Of the 20 Roscommon footballers who saw action yesterday, 13 were playing in their first Connacht senior final. Nine of said crop are aged 23 or younger so you can imagine their sense of satisfaction, and that of their management, that they will get a second bite of the cherry next weekend and not have to travel to their opponents’ backyard in the process.
More pleasing still was the manner in which Roscommon’s emerging bunch earned a second bite. Having played with the Salthill gale in the opening period, the visitors shuffled back down the tunnel at half-time 1-6 to 0-6 in front.
The outlook turned bleaker for Roscommon early in the second period as they found themselves 0-11 to 1-7 in arrears after 47 minutes. That they had allowed Galway overturn their interval advantage within 12 minutes of the restart was disappointing. Tame resistance had been offered.
Gareth Bradshaw, set-up by Tom Flynn, had tapered the fuse on the hosts’ most productive spell of the afternoon and the gap was back to the minimum when great strength by Damien Comer saw the centre-forward snap up a Bradshaw delivery, turn, and fire over off the left.
A fine effort from Fintan Cregg steadied Roscommon, but there was no doubt they were, by this juncture, scrambling — the Division 1 league semi-finalists seemed almost surprised by how quickly Galway went about eating into their lead.
Goalkeeper Bernard Power fired over a ’45 to cancel out Cregg’s white flag and the teams were level for the first time since the ninth minute when Danny Cummins picked off his third of the afternoon; Galway’s levelling score was the direct product of a superb tackle by full-back Declan Kyne to dispossess Niall Daly. Indeed, Galway’s back three was probably their most impressive line, particularly given corner-backs Eoghan Kerin and David Wynne were lining out in just their second championship game.
A monstrous Paul Conroy free edged Kevin Walsh’s side in front for the first time. The home side had both the wind and momentum at their backs. Moreover, they had 23 minutes in which to maximise both. That they didn’t will frustrate them most this morning.
Walsh noted in his post-match assessment that Galway sat too deep on occasion and it was noticeable how quick a 13-man wall was erected when Roscommon pressed. And while several Roscommon attacks perished on the opposition 45m line, Galway’s focus on containment rather than establishing a significant gap proved costly.
Ciaráin Murtagh threw over Roscommon’s second score of the half on 51 minutes after a rare hole appeared in the opposing defence. It was an isolated incident, mind you.
In the ensuing passages, Ultan Harney, Donie Shine, and Cathal Cregg were each left frustrated by the strong fabric of Galway’s defensive blanket — Shine’s attempted ball over the top in the closing stages fell to three unmarked Galway players. Indeed, such was the volume of maroon shirts funnelling back that Donie Smith, when presented with a sideline kick metres from the end-line, was forced to spray possession out to Cathal Cregg standing on the Galway ’45.
Damien Comer returned the Tribesmen in front on 57 minutes, sub Adrian Varley executing a sweet kick off the outside of his right three minutes from time to nudge the home side two clear. And considering the drab nature of the contest, the difficult underfoot conditions and paucity of scores, a two-point gap was near-daylight.
Cathal Cregg raised their first white flag in 17 minutes to halve the deficit and a foul on Donie Smith two minutes into the four allotted by referee Conor Lane afforded Kevin McStay and Fergal O’Donnell’s side an equalising opportunity. To the right of the goal at the Rockbarton Road End and some 30m out, Smith dusted himself down and judged the wind perfectly to ensure a first Connacht final replay since these two counties required a second outing in 1998.
His brother Enda had provided them with an early boost when toe-poking to the net on 15 minutes, the full-forward benefiting from a stroke of good fortune after John McManus had been dispossessed close to goal. A Niall Daly point thereafter had the visitors 1-3 to 0-2 clear. Gary Sice and Cummins responded to steady the ship; Galway shading most areas in the first-half bar the scoreboard.
Similar to 1998, Galway departed ruing what might have been.
D Cummins (0-3); G Sice (0-2 frees), D Comer (0-2 each); B Power (0-1 ’45); J Heaney, G O’Donnell, P Conroy (0-1 free), G Bradshaw, A Varley (0-1 each).
E Smith (1-0); C Murtagh (0-1 free), F Cregg (0-1 free), N Daly (0-2 each); D Smith (0-1 free), D O’Malley (0-1 ’45); C Devaney, C Cregg (0-1 each).
B Power; E Kerin, D Kyne, D Wynne; G O’Donnell, L Silke, G Bradshaw; P Conroy, T Flynn; G Sice, S Walsh, J Heaney; D Cummins, D Comer, E Brannigan.
A Varley for Sice (60 mins); P Sweeney for Cummins (65); C Sweeney for Heaney (69).
D O’Malley; D Murray, S Mullooly, N McInerney; S McDermott, J McManus, S Purcell; N Daly, C Compton; F Cregg, C Murtagh, D Keenan; C Devaney, E Smith, C Cregg.
D Smith for E Smith (41 mins): U Harney for Compton (49); T Corcoran for Keenan (60); D Shine for Devaney (65); S Kilbride for F Cregg (66); C Sweeney for Heaney (69) Referee: C Lane (Cork).