ROSCOMMON minors created a notable piece of history when, for the first time ever, the county managed to retain the Connacht MFC title, following a Diarmuid Murtagh-inspired two-point victory over Mayo at a well-attended Dr Hyde Park on Sunday last.
Murtagh, from the St Faithleach's club (based in Ballyleague on the Longford/Roscommon border), notched an impressive return of five points, from the right corner-forward position, including two absolutely terrific scores in the second half. Mayo, who had under-performed in the first period and trailed by three points at the interval, took more control of proceedings and were threatening to complete a comeback.
The boys in green and red had reduced the deficit to a single point when Murtagh received possession in the 42nd minute, quickly turned away from his marker, and bulleted a soaring effort, from just within the 45-metre line, accurately over the bar. It was a thunderous effort, and without doubt the game's most memorable score.
Then, with Mayo again within touching distance, and with the final few seconds slowly ebbing away (almost three minutes of injury time was allowed by referee Shane O'Hehir), Murtagh again struck gold when the chips were down, as his added-time point finally killed-off the gallant losers' second half surge.
Garreth Carroll's troops set an impressive tone in the early stages, galloping into a four-point lead by the 13th minute, as Mayo failed to register until Kevin Lynch's wind-assisted point in the 16th minute.
Roscommon soon regained the initiative and almost goaled in the 20th minute, when full-forward Kevin Finn's rasping effort clipped the crossbar on its way over, But between then and half-time, Roscommon lost their way, with some observers of the view that they became too defensive.
The very fact Mayo accumulated seven wides in the opening half (compared to Roscommon's two, the first of which didn't arrive until the 18th minute) indicates that with a bit more composure and accuracy, the green and reds could have been all-square by the short whistle.
In the second half, Mayo came even more into matters, and with captain Adam Gallagher leading well, and kicking accurately from dead-balls (he converted five frees in total), they managed to give themselves a fighting chance as the end drew near.
Tigerish defending was needed by Roscommon towards the finale, with Philip Neilan, Niall McInerney (St Brigid's) and Cathal Kenny producing some admirable blocks in sticky situations.
Defensive comrades, Dennis Barron, Conor Hussey and Ronan Daly (Padraig Pearses) also contributed well when required, while the industrious workload taken on by midfielders Ultan Harney (Clann na nGael) and Thomas Corcoran was also of major assistance to the cause.
The bulk of the defensive work was needed near the end, but at the start it was a different story, as Roscommon took a firm grip on the opening quarter, with Clann's Ruardhri McManus, and Strokestown duo Enda Smith and Kevin Finn doing much of the damage.
Roscommon's inter-play and short hand-passing was consistently on the money, and with Corcoran and Harney taking command at midfield, it was a case of how many points they could accumulate before Mayo sorted themselves out.
With just over a minute played, Murtagh and Michael Gunning combined to set up McManus for the opening score, and within 90 seconds Finn and Corcoran worked the ball to Murtagh to fist over.
Mayo were extremely sluggish at this juncture, unlike their semi-final victory over Sligo when much of the groundwork was laid in the opening half.
Roscommon's ascent failed to suffer from the enforced withdrawal (through injury), in the ninth minute, of Oran's Gunning, who was replaced by lively club-mate Paul Kenny.
Good work by Smith and Paul Kenny had Mayo ill at ease, resulting in a foul on Murtagh, and McManus easily popped over the free (Roscommon's only score from a dead-ball). One of the criticisms of Roscommon's semi-final win over Galway was an over-reliance on scores from placed balls, as they managed a paltry four points from play, but they managed to up the ante in the scoring stakes here.
Smith added to Roscommon's tally in the 13th minute (again after neat play by Paul Kenny), before Finn was denied a goal, after a free-flowing four-man move, by Mayo netminder Conor O'Malley.
Mayo eventually rallied thanks to Lynch's long range point and a free by Gallagher, but Roscommon restored the four-point lead thanks to Smith and Finn (the latter's powerful effort crashing off the crossbar on its way over).
A Gallagher free brought Mayo to within three points, and only a dreadful miss by Cian Burke, on the stroke of half-time, deprived Tony Duffy's side of going into the break two points adrift.
Another Gallagher free early in the second half offered further encouragement to an improving Mayo, and when diligent work by Sean Regan paved the way for Conor Byrne to point (on 34 minutes), Roscommon supporters were growing concerned.
Murtagh's fisted point momentarily halted the one-way traffic, but Gallagher's free, with 20 minutes left, again kept Mayo in contention.
Murtagh then showed genuine class to point from distance in the 42nd minute, and the home crowd again found its voice.
A couple of dreadfully careless wides followed for Mayo (from Darren Duffy and Shane Hennelly), and to a certain degree Roscommon were riding their luck at this point. Ronan Daly won a free near the right sideline, and the confident Murtagh made light of the difficult angle to restore a three-point lead with six minutes remaining.
But Mayo refused to wilt.
Gallagher kicked a free and then a lovely score by substitute James Quinn (on the 60-minute mark) narrowed the deficit to the slightest margin.
It was nail-biting stuff. Roscommon prayed for the whistle, but Mayo surged forward again.
Another substitute, Ryan Coleman had a glorious opportunity equal matters, but dragged his effort wide of the posts, and with that, Roscommon broke upfield and notched the win courtesy of another splendid point by Murtagh.
Scorers - Roscommon:
D Murtagh 0-5 (1f), E Smith 0-2, R McManus 0-2 (1f), K Finn 0-1.
Mayo: A Gallagher 0-5 (5f), K Lynch, C Byrne, J Quinn 0-1 each.
Roscommon: Shane Mannion; Philip Neilan, Dennis Barron, Cathal Kenny, Niall McInerney, Conor Hussey, Ronan Daly, Ultan Harney, Thomas Corcoran, Cathal Compton, Ruardhri McManus, Enda Smith, Diarmuid Murtagh, Kevin Finn, Michael Gunning. Subs: Paul Kenny for Gunning (inj., 9 mins), Kieran Kilcline for Compton (37), Brian Fannon for McManus (40), Ciaran Casserly for Kenny (52).
Mayo: Conor O'Malley; David McHale, Sean Moran, Kevin Lynch, Patrick Durcan, Cian Burke, Michael Plunkett, Brian Mullen, Adam Gallagher, Eoghan Lavin, Stephen Coen, Diarmuid O'Connor, Conor Byrne, Shane Hennelly, Sean Regan. Subs: Darren Duffy for Lavin (HT), Joe Geraghty for McHale (38 mins), James Quinn for Regan (52), Ryan Coleman for Mullen (60).
Referee: Shane O'Hehir (Galway).