The students of Roscommon CBS failed in their bid last Saturday to become the first Roscommon nursery to annex the Hogan Cup, while next Sunday, 12 months after bagging the Division 3 league crown, John Evans’ charges return to Croke Park attempting to secure Division 2 silverware.
Top tier football next spring is already guaranteed, but the trophy cabinet in the boardroom on the Athlone Road would glady welcome new additions. Good habits become catching and winning is the most desirable of them all.
Today the focus rests with the county’s U21 team. With four Connacht final victories achieved since 2010, attention has now turned to scaling higher summits.
The westerners fell at the final hurdle in 2012 and 2014, seven members of today’s side determined to at least string back-to-back All-Ireland final appearances. Such are the ambitions now held by footballers donning the primrose and blue.
Five years ago this was a county operating in the league’s basement tier and searching for a first provincial U21 title since 1999. The growth spurt in recents seasons has occurred at a speed not envisaged by even the most optimistic Roscommon supporter.
U21 selector and former Roscommon forward Frankie Dolan believes they have benefited from the high volume of U21 players working with Evans’ senior panel.
Ultan Harney, Diarmuid Murtagh, the contributor of 1-7 in the Connacht final, and DCU Sigerson Cup winner Enda Smith have been regular starters throughout the Division 2 campaign.
“Physically, you can see a real difference,” said Dolan. “Now we have plenty of lads who are getting senior exposure, but the three lads who got plenty of game-time this spring, you can see how physically strong they are having been involved with the seniors this year and, indeed, the last couple of years. You would like to think they will be physically stronger than their opponents as the vast majority of U21s don’t play senior football.
“You would like to think their power and pace would give us an advantage.
“You would like to think it will stand to us that there are lads there from last year also. You would like to think the lads are more experienced, mentally stronger and physically stronger and that would enable us to go one better.
“We have been in two finals in the last four years, but haven’t won any of them. From our point of view, that isn’t good enough.
“The lads involved from last year will want to rectify this. There is a good crop then of young lads coming through who would have lost out to Tyrone at minor level in 2013. I wouldn’t say we are overly confident, but the lads are enjoying their football and are enjoying playing for Roscommon. Roscommon football is going well at the moment. There is a good vibe in the county.
“This is a window for them to put themselves out in front of the senior management and if they impress, there is a strong chance they will be brought in later in the championship. That is another carrot for them.”
Roscommon kicked 3-14 in an absorbing and open Connacht final contest against Galway, but Dolan acknowledges their free-flowing style will be hindered by the traditional “Ulster approach” of Tyrone.
“The Connacht final was typical Connacht football, two teams going at it hell for leather. The way Tyrone set-up is a system of play we won’t have come up against all year. It is going to be something new for us.
“They play very defensively. They get a lot of men behind the ball. They move it at pace then when they turn you over. They like to attack in droves on the counter and it is going to be hard to stop the runners. If we don’t move the ball at pace we will struggle to break them down. That’s the challenge for us.”