On their previous visit to Croke Park, the Roscommon footballers conceded four goals during a 22-point humiliation.
And while they were again hit for a quartet of goals, the outcome was far more favourable at GAA headquarters yesterday.
Sitting in a small auditorium underneath the Cusack Stand afterwards, manager Kevin McStay downplayed the importance of this Division 2 final win. Their spring, he stressed, was solely focused on an immediate return to Division 1. Everything thereafter was a bonus.
That as it may be, there was plenty of learning in this for Roscommon management ahead of a Connacht championship campaign where they are again on the opposite side of the draw to Galway and Mayo.
As mentioned above, their last performance at GAA HQ - a 4-19 to 0-9 All-Ireland quarter-final replay drubbing at the hands of Mayo - had been ‘shocking’ to borrow McStay’s description.
Their start here was similarly poor and another miserable afternoon looked in store as Conor Bradley and Martin Reilly, the latter a penalty after Dara McVeety had been fouled, propelled Cavan 2-1 to 0-1 in front after nine minutes. The mental strength of this Roscommon side was being called into question and to their credit, they did not allow the demons of last August resurface. Conor Devaney, Donie Smith, Diarmuid and Ciaráin Murtagh were all on target as the Connacht champions kicked eight unanswered points.
Yet, no sooner had they taken the lead that they handed it back to their opponents; Cian Mackey put through McVeety for Cavan’s third goal.
Points off either foot from Donie Smith, followed by a Niall Kilroy effort, edged Roscommon in front at the interval, 0-12 to 3-2. Their lead should have been greater. They may have responded to Cavan’s early onslaught, but their defensive play left a lot to be desired.
“Management made a mistake,” McStay acknowledged.
“We didn’t want to give Cavan the overlap out around the 50 so we pushed up Niall [Kilroy]. We didn’t play a sweeper for the first quarter and we paid a heavy price for it.
It was Cavan who spent the second-half chasing, goals from Niall Kilroy and corner-back David Murray on 44 and 46 minutes respectively sending Roscommon into a six-point lead, 2-14 to 3-5.
Again, McStay’s side slacked off. McVeety, Ciarán Brady and sub Séanie Johnston landed points and in the middle of this came an Enda Flanagan goal - the defender was substituted immediately after slamming the ball past Roscommon ‘keeper James Featherson - to tie up proceedings at 2-14 to 4-8.
The Roscommon bench kicked in hereafter. Cathal Cregg, yet to recapture his starting place after opting out for 2017, bagged two goals in the space of five minutes. Enda Smith, Ian Kilbride and Niall McInerney all kicked a point as Roscommon were first to the line in what proved a thoroughly enjoyable, if at times bizarre Division 2 decider.
Neither of their championship openers will be as loose as this game. Encouraging from a Roscommon perspective, mind, is how the strength of their bench effectively won them a second Division 2 title since 2015.
“Brilliant,” came McStay’s reply when informed his replacements had contributed 2-4. “It’s a culture thing for Roscommon that we have to buy into. We’re trying to get that into them that it’s about minutes, making a contribution during those minutes. You have to park your ego, just do it solely for the team. Ian Kilbride comes on and a minute later, he’s punching the ball over the bar. That’s what it’s all about.”
Cavan manager Mattie McGleenan, no more than Roscommon, knows they’ll have to be tighter at the back come their Ulster championship meeting with Donegal.
“Throughout the league, we set ourselves targets and one of them was we concede only 14 scores per game. Today, we conceded 20. We do well in spells and for some reason, we seem to step off the pedal.
Scorers for Roscommon:
C Cregg (2-1); D Murtagh (0-4, 0-2 frees); N Kilroy (1-1); D Smith, C Devaney (0-3 each); D Murray (1-0); E Smith, I Kilbride, C Murtagh (0-1 free), N McInerney (0-1 each).
Scorers for Cavan:
D McVeety (1-3); S Johnston (0-4, 0-2 frees); M Reilly (1-0 pen), C Bradley, E Flanagan (1-0 each); G McKiernan (0-1 free), C O’Reilly (0-1 free), R Galligan (0-1 ‘45), P Faulkner, C Brady (0-1 each).
J Featherson; P Domican, C Daly, D Murray; F Lennon, U Harney, B Stack; T O’Rourke, C Compton; C Murtagh, N Kilroy, C Devaney; D Smith, C Lennon, D Murtagh.
N McInerney for C Daly (HT); E Smith for O’Rourke (47); C Cregg for C Lennon (51); T O’Rourke for Compton (54, bc); N Daly for Stack (62); I Kilbride for F Lennon (67).
R Galligan; B Magee, P Faulkner, J McLoughlin; M Reilly, E Flanagan, O Kiernan; K Clarke, T O’Rourke; C Mackey, C Bradley, D McVeety; C O’Reilly, A Cole, C Brady.
N Murray for Magee (29); N Clerkin for McLoughlin, S Johnston for O’Reilly (both HT); S Murray for Flanagan, C Madden for Bradley (both 51); C Moynagh for McVeety (63, inj).
S Hurson (Tyrone).
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