Sam long way off as Western foes struggle

Three teams crossed the Shannon more with hope than expectation at the weekend so you would have had your choice of generous odds on two making the return trip with All-Ireland ambitions still intact when the day was done.

Roscommon corner-forward Ciarán Murtagh scores a goal past Mayo goalkeeper David Clarke and defender Colm Boyle.. Picture: Tommy Grealy

All-Ireland SFC quarter-final

ROSCOMMON...... 2-9

MAYO.................. 1-12

That Mayo is one of them is no surprise given their penchant for drama and sheer cussedness this last half- decade or so but Roscommon’s ability to keep their head above water at the end of this flawed but gripping quarter-final draw is testament to their burgeoning talent.

That said, neither camp will be a happy one today.

The pat expression after a stalemate is to say that neither side deserved to lose.

The truth here is that neither merited their place in the last four and any concerns Kerry harboured ahead of the semi-final after their imperfect defeat of Galway will have eased significantly with this.

Mayo and Roscommon inhabit polar opposite ends of the spectrum: one an ageing team looking to regain the form required to make Sam a realistic prospect, the other a side blossoming with youth but one that needs more than a Connacht title to settle doubts as to their long-term prospects.

It made for an atmosphere of one part excitement and two parts trepidation.

Roscommon seemed to dispense with the toxicity of doubt from the off. Within a dozen minutes they had 2-2 on the board, their aerial siege with diagonal balls and off-the-shoulder runners causing mayhem in the opposition defence.

Fintan Cregg claimed the first of the goals with a chip over David Clarke. The way he swung his leg suggested a point was on his mind but the result wasn’t up for debate. Neither was the quality of the move and goal finished off by Ciaran Murtagh three minutes after.

Roscommon’s Tadgh O’Rourke kicks the final point of the game. Picture: Oisin Keniry

It was fluent, fast and effective football played by a team that seemed to have picked up where it left off after the nine-point provincial final defeat of Galway in Salthill and it made a mockery of odds of 3/1 on them prior to throw-in.

All sorts of history was poised to be written. A first win for the Rossies in Croke Park since the 1980 semi-final defeat of Armagh. A first win over Mayo in the summer in 16 years. And Mayo exiled from the last four for the first time since 2010.

That draft wasn’t long being binned.

Mayo have their critics but lack of character is not among the list of accusations often levelled at them, and Lee Keegan soon ate into the seven-point deficit with a solo charge that ended with a deflected shot to the net off Niall McInerney’s hand.

Roscommon were still lighting cigars as the net jumped.

Mayo pushed on to claim seven of the next eight points to take the tunnel with a two-point lead, keeping Roscommon scoreless for 22 minutes in the process and reprogramming the game’s entire genetic code.

Key to it all was Keegan who ended the half with 1-3 from open play while smothering Enda Smith in midfield where he had been stationed by Stephen Rochford in a move which Kevin McStay admitted aftewards had been a surprise and a success.

That changed on the restart when McStay dabbled in some biological engineering of his own when he transformed Smith into a full-forward.

Keegan retreated with him and so did his attacking threat.

The pity was that few others in Mayo colours were able to take up the slack.

A dramatic end game, after the pair took turns chasing the other’s tail, will live long in the memory but the majority of that second period was downright poor with only seven points from play and another three from frees sprinkled sparsely through almost 45 minutes.

Mayo, with Keegan marooned deep on the ocean floor of their defence, managed just four of those and their six starting forwards would end the day with just four points salvaged from open waters and Cillian O’Connor tacking on two frees.

O’Connor could have been the hero. Twice he stood over shots as the last of the six extra minutes allotted by Joe McQuillan wound down but his first effort fell short from a free and the other, a quick snap of the right boot under pressure, flew the wrong side of the nearer post.

A familiar frustration for the man after last year’s All-Ireland final replay.

At least this time Mayo get another shot.

Both managers spoke after about how their respective charges had played more in fits than starts and theories to do with heavy-leggedness on Mayo’s part due to age and recent workloads, or stage fright on the part of a youthful Roscommon, only last so long come August.

Time now for both to get it right.

Scorers for Mayo: L Keegan (1-3); C O’Connor (0-3, 2 frees); A Moran and P Durcan (both 0-2); C Boyle, J Doherty (all 0-1).

Scorers for Roscommon: C Murtagh (1-2, 0-2 frees); F Cregg (1-1); D Murtagh and D Smith (0-2, 0-1 free); E Smith, C Devaney (both 0-1).

MAYO: Mayo: D Clarke; B Harrison, G Cafferkey, K Higgins; P Durcan, C Barrett, C Boyle; L Keegan, S O’Shea; K McLoughlin, A O’Shea, D O’Connor; J Doherty, C O’Connor, A Moran.

Subs: D Vaughan for Boyle (52); C Loftus for Moran (58); T Parsons for S O’Shea (62); S Coen for D O’Connor (65); D Drake for Doherty (71).

ROSCOMMON: C Lavin; S McDermott, N McInerney, D Murray; N Kilroy, J McManus, S Mullooly; E Smith, T O’Rourke; F Cregg, C Devaney, B Stack; C Connolly, D Murtagh, C Murtagh.

Subs: I Kilbride for O’Rourke (18-23) and for McDermott (64); D Smith for Connolly (51); Colin Compton for C Murtagh (58); Cathal Compton for D Murtagh (62); R Stack for Devaney (70).

Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan).


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