The final whistle in Croke Park last Sunday provided a sense of relief for both Mayo and Roscommon. While both would be disappointed not to have won the game, the room for improvement and the recognition that both were still in the 2017 championship meant both had to accept the outcome and move on.
It is widely speculated that Roscommon were the team that missed their chance to win last Sunday, but Mayo have to count themselves lucky to still be in the 2017 championship. Mayo kicked a pitiful four points in the second half of Sunday’s game. Two of those points came after the 65th minute
Two points in 30 minutes of intercounty football is a poor return from any side, not to mind a team with supposed aspirations of winning the All-Ireland.
Even if Roscommon have missed their chance, they have significantly exceeded many people’s expectations for this season.
After a very poor 2016 championship was followed up by poor results in the 2017 league, this year’s Connacht championship was basically seen as a contest between Mayo and Galway, but Roscommon read a totally different script.
The biggest upset of the 2017 championship was Roscommon’s emphatic Connacht final triumph. It was a result that few saw coming. Plenty of people have assessed that Connacht final to be the only big performance in Roscommon.
Mayo were expected to arrive back into another All-Ireland semi-final after last Sunday, but Roscommon’s reading of scripts continued to differ. The early lead that Roscommon raced into was yet another surprise.
But 2-2 in the first 11 minutes can also read as 0-7 being kicked in 59 minutes. A closer look asks if the Rossies really threw away the game last Sunday.
While they were on top for large portions of the game, they never looked like winning the game. A late winner coming from behind looked to be the only way they could have exited Jones’ Road with a victory.
While they took an early lead, leading 2-2 to 0-1 after 11 minutes, the lead was relinquished by half time and was not restored again until the 55th minute.
Outscoring Mayo 0-5 to 0-2 for the third quarter saw them take a lead, 2-8 to 1-10, but there was a clear failure to kick on during this time, and an equalising score would not arrive until the 73rd minute with Donie Smith landing an audacious free from the bones of 50 yards.
It could be argued that they missed their chance, but failing to score for 18 minutes when only leading by a single point cannot really count as a missed opportunity.
The game last Sunday was dramatic. It was a close. It was a keenly contested quarter-final, but the scoring patterns make for grim reading.
What they also do, is identify the potential scope for improvement from both sides. But the caginess that was displayed last Sunday accompanied with rise and fall the end result provides for either side makes it hard to imagine either side really throwing off the shackles in the replay.
The pattern of Mayo’s games over the last two championship seasons show that their games are generally close affairs. They have now drawn three championship games this year, and lost one by a single point. 2016 saw a run of close shaves in the qualifiers before a draw and a one point defeat to Dublin at the All-Ireland final stage.
It predicts that next Monday’s replay will be another close encounter. They may put Roscommon away, but recent history definitely suggests they will not blow the Rossies away.
Roscommon’s element of surprise is well and truly gone. Two surprise performances now means no team will take them lightly. Kevin McStay was quick to say that the experience of Croke Park would stand to his players, and maybe it will.
Roscommon may play with more freedom the next day. Those gaps in the scoreboard may tighten and if they do, Mayo will be pushed to the pin of their collars.
Last Sunday was not a missed opportunity, it was a major learning experience. Next Monday will show us if that was Roscommon’s limit, or if they have enough grown due to their experience of playing in Croke Park.
Mayo have been here too many times before. Their know-how will be key. If they have any intentions of breaking the Curse of 51, they need a major improvement.
Check out the latest episode of The 16th Man, where we look ahead to the weekend’s action.