Rossies out to prove a point

TWELVE months after the winning of it and Cathal Cregg is still listening to people say that Roscommon won a handy Connacht title last year.

While Sligo were landing knockout blows on Mayo and Galway, the Rossies were going quietly about their business on the far side of the draw. London were dispatched in Ruislip and Leitrim sent home from the Hyde to think again.

No-one took much notice.

Not until Sligo’s gallop was brought to a halt in the final. That was when the caveats were attached to their achievement. Another Connacht final looms on Sunday and, with Mayo in opposition, Roscommon have their chance to silence the cynics.

“Oh definitely,” said Cregg whose performances in 2010 earned him an All-Star nomination.

“You’d still hear a lot of people saying it this year, that we got the easy route to the final last year and that Sligo took their eye off the ball, which I don’t think is the case at all. They brought us back to level, we went ahead and they brought us level again and we still kicked on and won. But, definitely, to beat one of the ‘Big Two’ in this Connacht final would be massive. Especially to retain back-to-back titles. This team deserves that.”

If anything, talk of a ‘Big Two’ in Connacht is something of an oxymoron. The province hasn’t provided a serious All-Ireland contender since 2006 and both Mayo and Galway continue to slip down the game’s pecking order.

Twenty points separated Roscommon from Mayo the last time the sides met, in June of 2009, but Fergal O’Donnell was only at the foothills of his reconstruction project then. It is James Horan and Mayo who are barely out of base camp this time.

Roscommon are no longer unbridled by expectation.

“We try not to get bogged down in it,” said Cregg. “We still have a high level to hit. We played Division Four this year. Mayo were Division One and are there consistently over the last couple of years so we know we’re up against a stiff test. They’ve some quality footballers. You couldn’t read a lot into their performance against London. London have won since but I was very impressed with Mayo’s second-half performance against Galway.

“Was it 1-8 to 0-1 in the second half against a Galway team? That hasn’t been done for quite a while and they’re only going to improve coming into this. Their graph seems to be rising the whole time.”

Cregg has been well positioned to monitor it, not just as a next-door neighbour but through his experiences in the Sigerson Cup with DCU where he has come to know the likes of Mayo goalkeeper Robert Hennelly and injured forward Conor Mortimer.

Nor is he alone. David O’Gara, Niall Carty, David Keenan and Stephen Ormsby have all lined out for both the college and Roscommon this season and Cregg rates the standard as a very close second to the inter-county scene.

That exposure has helped players from counties like Roscommon to see more feted opponents up close and in the flesh and it has made them realise that counterparts from Mayo, Dublin or Cork are doing little different to themselves.

“When you’re coming from a weaker county the perception is that the players wouldn’t be as good there but, like the Roscommon lads playing with DCU, it definitely helps when you’re playing with other county players there and then end up playing against them in the summer.”

Roscommon should have nothing to fear this weekend. Home advantage aside, they will probably have more players on view with Connacht medals than Mayo and the memories of last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final when they led Cork early in the second half.

Yet, tradition is tradition.

Mayo will trade on that come Sunday and Cregg knows it.

“They’d still have quite a lot of the older lads like Alan Dillon, Andy Moran, Trevor Mortimer. Them lads have been around the block and they’ve lads that have been involved at Sigerson level too. They won’t fear playing in a Connacht final.”

More in this section

Sport Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up