A good team met a great one
It will be of little consolation to the Roscommon players and management that they simply met an excellent Tyrone team playing at the height of their powers in Sunday’s final.
By Michael O’Brien
Between the sixth and 13th minutes, Tyrone hit nine points without reply. It wasn’t so much that Roscommon collapsed, but the Ulster side were sublime during this period.
By the time Roscommon came to terms with the enormity of the challenge, they had left themselves with too much to do. But while not being patronising or telling players what they’d like to hear, it was admirable how the players showed great defiance when it looked like the game was going to become a procession before the break.
Roscommon’s half-backline struggled to come to terms with Tyrone’s excellent half-forward line. It was from this area that the Ulster champions launched the platform for victory. Of course, this line included Darragh Canavan. He has the speed, skill and football brain almost identical to his father, Peter. He even has the exact same frame as him.
When he grabbed possession, there was always trouble. Tyrone’s work off the ball when he had possession was superb. There was always two forwards running in the opposite direction diagonally when he was cutting across the pitch. The winners were a very well coached side.
But though Roscommon were under huge pressure in the first half, they continued to play the game they set out to play. Shane Cunnane caught great ball around midfield, and his contribution was essential in getting his side back into the contest. The contributions of Jack Keane and Peter Gillooly were noteworthy too, while Paul McGrath and Darragh Walsh impressed after coming off the bench. How Roscommon would have benefitted if Walsh hadn’t such a lengthy injury lay-off during the campaign. He’s such a natural footballer and he looked very at home in Croke Park, kicking some great scores when he came on.
Tyrone appeared to have the edge physically, and they were more tuned in from the first whistle. Their defenders were very determined in the race to win possession. The Roscommon forwards played below what they’re capable of early on. There was no real pressure applied on Tyrone breaking out of defence. As a result, it inevitably led to plenty of openings at the other end.
In the senior semi-final, Dublin ensured Tyrone weren’t able to break out fast. They put in big tackles repeatedly. In the U-17 final, all too often Tyrone broke from their half-backline with pace and this created opportunities for the forward line.
By comparison, there wasn’t enough urgency in Roscommon’s play when they had the ball in their own half. They were a bit too content to wait for an opening rather than to create one. All too often, Roscommon players took hold of possession in static positions. Everything Tyrone attempted, they did so with pace.
When the score stood at 0-10 to 0-2 after 19 minutes, it was hard to see anything but an easy victory for Tyrone. But Roscommon’s character was admirable. Cunnane was central in bringing the team back into the game. The acceleration by Canavan for a score followed by a score from Ethan Jordan were bigger scores than they looked late in the half.
A few scores from Tyrone could have killed the game off in the third quarter, but Roscommon’s collective response was solid. Gillooly added two points to the neat one he registered in the first half. Roscommon started to pick up more breaks. It was in stark contrast to the first half where Tyrone’s anticipation was absolutely superb for the most part.
For all Tyrone’s great play, there was a period around the three-quarter mark when there was a chance Roscommon could push them all the way if they could have managed another point or two. They were well within touching distance. But sometimes, a player’s name is written all over a final long before it concludes. And it was no surprise that Darragh Canavan produced a wonderful goal to all but seal victory in the 51st minute.
But this score didn’t break Roscommon’s spirit either. They got to within four, were now down by seven, but with the game becoming more open, as games always do in the last ten minutes, Roscommon knew they had nothing to lose.
Overall, Roscommon didn’t play well enough for long enough to win this final. Their decision making and some of their kick passing let them down at times too.
Roscommon are ticking a lot of boxes in their approach to the development of young players. That Tyrone, on average, appear to be producing more top level players is not a poor reflection on the contribution of anyone in the county. It only emphasises the fact that they have a bigger pick. Speaking of a bigger pick, Tyrone’s squad stretched to 43 players.
Indeed, there’s over 113,000 more people in Tyrone than there is in Roscommon. The law of averages says this is likely to result in a stronger production line of underage players. It doesn’t mean Roscommon can’t compete with them. They can, and indeed they were more than a match for Kerry. But it does mean that all associated with underage football in the county, not alone have to work hard to produce players of a county standard, but, just as importantly, ensure as few as possible are lost to the game.
It is in the retention of players where the top counties maintain much higher ratios than those below them, which is understandable in many ways.
Liam Tully and the management, and all those associated with getting this squad this far through their work over the year, have done their part. How many Roscommon players will still be playing at the highest level beyond their teens is the measuring tool from here onwards.