A new sense of optimism dawns in Roscommon ranks

Seven years since they last played host to a Connacht final involving themselves, 27 since they last successfully defended a provincial crown, which also came in front of a Dr Hyde Park crowd, history beckons for Roscommon tomorrow.

Enda Smith celebrates with supporters after Roscommon's Connacht SFC final win over Galway last year. Picture: David Maher

With optimism, parallels are being sketched between this current side and that which retained the Nestor Cup despite the best efforts of a Mayo side which featured now Roscommon coach Liam McHale.

A member of that victorious Primrose and Blue side, Paul Earley is not for a second dismissing his county’s chances of repeating that feat against Galway but the two teams couldn’t be much more different.

“I would never make comparisons with teams of the past,” he says. “Different eras, different skill-sets. It’s a much younger team than we were (back then) and we had lost quite a few Connacht finals before we made the breakthrough. This is an emerging Roscommon team. There is probably a bigger future in this Roscommon team whereas we were coming towards the end.

“When you’re at the top table, you think you’re going to sit there forever and then 10 or 15 years go by and you’re not competitive and it’s very difficult to get things back on track. Roscommon historically have had good teams at different stages in between barren spells.

The population isn’t as big as the other top counties so when you have a team as good as this one you have to make hay while the sun shines.

The discord that was generated after Fergie O’Donnell’s exit as co-manager in 2016 and carried through to the following year’s ill-fated Division 1 campaign has all but disappeared now.

Winning Connacht silenced the detractors, this year’s quick return to Division 1 all but sewing their gobs shut.

“Winning games always brings people together and I think anybody who has criticisms are keeping their mouths shut at the moment,” Earley feels.

“It’s not as if there is much to be critical about anyway. Things are going well and it looks like a unified group; if it wasn’t they wouldn’t be winning games and there would be cracks appearing. The consistency of the performances points to that as well.”

Kevin McStay certainly beat the big drum with his act of brinkmanship after beating Sligo when insisting Roscommon were only going to play the Connacht final on their own patch.

More diplomacy was required by the county board but it was another example of the growing bond between the group and supporters.

It might have backfired but Earley felt McStay’s stance wasn’t a gamble.

“Irrespective of what he said or not, there was going to be huge pressure to have the final in Dr. Hyde Park. The Roscommon County Board certainly wanted it there and the fact a new pitch was laid shows that the work has been done. I know the ground isn’t at the level people would want it to be at but it’s been kind of a Catch-22 situation: Roscommon has suffered financially the last couple of years and hasn’t had the funding for the things they wanted to do.

“This is a great boost for the town and the county and there is a lot of work behind the scenes by supporters and businesses to generate revenue, and there’s got to be an element of payback and it’s just another reason why it’s important for the game to be in the Hyde. We haven’t had a final there for a few years and to play such a big game in front of your fans means a lot.

“I commend the Connacht Council for making that decision. The revenue could be higher if it was staged somewhere else but it’s important for the local element of Roscommon GAA that it is played there and the county gets a big boost.”

There may be an argument that there is now an onus on Roscommon to come up with the goods but Earley reckons the greater focus to deliver is on Galway.

“You have the same pressures on you in a Connacht final whether you’re playing at home or away. In many ways, the pressure is more on Galway this year because Roscommon won against the odds last year and Galway are still seething over that and want to address that.

There’s no question in my mind that the pressure is on Galway because of the form they have coming into the game too and the fine league they had.

The former International Rules manager envisages Roscommon trying to hit Galway where they are at their strongest.

“We have a good enough set of forwards to do damage if we get parity around the middle of the field. That will be the challenge. If you look at the last two Connacht finals, the one Roscommon won, we were dominant in midfield last year and Enda Smith had a great game; the year before in the replay in Castlebar, Galway dominated midfield and there were sizeable margins of victory in both games.

“So I think Roscommon will be targeting that area even though Galway have Peter Cooke who can come off the bench and Paul Conroy who drifts into midfield. Roscommon will be focusing on that middle third ferociously.

“Even against a mass defence, if the Roscommon attack have enough ball they’ve the pace to break through as well as kick points from 45 metres out. Roscommon will play the way they played the whole way through the league: they’re an offensive team. I don’t think they’re going to change that pretty much and if Galway sit back it could play into Roscommon’s hands.”


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