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Dublin: 10°C Wednesday 12 May 2021
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Birthday boy Cunningham hails Roscommon's 'courage' and 'intelligence'

Anthony Cunningham led the Rossies to a stirring comeback defeat of his native county.

ANTHONY CUNNINGHAM TURNED 54 over the weekend and he hardly could have celebrated his birthday in better fashion. 

Roscommon celebrate after the game in the changing room. Roscommon celebrate after the game in the changing room. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Roscommon stormed Salthill for the second time in three years, delivering the Connacht crown on this occasion after recovering from a five-point half-time deficit. 

Cunningham’s side failed to score for the final 15 minutes of the first period, but outscored Galway by 1-8 to 0-2 in a dominant second-half. 

“The second half showed tremendous courage,” he said. “You would have to use the word courage. They really went for it. It was looking a bit rocky there ten minutes before half time.

We dropped off and Galway punished us. They just nailed on five points. And if the wind came up that was going to work against us as well. We just asked that they worked harder.

“Delighted for the players. We’ve a good bit of improvement to do as you will probably tell me. And you’re right. But we will settle down not after a few days and focus on the Super 8s.” 

The St Thomas club man who previously won a Leinster title with Galway hurlers and provincial club football crowns with Garrycastle and St Brigid’s, was quick to deflect the praise onto his backroom team and players.

“It is just an honour. I have to say in Ian Daly and Mark Dowd: two tremendous coaches with me and I was lucky. They are tremendous workers. There is no bottom to them really with the work. And we set up with a lot of work in the gym as well – that might have been missing a bit.”

He incidentally became the second Galway man to take down his native county over the weekend, as Mattie Kenny guided the Dublin hurlers to a stunning victory at Parnell Park on Saturday night.

Kieran Molloy and Thomas Flynn with Tadgh O'Rourke Kieran Molloy and Thomas Flynn compete with Tadgh O'Rourke. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Roscommon dialled up the tenacity and physicality after the break, with three Daly brothers hugely influential in defence. At half-time, Cunningham told his players “to play with a bit more intelligence on the ball.”

“Breaking ball was poor,” he continued. “We had a lot of turnovers against us in the first half. Conditions were tough. We needed to settle down and show more composure.

“We had a chat about it at half time and got to the pitch of the game and competed a lot more for kick outs. We put a lot more pressure on Galway.”

The visitors dominated the breaking ball under Ruairi Lavelle’s kick-outs after the restart and completely suffocated Galway’s attack. 

I think we forced it in the last ten minutes of the first half. (We needed) to get back to our game plan and stick with it and look to attack up front.”

David Murray kept All-Star Ian Burke under wraps, forcing four turnovers on the Corofin ace during the opening 35 minutes.

Conor Devaney (and later Hubert Darcy once he replaced Devaney) would drop back from wing-forward to man-mark Peter Cooke, which released Niall Daly to sweep in front of his full-back line.

There were some hairy moments near the finish as goalkeeper Darren O’Malley was forced to save with his legs after a long ball was flicked towards the net by a Galway hand

Darren O'Malley makes a save Darren O'Malley makes a crucial save near the end. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“We sort of brought the crowd in then to help us,” he joked about the late pitch invasion.

“It was a difficult situation- they could have slipped a goal there. But when there was only going to be a goal in it at that stage, Galway were going to go for it. They almost snuck it but a great save by Darren, he was under pressure. It is great for these young players. They really worked hard.”

For the first time since 2001, Roscommon took out both Mayo and Galway in the one campaign – and they won both games away from home which makes the feat even more impressive.

“With pitches now and the level they are at and the level of support that Roscommon got in Mayo the last night was huge,” said Cunningham.

And probably a few more travelled today. They are passionate supporters. But I think in the league they really got behind this team and but for one or two scores and one or two pieces of action we were unlucky not to stay up.

“The Mayo match was a great confidence boost and when we were in trouble there today they went back to that reservoir and said: we have done this before. We haven’t conceded a goal yet. We were rocked by Galway there and they are a top-class team.

“Kevin (Walsh) has done tremendous work and they have been standard bearers in Connacht as much as Mayo. And when you do get rocked it is very hard to coach or teach that. You are just hoping that their character will respond.

And right through the Daly brothers, Conor Hussey, Shane Killoran at midfield, Tadhg there a great catch at the end. So the middle third and then we used the ball more intelligently up front. And Diarmuid (Murtagh) slipped a goal which really put is in the driving seat.”

Roscommon will hope the four-week break before the Super 8s gives them a chance to get some key players back from injury. Devaney was on crutches afterwards nursing an ankle problem that forced him off after 25 minutes.

Fintan Cregg and Ultan Harney were not part of the matchday panel. Cregg, who hit the winner against Mayo in the semi-final suffering a back injury in training during the week, while Ultan Harney hurt ligaments in his knee – although it’s not thought to be too serious.

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Kevin O'Brien

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