Officially this was a home game for Roscommon, but the backdrop of Pearse Park in Longford made for strange surroundings for the Connacht side. With Dr Hyde Park out of commission due to the pitch being unplayable, and Kiltoom deemed unsuitable to accommodate the expected crowd by the GAA, the Roscommon camp was packed up and moved 20 miles up the road. But it was another convincing performance from the team in primrose and blue that earned their third win on the bounce.
Ciaran Murtagh ran the show from his centre-forward berth and his late penalty put the hat on a deserved win for the Rossies. He was flanked by Fintan Cregg, who was energetic and accurate throughout, while the roving Cathal Cregg made a similar impact and Down struggled to combat his influence throughout the afternoon.
For Down this was another poor display in a disappointing campaign. By half-time a fourth defeat of the season was very likely, and confirmation former great Benny Coulter has stepped away from the squad could have brought down the curtain on a class inter-county career.
“Benny Coulter has withdrawn from the panel. He couldn’t make the commitment due to work commitments. We have no one else coming in. He was in shortly after Christmas time but he can’t make the training because of work so he’s withdrawn himself from the panel,” said Down manager Eamonn Burns.
Roscommon have now accounted for Kerry, Cork and Down in successive games. But O’Donnell believes the need another victory to be sure of their top flight survival. “I suppose back in November we probably would have taken six points but there are three games to go and hopefully we can pick up something. It’s going to be difficult. There’s no point saying that we’re not happy, we are,” said O’Donnell.
The lack of a suitable home venue may continue to haunt them heading into the business end of the campaign and O’Donnell admitted that the venue change last week was “a huge distraction.”
He said: “You know you’re going to Pairc Ui Rinn, you know you’re going to Letterkenny next week. The two games we’ve had at home, they should be big occasions played in Hyde Park, but it’s hugely disappointing.
“There’s no point blaming anyone. I walked the pitch during the week and it just wasn’t up to standard and it’s very disappointing. I’m not too good at the gardening but it’s not looking good if it keeps raining like this! We’d hope to play Mayo and Dublin in Hyde Park. When you’re a young fella in Roscommon, you dream of playing there, you don’t dream of playing in Kiltoom.”
On the pitch matters are extremely satisfying for Roscommon though. At the interval they led 0-7 to 0-4, although it could have been far more had Michael Cunningham not denied Conor Devaney in the 23rd minute, while two injury-time points from Connaire Harrison and Mark Poland gave Down some respectability after 35 minutes.
But with Fintan Cregg, Conor Daly and Ciaran Murtagh al l landing fine points in each half Roscommon ticked along nicely as Down squandered chances, conceded territory and tried to smother their opponents. Their tactics often saw full-forward Harrison employed as a lonely attacker, while Aidan Carr and Conaill McGovern swept in front of the full-back line for the Mourne men. It meant Roscommon had to show plenty of patience as they played the ball across the field waiting for the gaps to open in the tight Down defence.
But afterwards Down manager Burns said he was pleased with the progress his side had made since their last defeat, but conceded they had been beaten by the better side. With Dublin to come next week, the search for the first win of t he season doesn’t get any easier for Down.
“We’re happy with the progress we’ve made from last week to today but we didn’t get the result,” said Burns. “We’ll keep battling on. We have Dublin next weekend so we’ll gather the troops and get ready for that.”
In the end the penalty put a deserved gloss on the scoreboard for Roscommon as Cunningham was black-carded when he tripped Fintan Cregg and Murtagh tucked the ball past sub ‘keeper Stephen Kane.
C Murtagh 1-6 (1-0 pen, 0-4f), F Cregg 0-3 (1f), C Daly 0-2, C Cregg 0-1.
C Harrison 0-2 (1f), D O’Hanlon 0-1, M Poland 0-1, B O’Hagan 0-1, P Devlin 0-1.
G Claffey; S McDermott, N Collins, N McInerney; C Daly, S Purcell, D Murray; E Smith, I Kilbride; F Cregg, C Murtagh, C Devaney; C Connolly, S Kilbride, C Cregg.
R Stack for Smith (half-time), N Kilroy for S Kilbride (54, black card), R daly for C Cregg (59), C McHugh for Connolly (65), C Shine for I Kilbride (68), J McManus for McInerney (70).
M Cunningham; R Boyle, G McGovern, G Collins; J Flynn, A Carr, D O’Hanlon; P Turley, M McKay; C Maginn, M Poland, R Mallon; C McGovern, C Harrison, B O’Hagan.
D O’Hare for Harrison (52), N Madine for O’Hagan (57), P Devlin for Poland (57), D McKibbon for Flynn (65), C Doyle for Maginn (68), S Kane for Cunningham (69, black card).
Barry Cassidy (Derry)