Roscommon captain Enda Smith believes last year’s dire Super 8s showing is not a true reflection of the county’s worth, but did add that the hammerings endured at the hands of Tyrone and Dublin provided a real eye-opener as to the gap that exists to the leading teams.
Roscommon lost all three of their Super 8 outings last summer by an aggregate total of 39 points, which included 18 and 14-point thumpings by the respective All-Ireland finalists.
The goal for 2019, said Smith, is to get back to the last eight of the championship and prove they are a far more able side than the one which was time and again outclassed last July and August.
“Our first game in last year’s Super 8s was against Tyrone and we were going in with quite decent spirits after a good win over Armagh. But then to be humiliated like that on the first day completely sucked the life out of us,” Smith recalled.
“We had Donegal the week after and it isn't easy to say but the whole buzz and expectation that had been around the county the week before just totally levelled out.
“People were expecting that we might be competitive for 15 or 20 minutes, but it was going to be a loss, and it did happen like that. The Tyrone game, as players, did suck the life out of us and think, 'Jesus, we are miles off this, we are nowhere near where we should be here'.”
No more than the disappointment of relegation from Division 1 this spring being somewhat offset by the seven games banked against quality opposition, Smith is adamant that substantial improvement will only come about by regular exposure to those targeting September silverware.
“The Super 8s would be a major aim for us. I know last year, performance-wise, was disappointing, but we would see ourselves as being well able to get to the Super 8s. I know it depends on your group - and you are probably going to get one of Dublin, Mayo, or Kerry in your group - but you could compete with other teams. You could get one of them at home and you'd be full of confidence. You'd have to be.
I don't think it is a case that teams don't want to get to the Super 8s in case they are going to get hammered.
A warning sign that Roscommon failed to heed ahead of last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final series was a game-plan which left their defence without protection, with Armagh taking them for 1-19 a week before the Tyrone mauling. As then manager Kevin McStay would subsequently remark, Roscommon face a difficult choice as to whether they stay true to tradition or filter far greater numbers back the field.
A priority of new boss Anthony Cunningham has been to tighten the screw at the back, but the 2019 league table shows they conceded more than any other county in Division 1 this spring.
“This year, we were defensively solid and, if anything, it kind of spurred on fans a bit more because we were right in games to the very end,” continued the 24-year old Boyle forward.
“The game in the Hyde against Monaghan this spring, there was a great buzz. The crowd really got in on top of that because it was tight to the end. You have to be in some sort of shape defensively if you want to be competitive.
“If you’re leaking early scores, the whole atmosphere, buzz, and the crowd who give you a bit of energy, if they go out of it, you’re just chasing your tail. We definitely feel we can compete and it is in us somewhere.
Part of the set-up since 2013, Smith, no more than the team itself, believes he is slowly but surely bringing consistency to his game.
“There have been times when I would have felt, ‘yeah, I’m on the right track’, but then after some performances by myself, I’d be saying, ‘am I doing the right thing here at all?’
“Getting the captaincy, Anthony and the new lads in have obviously seen something there that’s been lingering and I felt it myself, then, with regards to just bringing on lads.”