now – 20 or so mortifying minutes still left to the final whistle – in danger of taking the kind of trimming that could destroy a team forever. If we’d been a little more accurate with our shooting from then to the finish that’s exactly what we could have done to them.
Conor Loftus missed a great goal chance when put clean through via a super crossfield pass, the Crossmolina man dragging his effort wide on the near-hand side. But Cillian did manage to keep the scoreboard ticking, with a pointed free and then one from play.
The changes continued to be rung in our ranks. David Drake, who’d seen action early on as a blood sub for Chris Barrett, came on again, this time for Kevin McLoughlin. Donie Vaughan made way too, Stephen Coen coming on and a huge roar of appreciation rang out around the stadium when Andy trotted off to be replaced by fellow veteran Alan Dillon.
Chris Barrett raided forward and decided – sure why not? – to have a pop at the posts. Over it went as another huge roar rang out when Aidan O’Shea – RTÉ’s Man of the Match – trooped off, Danny Kirby coming on for him.
They got a seventh point but then David Drake bagged his first championship score. Finding himself in space close to the opposition posts he did the right thing by fisting it over.
With five minutes to go Shane Nally came on as our final sub, Chris Barrett the man to go off. The Garrymore man made the most of his short time on the pitch, though, as it was he who bagged two of our final three points of the game, the second of which was a real trademark boomer from way out.
Stephen Coen – another man, I’m almost sure, scoring for his first time in the championship – got the other one. Eventually, after four minutes of added time, Anthony Nolan brought Roscommon’s misery to and end and we were the winners by 22 points.
Clearly, this was a storming performance with major contributions all over the field. We were much tighter at the back than we’ve been all year – though there’s work to be done yet to shore up the backline still further – and we were far stronger in midfield than we’ve been all summer.
Up front we were pretty effective too, as the scoreline would suggest, but some of the wastefulness we displayed wasn’t pretty. Against a better team than today’s opposition – say, for example, Kerry – such profligacy wouldn’t be a good idea.
But today’s performance was good enough to rout the Rossies and show them, Nestor Cup or no Nestor Cup, who really are the kings of the west. Now that this bit of local business is out of the way, it’s time to switch the focus to what lies ahead.
Way back at the start of the year – possibly before then – we would have known that a semi-final joust with Kerry was on the cards for us this August. We sure have taken the scenic route to this assignment but we’ve finally got there.
We’re back in the final four – for the seventh successive year – and once again we’re in the hunt for the prize we all crave. What a privilege it is for us to follow this team, this band of fighters, this group that simply refuses to yield. Welcome back, demolition men – now let’s go do some real demolition.
Mayo: David Clarke; Brendan Harrison, Donal Vaughan (0-1), Keith Higgins (1-0); Colm Boyle, Chris Barrett (0-1), Paddy Durcan; Tom Parsons (0-1), Seamus O’Shea; Kevin McLoughlin (1-0), Aidan O’Shea (0-2), Diarmuid O’Connor (0-1); Jason Doherty (0-2), Cillian O’Connor (1-6, five frees), Andy Moran (1-1). Subs: Conor Loftus for Doherty, David Drake (0-1) for McLoughlin, Stephen Coen (0-1) for Vaughan, Alan Dillon for Moran, Danny Kirby for Aidan O’Shea, Shane Nally (0-2) for Barrett.
PS: Thanks to The Brother for the two photos above that he took at the game. Cheers, Bro.
Who was our MOTM against Roscommon?
- Keith Higgins (48%, 589 Votes)
- Aidan O'Shea (19%, 236 Votes)
- Tom Parsons (7%, 89 Votes)
- Donal Vaughan (5%, 59 Votes)
- Kevin McLoughlin (4%, 55 Votes)
- Brendan Harrison (3%, 43 Votes)
- Seamus O'Shea (3%, 40 Votes)
- Colm Boyle (2%, 27 Votes)
- Shane Nally (1%, 18 Votes)
- Cillian O'Connor (1%, 17 Votes)
- Diarmuid O'Connor (1%, 15 Votes)
- Andy Moran (1%, 13 Votes)
- Chris Barrett (1%, 10 Votes)
- Jason Doherty (1%, 10 Votes)
- David Clarke (1%, 7 Votes)
- Alan Dillon (0%, 3 Votes)
- Conor Loftus (0%, 2 Votes)
- Paddy Durcan (0%, 2 Votes)
- David Drake (0%, 1 Votes)
- Stephen Coen (0%, 1 Votes)
- Danny Kirby (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 1,237