So, three FBD League games played in five days and we’re still awaiting our first win of the year. Whatever about the Leitrim and Galway games we never looked remotely like prevailing in this afternoon’s pre-season joust with the Rossies at Hyde Park. Despite playing with fourteen men for most of the second half, Kevin McStay’s charges were full value for their 0-14 to 0-11 victory.
I had the sunglasses on for a good bit of the drive down from Dublin for this afternoon’s tie. The morning was clear and bright up here in the capital – perfect conditions for a quick spin out to Howth on the bike before swapping two wheels for four to undertake the trip west – but we encountered the first of the rain before we’d crossed the Shannon.
It was a cold, dank afternoon by the time the ball was thrown in. Once the rain began to fall early in the first half it did so with intent, turning the resplendent new Hyde Park sward into a bit of a skating rink.
We didn’t announce our starting team for today’s match until this morning. Mindful, I’d say, of the fact that the opposition had by then revealed that they’d be sending out pretty much the strongest fifteen available to them we bulked up our pick with a good smattering of the squad fresh off the plane from Kuala Lumpur.
Rob Hennelly was in goals, his first start for the county since the corresponding pre-season match against today’s opponents twelve months ago. Eoin O’Donoghue, Ger Cafferkey and Caolan Crowe were deployed in the full-back line, Colm Boyle and Paddy Durcan (captain for the day) in the half-backs, Stephen Coen and Danny Kirby at midfield, with Diarmuid O’Connor, Conor O’Shea and Jason Doherty in attack.
The stand was more empty than full when we took our seats there a bit over 30 minutes or so ahead of throw-in. By the time the match got underway, though, a decent crowd had assembled and, by the sounds of it, most of them were our lot.
The first half was played at a decent clip. Roscommon were to the fore for the most part – opening up a three-point lead as early as ten minutes in – but we finished well and went in at the break only one adrift.
The home team got the afternoon’s first score, an effort from play by Conor Daly. This was cancelled out by a close-in free converted by Fionn McDonagh. Three Rossie points followed in quick succession – their slickness on the ball and efficiency in shooting already apparent – before Paddy Durcan, a real attacking livewire from centre-back, started and finished a fine flowing move to bag our second of the day.
Tit for tat scores followed. They got one, we responded with a Jason Doherty free. They got another and a nice one off his left from Diarmuid O’Connor once more cut the gap back to two.
Fionn McDonagh – already marking himself out as a player to watch – then fired over two points in quick succession to haul us level. Murtagh edged them back in front and then Ciaran Treacy, who minutes before made a complete hash of a fourteen-yard free, thumped over a glorious equaliser. They had the last say of the half, though, via a free from Diarmuid Murtagh.
Both sides found the going tougher as the weather continued to deteriorate after the break. Players from both teams were slipping and sliding and mistakes were inevitable in the treacherous underfoot conditions.
I’d say this had a fair bit to do with Ian Kilbride’s clumsy challenge on Fionn McDonagh minutes after the restart, which earned the Roscommon midfielder a rather harsh red, reducing the home side to fourteen men for virtually the whole of the second half. The first yellow had also been for a rough tackle on the same player – who, for someone with a slight frame, lacked nothing in the area of bravery in the physical stakes – but, to be honest, neither infractions would even have merited in a free in the white heat of championship football at Croke Park.
With the opposition now a man down we should have been able to assert control on proceedings. Instead, however, we shrank into our shell and from then to the finish it often looked as if it were the lads in primrose and blue who enjoyed the numerical advantage.
At first blush following the sending-off we briefly got our noses in front. Fionn dusted himself down and pointed the free as Kilbride was trooping off the field and then Conor O’Shea squeezed over a lovely point from out on the right to put us a point up.
The lead was, though, short-lived. Points into the town end from Enda Smith and Diarmuid Murtagh restored the home side’s advantage and it was a lead they’d never surrender from there to the finish.
Daly put them two up before Ciaran Treacy bagged his second of the day for us. As we increasingly lost our way in this pre-season contest, however, they kept tacking on the points, three frees from Murtagh extending their lead to four points.
With time now running out, it was abundantly clear which way this one was going to go. Truth be told, we looked a beaten docket today a good twenty minutes out from the final whistle.
The large away following endured a long scoreless spell – over twenty minutes in duration – before Neil Douglas finally landed one over the posts at the graveyard end. By then, though, we were already dead and buried in this one.
Roscommon could have won by a bigger margin. A rather charitable penalty award in injury time gave Ciaran Murtagh the chance to send the home support home in high spirits but although he struck the spot-kick well, Robbie was equal to it, diving brilliantly to his left to deflect it away to safety.
A late Robbie Hennelly penalty save was the only highlight in the second half for Mayo as the 14 men of Roscommon prevail. pic.twitter.com/6HpEqgjZTY
— Mid West Radio (@radiomidwest) January 14, 2018
The final whistle sounded seconds later and I’d say few in the large away following were grumbling too much about the result on their way home. It was a patchy pre-season performance from our lads played in difficult conditions against a team fielding a far stronger line-up, whose greater cohesion and sense of purpose were apparent pretty much all day.
The main letdown from our point of view was that, yet again, we were unable to make any use of our numerical advantage. Roscommon started playing keep-ball at one stage late in the second half and in a two-minute spell the player in possession always had an easy option for laying off the ball. That cameo kinda summed up our inability to make the extra man pay.
Looking at the positives, a few players stood out well for us today. Chief amongst these was young Fionn McDonagh who really put his hand up with a super performance. Never afraid to get stuck in, always showing for possession and ultra-confident on the ball, the young Westport man was our leading scorer today with four points. I’d love to see him get a proper run in the team over the spring.
Ciaran Treacy also showed well – knocking over two rather glorious scores, one in each half – while James Stretton was another of the newbies to stand out. Of the 2017 squad, Eoin O’Donoghue was prominent in the backs and Danny Kirby – frequently found by Robbie’s well-directed restarts – worked hard at midfield. Paddy Durcan and Diarmuid O’Connor – the former at 6 and the latter at 11 – combined nicely up the middle, though both faded a bit as the afternoon wore on.
Another positive today was Robbie Hennelly’s good performance between the sticks. He had great velocity and a lovely low trajectory on his kickouts, with good variety to them too. While one short one was intercepted – and a Rossie point resulted from this – he got the rest of them away without any trouble. And his penalty save, while doing nothing to alter the outcome of the game, was a superb stop.
So, that’s almost it for this year’s FBD campaign. All that’s left now is the dead-rubber fixture against Sligo – at a venue yet to be revealed – next Sunday. But the Sunday beyond that is our first League match of the year and, with this trip to Monaghan in mind, I’d say we could see a more experienced outfit taking the field for us when we face the Magpies next weekend. You’d never know, we could yet finish this pre-season campaign with a bit of a flourish.
Mayo: Robbie Hennelly; Eoin O’Donoghue, Ger Cafferkey, Caolan Crowe; Colm Boyle, Paddy Durcan (0-1), James Stretton; Stephen Coen, Danny Kirby; Fionn McDonagh (0-4, two frees), Diarmuid O’Connor (0-1), Conor O’Shea (0-1); Neil Douglas (0-1), Jason Doherty (0-1, free), Ciaran Treacy (0-2). Subs: Kevin McLoughlin for O’Connor, Jason Gibbons for Boyle, Shairoze Akram for O’Shea, Peter Naughton for McDonagh, Jamie Oates for Crowe, James McCormack for Kirby.
The audio app I normally use malfunctioned on me today but I recorded a post-match piece on another app and here it is: