Roscommon’s rise and Shine

Today a Division Two title, tomorrow the world. Or, in Roscommon’s case, an All-Ireland.

Roscommon’s rise and Shine

You may scoff, but that’s the sort of schedule John Evans is working towards and you’ve got to hand it to the Roscommon manager in that he isn’t afraid to reach for the stars or tell everyone that he is preparing for lift-off.

The Kerryman has always aimed high. He mentioned, for example, how he walked out of a Knocknagoshel AGM 25 years ago when the talk turned to consolidation rather than straining for further heights on the back of three successive promotions.

That said, consolidation is the key for Roscommon now that there are no more league rungs to climb. Staying in Division One for the next three or four years will be crucial, he explained, and he doesn’t need telling that keeping their heads above water in 2016 will be the toughest task of all.

Right now, it’s all going to plan. He sat down with Roscommon legend and current selector Gay Sheerin two years ago, just after the county missed out on elevation to the second division by a single point, and told him they would be playing top-tier football in 2016 regardless of that setback. That’s just for starters.

“The top,” he said more or less instantly when asked what the ultimate destination might be for Roscommon before confirming that by “the top” he meant a first All-Ireland senior title for the county since 1944. Not your usual sort of talk after a Division Two final.

“There is no other way,” he explained matter-of-factly. “Absolutely. I have gone through every team. There is a lot of them and they will be losing a lot of star players over the next two, three, four years. We will be growing in stature.”

This will have added a brick or two more to their standing: another league title to go with the Division Three crown claimed at HQ twelve months earlier thanks to a comfortable defeat of a Down team that did play over half the game with 14 men.

With both sides already assured of their place in Division One in 2016, this was always likely to stand as something of a free swing for teams whose training schedules are already operating on championship time and Evans took full advantage.

He started established talents such as Donie Shine and Diarmuid Murtagh on the bench, despite the absence of half-a-dozen others including Seanie McDermott and Enda Smith, with young Cian Connolly among those handed the opportunity to make their case.

Yet, they were poor in the opening half. Down, too. Six times the sides drew level, but the fact that Down were the ones continually grabbing on to Roscommon’s coat-tails was reflective of how the Connacht county was even then marginally superior.

Down hadn’t been helped by the loss prior to throw-in of veteran forward Mark Poland who was taken to hospital after being struck in the eye by a ball during the warm-up and the early departure of Brendan McArdle only compounded matters.

McArdle saw red on the back of two yellows shortly before half-time and, though there was some confusion over the nature and timing of his first indiscretion and the justice of the punishment for his second, the result of his absence was clear enough.

Roscommon spat out four unanswered points to start the second-half and, though Down responded with three of their own, their attack continued to struggle for a foothold while the defence came under increasing pressure as Roscommon dominated possession.

Down’s starting midfield was actually replaced with 23 minutes still to play: a worrying statistic that was symbolic of their struggles in that sector after a stalemate first-half. An area of concern all year, it will need addressing before the summer.

How fixable that is remains to be seen. More alarming, perhaps, is the lack of physicality they possess. They are not unlike the Laois team of the mid-noughties, one that won a rare Leinster title but whose small stature ultimately held them back.

Down have sought to ally traditional attacking flair with defensive rigidity this year, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the concession of 1-17 against a Roscommon side that, in Senan Kilbride, had a man capable of injecting class into proceedings whenever he was on the ball.

The game’s best move came 61 minutes in when a long ball into the recently introduced Donie Shine was batted down by the Clann nan Gael man to Ciaran Murtagh who smashed a shot high into the Down net from the edge of the area.

Scorers for Down:

D O’Hare (0-5, 3 frees); K McKernan (0-2); P Devlin and J Johnston (both 0-1 free); C Maginn, B McArdle, C Laverty, C Mooney, P Fitzpatrick and R Johnston (all 0-1).

Scorers for Roscommon:

C Murtagh (1-2, 0-1 free); D Murtagh (0-5, 4 frees);l S Kilbride (0-4); C Caffrerky, D Smith, U Harney, D Murtagh and C Cregg (all 0-1); D Shine )-1 free).

Subs for Down:

P Fitzpatrick for Turley (HT); R Johnston for Devlin (47); N Madine for Carr (60); A McConville for McGinn (64); J Johnston for McKernan (66); R Boyle for Collins (69)

Subs for Roscommon:

D Murtagh for Smith (half-time); U Harney for Cregg (47); B Murtagh for Murray (53); D Shine for Connolly (55); C Compton for C Murtagh (62); I Kilbride for Higgins (67).

Referee:

M Deegan (Laois).

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