By Jackie Cahill
Roscommon selector Liam McHale has admitted that the poor condition of the Dr. Hyde Park pitch has been “a distraction” for the Allianz Football League Division 1 surprise packets this year.
Roscommon had to play Down in Longford as Hyde Park was unplayable while McHale described the surface as “a mudbath” when the Rossies lost to Connacht rivals Mayo there recently.
And last Sunday, the fixture with Dublin which was originally pencilled in for Hyde Park was switched to Carrick-on-Shannon on the morning of the game, while Roscommon’s U21s were also forced to concede home advantage for their Connacht final defeat to Mayo, that game played instead in Sligo on Saturday.
McHale pointed out that when Roscommon played on “really good surfaces this year”, they ran up big scores away to Cork and Donegal at Páirc Uí Rinn and Letterkenny respectively.
Roscommon bagged a remarkable 4-25 on their visit to Cork and they collected 1-19 against Donegal.
And McHale is relishing the prospect of tackling Kerry on a pristine Croke Park sod in next Sunday’s Division 1 semi-final.
He said: “We played on some really good surfaces this year, against Donegal it was a nice day and a good surface, same in Cork, and we put up big scores.
“I’m hoping that we can play well in Croker on Sunday. I know managers and coaches say it all the time but all we’re concerned about on Sunday is a performance.
“If we got out, play well and even end up beaten by a couple of points, we’ll be happy. We still want to win the game but we’re in New York on Sunday three weeks and we can’t afford to take our eye off the ball championship wise.”
McHale admitted that the furore surrounding Dr. Hyde Park has had players talking and occupying their minds “at a time when they should be thinking about strategy.”
He explained: “We only played one game really at home in Hyde Park (against Mayo), that was like a mudbath. We played the Monaghan game in Kiltoom, Down in Longford and it’s very difficult playing at the level the lads are playing at and not having a ‘home’ base.
“You’re practicing during the week trying to get ready and not 100 per cent sure where the game will be played.
“Players are talking about it and it occupies mind time when they should be thinking about strategy.
“It’s been a distraction all year and obviously the pitch has to be done. “Hopefully it will be sorted out next year.”
Sunday’s tie is a repeat of the round 2 fixture at Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney, when Roscommon scored a shock one-point victory.
But McHale is anticipating a much stronger Kingdom challenge at GAA HQ – and he believes that basketball has been an important factor in Kieran Donaghy’s return to form.
McHale was a noted basketball player himself with Ballina and believes that both sports complement each other brilliantly.
Donaghy was MVP for St Brendan’s Tralee in their men’s national intermediate club championship final victory over BC Leixlip Nemunas in January.
And McHale reflected: “Kieran is back playing very well and looks sharp.
“It’s no coincidence that he’s had a season or two of basketball under his belt, he’s sharp and light on his feet, a handful.
“I think he went off the boil in the last two or three years, lost that agility and sharpness that basketball brings to you.
“He played intermediate basketball last season and it looks like his hands are sharp and he’s light on his feet.
“He looks like he’s 27 again. I wish he wasn’t playing as well as he is because we got hammered in midfield down in Kerry. It’s a big ask for us to try and compete with Kieran and David Moran, if the two of them start there, and they have Johnny Buckley and guys like that chipping in.
“They’ll be a different outfit and the 'Gooch' is back playing well.
“His decision making and intelligence around the pitch are top class. He makes players better around him. Only a handful of players can do that.”