For the third year in a row it was a case of pre-season defeat to Roscommon as we lost by three points, 0-13 to 0-10, in this afternoon’s FBD League encounter at MacHale Park. The loss ends our interest in the 2016 FBD, with the Rossies advancing to face Galway in next weekend’s decider.
The stand at MacHale Park was filling up rapidly as we took our seats, fifteen or so minutes ahead of this afternoon’s 2pm throw-in. There were two changes to the team we’d named in the programme, with Donal Vaughan starting instead of Kevin McLoughlin at wing-forward while Darren McHale took Andrew Farrell’s place on the other wing.
We started brightly enough, winning most of the early exchanges and initiating a number of probing attacks. On every occasion, though, these forays broke down, either because the direct ball in got gobbled up by the Roscommon backline or else because the oh-so-clever attempted pass was fumbled or went astray. None of these sorties produced a score for us.
Five minutes in we suffered our first setback. Keith Higgins went down on the far side of the field and when he finally got back on his feet after a few minutes of medical attention it was obvious he wasn’t okay. The Ballyhaunis man was replaced soon after by Lee Keegan.
Tom Parsons was in bother too, signaling to the line about a problem with his finger. It was a dislocation and Tom fairly upped his Alpha Male street cred by having the finger popped back into place on the sideline before rejoining the fray.
The visitors took advantage of the resultant confusion in our ranks and were able to turn this into scores. Points from Diarmuid Murtagh and Neil Collins got them going and as we struggled to settle they added two more to take a firm hold on the game.
Sixteen minutes were on the clock before we finally opened our account, via a Conor Loftus free. We enjoyed a good ten-minute spell after this, with further points from Mark Ronaldson and Keith Ruttledge, both from play, cutting the gap back to one.
A second casualty limped off during this period, though, with Kevin Keane nursing his shoulder as he made his way gingerly from the field. Shane McHale came into the defence to replace the unfortunate Westport player.
Any hopes we might have had of getting back on terms before the break were dashed when Cathal Cregg knocked over two scores to stretch their lead back out to three. Conor Loftus popped over his second free of the day to leave the gap at two at half-time.
The visitors built on this lead on the resumption, with Ciaran Murtagh (a free) and Enda Smith pointing to send them four clear. This spurred us into action somewhat, with Conor Loftus converting another free before Jason Gibbons landed a peach of a score off the outside of his boot.
Ciaran Murtagh and Conor Loftus then traded frees but with the match now very much in the melting pot it was the Rossies who pushed on decisively. Three points without reply for them put the gap between us at five and with time running out it was clear we’d need at least one goal to pull this one from the fire.
It never came and, to be honest, it never really looked like coming. A wonderful point from way out on the right wing by Conor Loftus and two frees from Jason Doherty were all we got for our late pressure as the Sheepstealers came away with a deserved three-point win.
January football is never champagne stuff and this was certainly the case today. Best for us on the day were Padraig O’Hora, Lee Keegan, Shane McHale, Colm Boyle, Tom Parsons, Jason Gibbons, Jason Doherty and Conor Loftus.
Of more pressing concern to us than today’s result is the mounting casualty list. Stephen Rochford confirmed to Midwest after the game that both Keith Higgins and Kevin Keane will undergo scans to see what kind of damage was done and while he said he was hopeful that neither player was badly injured it’s obviously a worry for us with the start of the NFL rapidly approaching. I’m not sure what the story is with Conor Loftus, hopefully it’s only a minor knock.
With the FBD campaign done and dusted for another year, thoughts will now begin to turn to the more serious stuff that lies ahead. The Rossies left Castlebar today with the spoils – as they did twelve months ago – but today’s encounter won’t even merit a footnote when the story of the year’s real action is written later this year.
Mayo: Robbie Hennelly; Ger Cafferkey, Kevin Keane, Padraig O’Hora; Keith Higgins, Caolan Crowe, Colm Boyle; Tom Parsons, Jason Gibbons (0-1); Donal Vaughan, Mark Ronaldson (0-1), Darren McHale; Keith Ruttledge (0-1), Jason Doherty (0-2, frees), Conor Loftus (0-5, four frees). Subs: Lee Keegan for Higgins, Shane McHale for Keane, Diarmuid O’Connor for Ruttledge, Shane Nally for Boyle, Brendan Harrison for O’Hora, Brian Reape for Loftus.