Division 3 champions and U21 All-Ireland finalists for the second time three years. In many people’s eyes they’re the second best team in Connacht. By half time they were 10 points clear of a Leitrim side enjoying one of their best runs of form in years.
But they left Dr Hyde Park yesterday disappointed. Why? Because, despite a commanding opening half, they allowed Leitrim back into a game they had no right to be in.
Taking that form up against Mayo in the Connacht semi-final in three weeks’ time will not be good enough according to manager John Evans who admitted they were “a small bit complacent” after the break.
“We went out in the first half and did what we said we’d do,” he said.
“I wouldn’t say that the second half was a non-event. It was just about doing what we had to do. We were 10 points up and the lads eased off the throttle a small bit.
“Fair play to Leitrim. They won the second half. They kept going. They kept working and they kept at it the whole time. I just think we were a small bit complacent in the second half.”
Roscommon kicked a variety of wonderful points from play to put themselves in the driving seat. Senan Kilbride landed three points and championship debutant Ciaran Murtagh also found the range. Defenders Ciaran Cafferky and Niall Daly also got in the act as Leitrim never got going.
The game’s defining score arrived on the stroke of half time. Leitrim coughed up possession in defence. Cafferky and Murtagh combined to unselfishly square the ball for Ronan Stack, and the St Brigid’s player palmed the ball into the empty net.
“Our approach was good. We were clinical at the start. We took some great scores,” said Evans.
“They got all their scores from frees and our lads found that very frustrating. There’s no point in denying it. The referee moved the ball forward twice for them. Look, we just wanted to get over it and that’s what we achieved.”
Leitrim’s scores in the opening half came from frees from Emlyn Mulligan and Conor Beirne but they had a mountain to climb, trailing by 1-12 to 0-5 at the break.
But Seán Hagan’s men enjoyed the better of the second half as they became more attack-minded in their approach. Mulligan was superb, orchestrating matters from centre-forward. He kicked five of his side’s eight second-half point but Leitrim simply had too much to do. Gary Reynolds, Wayne McKeon and Kevin Conlon (free) also kicked scores as their side restored some pride.
Roscommon were far from convincing but they finished with a flourish courtesy of scores from substitutes Diarmuid Murtagh and Craig Burns.
The sloppy nature of his side’s second half showing wasn’t lost on Evans afterwards as he turned his thoughts to a clash with last year’s beaten All-Ireland finalists.
“We got a trimming from them last year. We have them here [in Dr Hyde Park], so hopefully we’ll be able to rise to that. We’ve three weeks to prepare. The lads go back to their clubs for a round of the league next weekend. Then we’ll muster them up for the Mayo match,” he concluded.
Scorers for Roscommon: K Higgins, S Kilbride (0-3 each), R Stack (1-0), N Daly, C Murtagh, D Murtagh (f), D Shine (f) (0-2 each), C Cafferky, C Burns, C Shine, C Cregg (0-1 each).
Scorers for Leitrim: E Mulligan (0-8, 6fs), C Beirne (0-2fs), K Conlon (f), G Reynolds, W McKeon (0-1.
ROSCOMMON: D O’Malley; S McDermott, N Carty, N Collins; D Keenan, N Daly, C Cafferky; C Shine, K Higgins; D O’Gara, D Shine, R Stack; S Kilbride, C Cregg, C Murtagh. Subs for Roscommon: E Smith for C Shine (40), M Nally for Cafferky (49), D Murtagh for Kilbride (53), F Cregg for C Cregg (61), C Burns for O’Gara (67), D Donnelly for Stack (67).
LEITRIM: C McCrann; B McWeeney, P Maguire, P Brennan; G Reynolds, D Wrynn, B Prior; D Sweeney, D Moran; W McKeon, E Mulligan, M McWeeney; J Glancy, C Beirne, K Conlon. Subs for Leitrim: R Lowe for M McWeeney (25), G Hickey for Sweeney (bc, 30), S McWeeney for Glancy (46), A McLoughlin for Beirne (53), R Cox for Brennan (61).
Referee: C Lane (Cork)
Ronan Stack’s goal on the stroke of half time gave Roscommon a ten-point cushion they were never likely to surrender.
Roscommon’s 1-11 from play during the half included some spectacular scores from a variety of angles.
Senan Kilbride’s point with his less cultured right foot in the 18th minute – one for the archives.
Emlyn Mulligan for Leitrim; Defender Neil Collins caught the eye for the winners.
Leitrim midfielder Darren Sweeney can have no complaints with his early dismissal in the 30th minute following a clumsy tackle on Roscommon captain Niall Carty.
John Evans knew his side needed to register early scores, something they accomplished with ease. Leitrim boss Seán Hagan will take heart from his side’s second-half showing.
Referee Conor Lane wasn’t a “home town” official and gave Roscommon little leeway over the 70 minutes.
Roscommon meet Mayo in the Connacht semi-final on Sunday, June 8 in Dr Hyde Park. Leitrim are heading for the qualifiers.