Roscommon’s Niall McInerney (7) and Cathal Compton (9) take on New York’s Luke Loughlin at Gaelic Park in the Bronx.
By Frank Brady
New York 0-17
Last week I predicted first that Roscommon would win the opening game in the Connacht and All Ireland football championships at Gaelic Park yesterday, and secondly that they would win easily. I was right with the first prediction, but totally wrong with the second part. Indeed I was not alone regarding the predicted magnitude of victory as the bookies had the Rossies pegged to win by 20 points. Well, they won by just one, 18 to 17, and were indeed lucky to escape by the skin of their teeth. New York had the chance to create a massive upset in the dying moments, when Kevin Connolly might have taken a few more steps to blast under rather than over. Then we would be writing about the Miracle on Broadway.
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However that was not to be, and the final whistle could not come fast enough for Roscommon as they clung on like a weary fighter looking for the safety of his corner. I did however note last week that Roscommon have a tendency to be enigmatic, but to endorse that view on this occasion would be a grave injustice to New York as their performance was inspiring. The Big Apple squad played some superlative football, took brilliant scores, battled back when the game looked to be getting away from them, and definitely put great pride back in the jersey. I take my hat off to you. Their performance was the very antithesis of a dull, cold and wet afternoon. Though New York got sterling performances from Luke Loughlin, Darren Freeman, Brian Connor, Killian Moynagh and Paddy MacNeice, keeper Vinny Cadden gave a man-of-the-match performance with a half dozen super saves from point blank range. Meanwhile New York started with great tenacity as Darren Freeman opened the scoring with a point that was preceded by a scintillating run by Luke Loughlin after he forced the usually safe-handed Sean McDermott to turn over the ball.
At the other end keeper Cadden was called quickly into action as he managed to deny Conor Devaney. The Rossies kept the pressure on as Keith Quinn fouled Ciaran Murtagh. It was a costly foul as Murtagh pointed and Quinn got a black card for his indiscretion. Roscommon now appeared to be hitting their stride as Cian Connolly pointed from the wing. However New York were not on hand to admire their highly vaunted opponents as in your face type defense forced corner back Sean Mullooly to loiter too long on the ball, and thus set the scene for perhaps the best score of the game, a point from Luke Loughlin. New York inched ahead on a point from a Brian Connor free after David Keenan was judged to have been grappling too closely with his opposite number. Brian Gallagher then floated a long ball in the direction of the goal for Loughlin to time his jump perfectly to punch over a point to jump into a two point lead midway in the period. New York then dodged a few bullets. First Cathal Compton burrowed in from the right flank, but Cadden parried the shot to safety. The danger was not over as Diarmuid Murtagh pulled the trigger, but Cadden deflected the ball across the goal mouth. In the ensuing scramble Ronan McGinley was adjudged to have fouled Murtagh, and referee Deegan awarded a penalty, most thought it harsh, to Roscommon, and a yellow card to McGinley. Murtagh blasted the ball to the net to put Roscommon ahead.
The Rossies looked set to extend their lead as Devaney had another goal-bound effort denied, but Darren Freeman landed a spectacular point to lift the siege. For the last quarter, New York appeared to wilt a bit as Roscommon seemed to be playing with greater fluency. They were moving the ball with greater purpose and precision. Sean McDermott traveled deep from defense to set up Ciaran Murtagh for a point, and Fintan Cregg hit over another. McDermott was still making his runs effective as he set the stage for another Diarmuid Murtagh point. Devaney added another before Ciaran Murtagh got inside the cover, and he looked to have designs on ripping the net to sunder. Instead his rasper ricocheted off the post as New York dodged another bullet. Both teams then traded points, Paddy McNeice for the Yanks, and Diarmuid Murtagh for the Rossies, to have his team lead by 1-7 to 0-6 at the break.
New York was first to score on resumption as McNeice pointed a free, but Fintan Cregg quickly replied at the other end. Things looked to be heading south for New York as captain Johnny Duane went off injured and Killian Moynagh picked up a yellow card for a foul on Cian Connolly. However Shane Hogan stepped manfully into the breach. Murtagh pointed the resultant free to extend the lead, but New York was staying in the hunt as McNeice landed a peach of a point from away out the field. Roscommon were still trying to breach the Cadden fortress as Diarmuid Murtagh let fly with another rasper, but there was no bulge in the net. However there was the consolation of a point from a free.
