Tyrone breeze past Roscommon to win historic All-Ireland Super 8s clash
All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Super 8s Round One: Roscommon 2-12 Tyrone 4-24
IT might be called the ‘Super 8s’ – but the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship is probably short of a couple of teams to actually merit the grandiose title.
Roscommon didn’t exactly feel super after their 18-point annihilation at the hands of Tyrone and have some road, steep road, ahead of them before graduating to elite level.
A “non-contest” was Kevin McStay’s neat and decidedly brutal summation of Saturday’s first-ever Super 8 encounter at Croke Park.
It was the kind of soul-sapping defeat where Roscommon will re-appraise everything they’ve been doing for last number of years, regardless of how they perform against Donegal and Dublin in the round robin series over the next couple of weeks.
Saturday was 70 hazy minutes of psychological torture for the Roscommon manager and his panel of players.
After being involved in an unforgettably open and brilliant game of football with Armagh in Portlaoise a week ago, Roscommon were well and truly blown away by an infinitely more sophisticated opponent.
Niall Sludden hit the opening goal after 12 minutes to puncture Roscommon’s early challenge and the Red Hands grabbed three more majors in the 49th, 62nd and 75th minutes – through Conor Meyler, Peter Harte (pen) and man-of-the-match Richie Donnelly - to establish absolute dominance over the Connacht men in the second half.
When Roscommon registered a score, it just made Tyrone angry.
Not long after Enda Smith’s well-taken major for Roscommon at the start of the second half, that reduced Tyrone’s lead to 1-11 to 1-6, the Croke Park crowd’s interest in the inevitable outcome was already waning.
Tyrone may have attacked with virtual impunity in the last quarter – but there was plenty to be gleaned from those allegedly meaningless last 15 minutes.
From the first whistle to the last, the Tyrone players never stopped running and were utterly ruthless.
In the closing stages, the men in red and white attacked Roscommon’s goal like ravenous hyenas.
Before half-time, the Tyrone defence, to a man, had harassed and harried Roscommon’s key forwards into submission.
A sign of a good team is how well they execute the ugly parts of the game.
Tyrone’s appetite for this line of work was insatiable.
They also boasted 13 different scorers from play on Saturday and maintained their scoring average of 24 points per game in Championship football this year.
“It shows you can get your scores in many different ways,” said Mickey Harte.
“It doesn’t have to be the old orthodox way – if you can create scoring chances and you can get people to take them… I think we’re working the best way possible for our players to play the game.”
Harte was slightly niggled by Tyrone’s concession of 2-12, but considering Roscommon’s second goal – scored by Ciaran Murtagh on the hour mark – was slightly fortuitous, there was little really to complain about.
As is often the case, the losing manager’s analysis of a painfully one-sided clash was more instructive than Harte’s.
Roscommon won a decent percentage of primary possession from kick-outs but they weren’t quick enough to turn these chances into efforts on goal.
But McStay countered that argument.
“Tyrone got back very quickly. They are the fastest team to reconfigure – they’re very, very fast.
“We thought we would move the ball fast and get through them. With [Cathal] Compton and [Enda] Smith [in midfield], we thought we’d get a lot of primary possession there, and we got a reasonable amount.
“But their half-forwards were back like bullets – and they can keep doing it. We found it very hard.
“When you look up and you see 10 fellas in front of you and you’re a half-forward soloing the ball, you’re going to pull the handbrake fairly lively when you see that amount of jerseys in front of you.”
And yet, Roscommon dreamed of the impossible in the early stages – that they could win Saturday’s Super 8s clash from long range.
Centre-back Fintan Cregg sent over a corker from distance to open the scoring after two minutes and moments later Diarmuid Murtagh repeated the dose.
“Your game can live or die on the 45-metre line,” sighed McStay.
“They’re great when they go over but it’s easier to be in the ‘D’ tapping them over - you get a higher percentage. And we hooked a few wide…
“If you’re going to take on the blanket, you just can’t shoot from 45 metres, you have to have a bit of pace in space. We didn’t have that incision. Ultimately, our smaller players were pushed back out… It’s very hard to exist in that game, when you bring anything into the tackle three fellas jump on you.”
Richie Donnelly and Niall Sludden may have been hitting the eye-catching scores – sharing 2-6 from play - but, as with all good Tyrone performances, the bedrock of their success was in the selfless art of defending.
