Don’t expect west to be best

AND so, Connacht has settled its affairs for 2010. The team that started the year ranked fourth, at best, now sits on top of the pile.

Just a few weeks ago, Roscommon supporters travelled to London with genuine fears of an ambush. A bribe wouldn’t get you a Rossie fan prepared to talk about a provincial title.

“As low as we have ever been” was the consensus. There was little consolation in the fact that the rest of the province – apart from thrusting Sligo – also appeared to be in deep recessionary mode.

Neither did the presence of the county’s talismanic figure, Fergie O’Donnell, do enough to inspire even a wild dream.

The prospects of Roscommon slipping in for a Connacht title were slim to nothing. The championship spoils would be divvied out elsewhere. They would just look on.

Before yesterday, there were only the faintest stirrings. The first came when the U21 side won the Connacht title, the second in the second-half of the senior championship win over Leitrim. But neither development provoked a run on the bookies.

What remained unaltered, however, was the fact that Roscommon have never really had cause to fear Sligo. Traditionally, as one observer said yesterday, Roscommon win a Connacht title at least once every 10 years – Sligo crop up much more infrequently.

No matter how good Sligo look, Roscommon still see them as Sligo.

And, clearly, we should have taken more notice of that nuance in the Sligo-Roscommon relationship in advance of yesterday. Kevin Walsh’s men may have beaten Mayo and Galway. But they still weren’t Mayo or Galway. Roscommon haven’t beaten Mayo in the Connacht SFC at McHale Park since 1986.

It was a blessed relief to them to be coming to the venue to face a team other than the one which has given them so many beatings in recent times. And so, while Roscommon were tipping along quietly into the final, Sligo were doing valuable work on their behalf. They cleared the big trees.

Sligo knew only too well that the wins over Mayo and Galway would serve to haunt them if they slipped up against Roscommon – and they played as if gripped by that fear. There was little of the fluidity that characterised long passages of their three matches to date, and, instead of the boost that would accrue from a second provincial title in four seasons, they are left to evaluate what remains of the house they were steadily building.

Sligo will be severely damaged by this defeat. The Qualifiers will be tricky for them because their mission this year was to win the province – and drive on from there. For counties like Sligo, provincial titles are the key milestones. As they discovered early in the last decade, there’s only so much mileage to be gained in the backdoor.

Ultimately, trophies are what count.

We can’t see them mustering up enthusiasm for what lies ahead. Many years from now, they will still live with the regret of not winning this season’s Connacht crown.

Roscommon are already into bonus territory. This is a win to build on, but the benefits will likely be felt in the years ahead, rather than in the remainder of this season.

So, for eventual All-Ireland champions, you have to look somewhere other than west this year.


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