Three points down with 61 minutes on the clock, and driven to distraction by Roscommon’s suffocating defensive set-up, Mayo’s battle-hardened side finished with a flourish to stumble across the line.
Inspired by the arrival of captain Andy Moran off the bench ten minutes into the second half, Mayo kicked five of the last six points of an absorbing war of attrition to book their place in their fourth successive Connacht final.
Roscommon were left heartbroken at the final whistle, their woes compounded by Finbar Cregg’s late decision to try and engineer a goal when an equalising point was there for the taking.
A delighted James Horan was making no efforts to hide his emotions afterwards.
“They went three or four ahead of us at one stage, they had momentum, they had the crowd and the wind, they had everything with them, it could have been easy to lie down a little bit,” he said.
“But the character and resolve the guys showed out there was excellent. We weren’t playing well, we knew that, we were making poor decisions but we kept grinding away. From that point of view I’d be very happy.
“Our flow and movement wasn’t near the standard we know, but the resolve they showed was really satisfying.”
Outside the home dressing room, Roscommon manager John Evans was trying to make sense of a game where the 9/2 outsiders gave as good as they got for more than 70 minutes but, yet, still came away empty-handed.
“We absolutely believed in the game-plan we had coming in here,” he said.
“We believed that we could shake Mayo and more than shake them believe it or not. We believed that this five or six-to-one on was ridiculous odds.
“Our team is a young team and, look, they are inside there and they are devastated. But I got them to stand up inside there. I’m proud of what they did.
“They made mistakes and it was absolute inexperience that beat them out there. You can’t put an old head on young shoulders. But how wonderful they were.”
Roscommon set their stall out early, defending en masse, and trying to hit an out-of-sorts Mayo on the break at every opportunity. And even though the home side failed to score for 29 minutes during a dour first half, Mayo were still only a solitary point ahead at the break, 0-4 to 0-3.
Ten wides from a variety of angles didn’t help the visitors’ cause, but Roscommon’s well-organised and well-engineered gameplan was the major factor.
Jason Doherty and Kevin McLoughlin were their only scorers from play in that opening period, with two frees from Cillian O’Connor sandwiched in between.
Two well-taken points from Kevin Higgins and Senan Kilbride, allied to a trademark long-range free by Donie Shine (who retired with a knee injury during the third quarter) was all a cautious Roscommon could muster.
The spark a lacklustre match was crying out for arrived eight minutes into the second half when Roscommon wing-back Ciaran Cafferkey crashed in the only goal of the game. It propelled the challengers into a 1-4 to 0-5 lead, and brought the home fans in the crowd of 15,873 to their feet. Game on.
Mayo’s response was impressive; they upped the ante and hit three points in-a-row in five minutes from Cillian O’Connor and Kevin McLoughlin (two frees) to retake the initiative.
Once more Roscommon came roaring back and four points in quick succession from impact sub Diarmuid Murtagh (two), Senan Kilbride (free) and Mark Nally meant they were a goal ahead as the game swung for home.
It looked at that stage like this young Roscommon side were about to rewrite the history books, and beat their neighbours for the first time in the championship for 13 years.
But Mayo had other ideas and a string of scores from Andy Moran (two), Seamie O’Shea, Cillian O’Connor (free) and Kevin McLoughlin were enough to get the job done.
“We’re delighted to get out of here today,” said Horan. “I’d say we were a little bit lucky but some of the traits we showed are hugely encouraging.”
Scorers for Mayo: C O’Connor (0-5fs), K McLoughlin (0-4, 2fs), A Moran (0-2), J Doherty, K Higgins, S O’Shea (0-1 each).
Scorers for Roscommon: D Murtagh (1f), S Kilbride (1f) (0-3 each), C Cafferkey (1-0), K Higgins, M Nally, D Shine (1f) (0-1 each).
MAYO: R Hennelly; T Cunniffe, G Cafferkey, K Higgins; L Keegan, C Boyle, D Vaughan; A O’Shea, S O’Shea; D O’Connor, C O’Shea, J Doherty; K McLoughlin, A Freeman, C O’Connor.
Subs for Mayo: A Moran for C O’Shea (45), A Dillon for O’Connor (53), M Sweeney for Freeman (60), R Feeney for Doherty (73).
ROSCOMMON: D O’Malley; S McDermott N Carty N Collins; C Cafferkey N Daly R Stack; C Shine K Higgins; C Cregg D Shine D O’Gara; I Kilbride S Kilbride C Murtagh.
Subs for Roscommon: E Smith for I Kilbride (43), F Cregg for D Shine (inj, 46), D Murtagh for C Murtagh (46m), M Nally for O’Gara (54), D Smith for S Kilbride (68), M Finneran for Cregg (68).
Referee: E Kinsella (Laois)