Roscommon’s shock loss to Sligo in the Connacht semi-final last summer was a huge blow to the development of this team but they regrouped under new management and supposedly came back stronger.
The jitters in New York raised a few questions, the worries were eased with the win over Leitrim, and the ship, it seemed, was steadied for a right crack at five-in-a-row champions Mayo.
And here they were, in front of their own people, trailing by 2-8 to 0-6 at half-time. Eight points down to a team two divisions below them.
This was going to be the horror to beat all horrors.
But Sligo knew there would be a kickback. They just needed to survive the early onslaught in the second-half.
They didn’t last 30 seconds. Senan Kilbride rose high and got a fist to a long delivery from Niall Daly. The roar of relief from the crowd told its own story. Sligo, having already suffered a couple of blows while accumulating that big lead, knew they were goosed but even they couldn’t envisage a 4-10 to 0-5 second-half scoreline.
“Eight points up but I suppose losing Charlie Harrison and Adrian Marren was big,” said Sligo manager Niall Carew.
“With Charlie gone we were going to struggle defensively then because we don’t have anyone with that experience. Overall we were in a great position but the half time whistle came too early for us.
“Adrian was playing well. He was a handful, they were struggling with him. And when you lose a player like that, up front, your marksman (you will suffer). But Roscommon blitzed us in the second half and I have to commend them for that.”
In a summer of so many drab encounters, this was a decent contest and the fluctuation of fortunes ensured plenty of entertainment for both sets of supporters. The sides were deadlocked at 0-4 each when Sligo got the first big breakthrough when Adrian Marren slotted home a penalty after the impressive Pat Hughes was fouled by Sean Mullooly.
Marren also fired home a penalty on his way to a 1-7 haul in last year’s semi-final win. Deja vu and all that for the Rossies. He had 1-3 on the board when he checked David Murray just before the break and got a black card.
And yet Sligo responded to that setback with another goal, Kyle Cawley, who is in the middle of doing the Leaving Certificate, supplying the finish after a scramble to lead by 2-8 to 0-6 at the break.
It was inevitable Roscommon would push on from Kilbride’s strike after half-time but their supporters could hardly have dreamt by how much.
Cathal and Fintan Cregg combined to send their captain Ciaran Murtagh through for a quality score to tie the match at 2-10 apiece after 50 minutes and when he edged them in front shortly after, everyone knew the margin of victory was all that needed to be sorted out.
Murtagh dispatched a penalty after Kilbride was fouled and they pulled away before Enda Smith finally made a host of goal chances count as Roscommon chalked up their biggest ever score against Sligo in a championship match.
C Murtagh 2-2 (1f, 1-0 pen), D Smith 1-1, S Kilbride 1-0, D Keenan 0-3, (1f), C Devaney 0-3, D Shine 0-2, E Smith 0-2, F Cregg 0-1, J McManus 0-1, G Claffey 0-1 (1 ’45).
A Marren 1-3 (1-0 pen), P Hughes 0-5, Kyle Cawley 1-0, M Breheny 0-3 (3f), N Murphy 0-2.
G Claffey; S McDermott, S Mullooly, N McInerney; S Purcell, J McManus, D Murray; N Daly, D Shine; F Cregg, C Murtagh, C Devaney; S Kilbride, C Cregg, D Keenan.
N Collins for Purcell (40), E Smith for C Cregg (50), D Smith for Kilbride (59), C Compton for Shine (59), N Kilroy for F Cregg (69), J McDermott for Keenan (70)
A Devaney; D Maye, K McDonnell, E Flanagan; Keelan Cawley, A McIntyre, B Egan; N Murphy, N Gaughan; N Ewing, M Breheny, C Harrison; A Marren, P Hughes, Kyle Cawley.
L Henry for Harrison (23), C Breheny for Marren (35, black), B Egan for Kyle Cawley (59), C Henry for Gaughan (63), J Kelly for Maye (74, black)
Joe McQuillan (Cavan).