The Roscommon U21 football panel made quite a din though as they roared their county seniors on to what was an unexpected and courageous Division 3 win over favourites Cavan.
Senior manager John Evans was without half a dozen of those U21 players who he would ordinarily have called upon while several more players were out injured. Roscommon would battle those odds, however, to come out on top against the 2013 All-Ireland quarter-finalists and claim a rare piece of national silverware at Croke Park.
A week on, those U21 players will all come together again in Tullamore this afternoon and the sense of an underdog not just taking on a favourite but a superpower will be strong.
There is any number of garlands you could throw at the Dublin team that Roscommon will face. A star-studded side, Dessie Farrell’s young Dubs have reached the final with 47 points to spare yet haven’t played near their full potential.
And whatever happens at O’Connor Park, players like Jack McCaffrey and Paul Mannion already have an All-Ireland senior winners’ medal, something that will probably never happen for these Roscommon players even if they win today.
Still, Evans sees something special in the side managed by Nigel Dineen whom he believes could be about to replicate the seniors by scoring an unexpected victory for the underdog.
“We’re the flagship, we’re the senior team. If we couldn’t do it last weekend at Croke Park, we couldn’t have been expecting anyone else in the county to do it,” said Evans.
“They were all there last Saturday night. They looked and they saw what we could do and I know that they have the same passion that we have, they have the same ability.
“I do think it will give them a push and a small lift going to take on Dublin. I just think there’s something about this team, right from the start when they began. There’s a work rate about them. They’ve a good balance, they’ve good forwards and they’ve good backs and their midfield is improving.
“Now Dublin, I know Dublin because Tipperary [whose senior side was managed by Evans] beat this minor team in the 2011 All-Ireland final. They’re an exceptionally good, talented team. But I think it’s going to be a great game. In terms of our seniors, we were certainly very conscious that we have this young U21 and they were watching us and wanted to give them a boost, because they’re part of us as well.”
Two years ago, the same sides met in the final. Dublin beat Roscommon 2-12 to 0-11 to claim their second title in three seasons. They’re going for a third in five seasons today. As an indicator of their quality, the second and third subs used against Meath in the Leinster final were Gavin Burke, an All-Ireland Club SFC winner with St Vincent’s, and Emmet Ó Conghaile, a county senior.
Evans is more concerned about Roscommon handling the occasion well with Dublin sure to carry a vocal support to the midlands.
“Handling the occasion is something that’s very much part of a winner’s psyche,” said the Kerryman. “If you’re going to win a final like this, you’ve got to be prepared in all ways. You have to cover everything, physically and mentally. But, as I said, I’ve always had a good feeling about this team.”
Roscommon were left clinging on at the end of a quite incredible semi-final win over Cork. Having been six ahead with as many minutes remaining, they eventually required an injury-time point from Diarmuid Murtagh, their talisman corner-forward, to shake off the Rebels.
Dublin’s path was sticky too. But you always got the sense that they were going to come from four down against Cavan to win with a strong last 25 minutes or so as they did.
Ultimately, it’s all about providing players for senior duty and both counties are well served in that regard. Given their population is just 5% of Dublin’s, Roscommon’s recent underage success has been most impressive with two U21 final appearances and a minor success in the last eight years.
Evans believes his personal qualities are perfectly suited to what Roscommon now require of a senior manager, to dovetail it all together.
“The likes of Fergal O’Donnell, who is involved with the minors and Nigel Dineen, with the U21s, they have no problem producing underage talent,” said Evans. “It’s just getting it from U21 to senior and that’s where I come in. That’s where I’m good at building things and that’s what I’ve always been good at, building teams. I was probably the natural fit.”