By the time referee Anthony Nolan lofts the ball into the sky at Dr Hyde Park tomorrow afternoon, five teams will already have made their exit from the All-Ireland championship.
Sligo, meanwhile, will have stepped inside the whitewash on three occasions. For their neighbours, Roscommon, Nolan’s first whistle will bring to an end their 11-week wait for summer to finally begin.
The Rossies were first into the ring for the 2016 championship, surviving the scare of all scares in the Bronx on May’s opening evening. They’d have to play two further games to reach the Connacht final and although they had been the story of that spring’s league, the well soon ran dry. Theirs was the tamest of championship departures — Clare took them for six points six days after Galway annihilated them in the Connacht decider.
The schedule is more favourable to them this time around. They’re suitably rested. The well is in relatively decent nick.
“If there was a different system in place, counties should be going out around the same time,” remarked Roscommon footballer Conor Devaney. “Year to year, though, you don’t know if you’re going to be out straight away or if you’re going to be waiting two months for your championship opener.”
He reckons the extended break has served them well, particularly in light of a chastening Division 1 league campaign which saw them pick up just one win from six and, in the process, drop to the second tier.
“Looking back on last year, it is possible that going straight into the New York game and then Leitrim, Sligo, and the two games against Galway worked against us. Looking back, maybe, we did too much early on in preparation for the league.
“Against Clare in the qualifiers, that was a game we could have won. But to be honest, I don’t think we would have deserved it, given the way we were playing. We really need to not have games like that this summer. I don’t think we will. I’m pretty sure that won’t happen against Leitrim.”
From the team which started against the Banner, Cathal Cregg, Niall Daly, and Donie Shine have stepped away from the panel, while Cathal Compton and Ultan Harney are injured. Neil Collins, another regular during the 2016 season, has also opted out. Devaney expects that some of those no longer on the scene will, in time, return.
He himself left the panel in 2014 and also skipped the subsequent season, returning under the management ticket of Fergal O’Donnell and Kevin McStay.
“I played the first year when John Evans came in as manager but wasn’t there for the next two years. Between work, college, and travelling up and down from Dublin, I just felt I needed a break. John and I, as well, didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of issues.
“It has definitely benefited me that I took a break and enjoyed other things outside of football. You come back refreshed and with a new focus. You get to reassess why you want to play and what you want to achieve. For me, I want to win a Connacht title because I don’t have one. I was in San Fran the summer of 2010. That is why I decided to come back and give it another go. A lot of the time, players go from year to year and don’t think about why they are there or why they want to be there. The two years off did me the world of good. I am really enjoying playing at the moment.”
Devaney, who was a member of the 2006 All-Ireland minor winning team, added: “The lads that are no longer with us are all very good footballers. I’m sure they will play for Roscommon again. I hope they do. They’ve made their choice and they’ve other things they want to do at the moment. There is no point dwelling on the players we don’t have. We have good enough players to beat Leitrim and go on into a Connacht final.”