Then the lead got to six points just on 12 minutes as a late hit on Niall Daly engineered a free and a score for Cregg. Based upon past performances you would be forgiven if you thought Roscommon would leave the Yanks drifting further in their wake. However you would be wrong as this was now about to become a real ding dong affair. The resilience and resurgence began with Brian Connor blasting the ball soccer-style over the bar, and Brian Gallagher followed with another fine score. The Rossies followed with points from Cathal Cregg and Devaney. Freeman was on target again after Paddy Boyle did the support work, but Devaney replied from a very acute angle. The New York supporters were now in full voice as the elusive and speedy Freeman sliced his way past two defenders, but his blistering shot skinned the cross bar. It too could have gone under. The Rossies were still trying to get a goal by hook or by crook, but Cadden denied Donie Shine’s shot with another brilliant save.
Roscommon were now becoming tentative and hesitant, as the unheralded New Yorkers were taking the game to them. Boyle once again stormed up the middle to draw a foul. Brian Connor pointed the free, and Luke Loughlin struck another brilliant point. Roscommon attempted to break from defense, but the swarming and swooning Yanks forced them to cough up the ball. Brian Connor was on hand to send a long delivery to Freeman, who was fouled, and Connor soon had the deficit at two. Veteran McDermott surged into New York territory and drew a foul. The kinks and cracks were now beginning to show as Murtagh missed an easy free. The panic buttons were all popping now when Freeman left the minimum between the sides. Substitute Senan Kilbride brought a sigh of relief with a well-taken point. Danger was still lurking for Roscommon as Kevin Connolly latched on to a long ball and headed goal ward. He let fly from 25 yards and the ball just skimmed across the bar to leave just a point between the sides as time was ebbing away. Perhaps he should have kept going and have a shot for a goal, but then perhaps there was enough time for another scoring attempt. Unfortunately for New York there wasn’t as referee Deegan blew for full time on the kickout.
Though New York didn’t win and pull off the mother of all upsets, this was the closest since they went to extra time with Leitrim in 2003. You could also argue that the game could have been a lot different if Roscommon had to capitalize on the six gilt-edged goal opportunities that they created. Still the New York players and management deserve great credit for a very spirited, disciplined and intelligent display against a team that most would regard as far superior; after all they are a division one team.
Judging from the body language of the Roscommon players at the end of the game, you would be forgiven if you thought they lost. Joint manager Fergal O’Donnell was not too happy with the performance as he noted that New York played well and took their scores superbly, while Roscommon played poorly, missed goals and made lots of mistakes. When questioned about the missed goal chances, he said that his players should have just rounded the keeper. He also noted that some of his players may have got caught up in the hype of their division one status, and that New York may have been a huge distraction as well. Still he said they have three weeks to rectify things before taking on Leitrim next. Incidentally former Leitrim Chairman Gerry McGovern was on hand to witness the game, and I’m sure he’ll be reporting back to Shane Ward and the Leitrim camp. Unfortunately New York does not have any opportunity to build on that performance, and just have to wait for the annual Connacht championship game next year. Still they lifted the spirits of the Big Apple Gaelic faithful on a dull, dreary and miserable afternoon.
Roscommon: Geoffrey Claffey, Sean McDermott, Neil Collins, Sean Mullooly, John McManus, David Keenan, Niall McInerney, Niall Daly, Cathal Compton, Fintan Cregg(0-4), Ciaran Murtagh(0-3), Conor Devaney(0-3), Cian Connolly(0-1), Diarmuid Murtagh(1-2), Cathal Cregg(0-1). Subs James McDermott, Niall Kilroy, Senan Kilbride(0-1), Donie Shine.
New York: Vinny Cadden, Ronan McGinley, Ger McCartan, Killian Moynagh, Keith Scally, John Duane, Keith Quinn, Johnny Glynn, Brian Gallagher(0-1), Luke Louhglin(0-3), Brian Connor(0-4), Paddy McNeice(0-3), Paddy Boyle, Kevin Connolly(0-1), Darren Freeman(0-5). Subs John Comerford, Niall Egan, Paul Lambe, Shane Hogan. Referee Maurice Deegan(Laois).
Man of Match: Vinny Cadden.