Frank Burns epitomised this by standing firm and pushing Roscommon’s forwards backwards and out of harm’s way on countless occasions.
It didn’t matter that Compton and Enda Smith were winning primary possession from kick-outs, Tyrone would inevitably turn Roscommon over when they tried to work the ball.
The Tyrone players’ incredible work-rate never really dropped even though they’d effectively banked their first Super 8s win before half-time.
“Their athleticism and conditioning is a good touch ahead of ours,” McStay admitted.
“They had four or five powerful runners coming from the half-back line – [Peter] Harte, [Mattie] Donnelly, [Colm] Cavanagh – they have strong, strong runners.
“That’s just a level we’re not at yet but we’d hope to get there... Once you go behind against Tyrone, it’s a very difficult place to be.”
Once Enda Smith gave away cheap possession to Sludden on the '65-metre line, who ended up slotting home in the 12th minute, there was no way back for the beaten Connacht finalists.
Roscommon could only play in bursts while Tyrone managed to sustain an intense pace the whole way through, hitting six unanswered points towards the end of the first half.
Roscommon had one notable success in breaking Tyrone’s defensive lines when John McManus fed Enda Smith who fired the ball low and beyond Niall Morgan three minutes after the restart.
But Tyrone never blinked and cut loose again in the 49th minute when Conor Meyler finished off a flowing move involving Richie Donnelly and Cathal McShane.
Thereafter, Tyrone scored at will.
Mark Bradley, Declan McClure and Rory Brennan came off the bench and got on the score-sheet while Hugh Pat McGeary – a first half substitute for the injured Cathal McCarron – earned a 62nd minute penalty that was confidently dispatched by Peter Harte.
Richie Donnelly, who was involved in so many of Tyrone scores throughout the day, capped off a memorable afternoon by palming home deep into stoppage-time to bring his personal tally to 1-4.
The Trillick man is thriving in the full-forward role this summer and certainly gives the Tyrone attack a different dimension.
“Richie has played some football there for his club and I knew he was no stranger to that position,” said Harte. “And, I suppose, he had a few injuries for a year or two which didn’t help his progress.
“But when he stays injury-free, he’s a very good footballer, he’s a very smart footballer, he has a physical presence. So he has lots of things that are very useful for that position and I think he’s seizing his chance with both hands at the minute.”
Likewise, Michael McKernan has excelled at the other end of the field and looks a real find for Tyrone this year.
Harte, though, wasn’t getting carried away with Tyrone’s first win in the All-Ireland quarter-final round robin series and knows that Dublin in Omagh next week will give him a clearer indication of how far they’ve to travel to win a fourth All-Ireland crown.
“This is only one day and there’ll be different challenges for us next week and we have to see how we respond to them,” he said.
“We can’t really say much until we meet the acid test – and the acid test is Dublin coming to Omagh next week.”
The hurt of last August’s All-Ireland semi-final mauling to the Dubs must run deep for these Tyrone players.
Eleven months on, Tyrone’s ambush will surely be better…
Roscommon: C Lavin; D Murray, J McManus, N McInerney; N Daly, Fintan Cregg (0-1), C Devaney (0-1); T O’Rourke, E Smith (1-0); C Murtagh (1-3, 0-2 frees), N Kilroy, C Cregg; D Murtagh (0-5, 0-2 frees), C Compton, D Smith Subs: B Stack for C Cregg (h/t), Finbar Cregg for D Smith (h/t), G Patterson for N Daly (46), C Daly (0-1) for C Fintan Cregg (53), P Kelly (0-1) for E Smith (65), S Killoran for C Murtagh (62)
Yellow cards: J McManus (11), C Daly (55), G Patterson (70)
Black cards: D Murray (70) no replacement
Tyrone: N Morgan; M McKernan (0-1), R McNamee (0-1), C McCarron; T McCann (0-1), F Burns, P Harte (1-3, 1-0 pen, 0-2 frees); C Cavanagh, P Hampsey; M Donnelly (0-1), N Sludden (1-2), C Meyler (1-1); C McShane (0-2), R Donnelly (1-4), C McAliskey (0-4, 0-3 frees) Subs: HP McGeary for C McCarron (18 inj), K McGeary for C Meyler (50), D McClure (0-1) for C Cavanagh (51), M Bradley (0-2) for C McAliskey (55), R Brennan (0-1) for M McKernan (58), R O’Neill for N Sludden (59)
Yellow cards: C Meyler (46)
Referee: D Gough (Meath)