Roscommon footballers Enda Smith and Tadhg O’Rourke have targeted an All-Ireland semi-final appearance following the county’s latest Connacht championship triumph. Sunday’s come-from-behind provincial final win bridged an 18-year gap to the last time a Roscommon team downed both Galway and Mayo in the one summer.
Having collected the JJ Nestor Cup, Anthony Cunningham’s charges are now focused on ending the county’s 28-year wait for All-Ireland semi-final involvement. Roscommon found themselves way off the pace in last year’s Super 8s, losing to Tyrone, Donegal, and Dublin by an aggregate total of 39 points.
Smith believes there is a “different edge” to the Roscommon class of 2019 and is far more confident heading into this year’s edition of the Super 8s than he was last summer. Providing there is no Leinster final shock, the Connacht champions will again be grouped with Dublin, along with the Munster and Ulster final runners-up or the two teams who are pitted against these beaten provincial finalists in round four of the qualifiers.
When asked if an All-Ireland semi-final was a realistic target, 24-year old Smith replied: “I think it has to be.”
The Boyle forward was adamant that the Roscommon teams of recent seasons, which he was a part of, would not have overturned the five-point interval deficit the current crop faced in Salthill on Sunday.
“We were five down and came back. In previous years, that wouldn’t happen. I really think there’s confidence in the lads, belief in our training and the system that we’re trying to implement,” said Smith, who made his 26th championship appearance for the county on Sunday.
Roscommon midfielder Tadhg O’Rourke, who produced a crucial mark in second-half stoppage time, a catch which ended with Conor Cox landing the insurance score, said he and his teammates have no interest in making up the numbers come next month’s Super 8s.
The 23-year old Tulsk native was midfield for all three of their comprehensive quarter-final defeats last summer but maintains Roscommon are all the better for those chastening experiences.
“We are not going to the Super 8s to play three games of high competitiveness and then walk away. We are going to the Super 8s to get to the next round. Last year is going to stand to us.
“The 2017 Connacht final win in Salthill and this result proves that if we bring our A game, we can compete with Galway and Mayo. We have shown we are able to compete with the top teams. It is a consistency that we are striving to get.” O’Rourke continued:
There was no panic at half-time. When you have 40 minutes to go out and play, why would you be panicking? There were only five points in it.
We knew if we could turn it on around the middle eight, which we did, because that 10 minutes just before half-time wasn’t good enough. We gave the lads inside that sniff in the second half and that is all they need.
“Belief never leaves us. We have been in terrible situations before and came through them. You can do as many tactics and set-plays as you want, but a bit of heart came up trumps there.”
For corner-forward Diarmuid Murtagh, Sunday represented just his second start of 2019. A detached retina, which he suffered at training last July, forced him out of action for the closing months of last year and the majority of the 2019 league. Throw in his first championship goal and Sunday’s victory easily justified the long road he was forced to travel.
“When I was in the hospital bed last August, I considered quitting football. I was like, ‘What am I doing this for?’ It was very emotional when the final whistle went because the only thing that keeps you going when you have a serious injury are days like this. Credit has to go to Anthony [Cunningham], Iain [Daly] and Mark [Dowd]. They were so patient with me coming back.
“I’m delighted the manager had a lot of trust in me, as well. They could have picked any of the other corner-forwards to play there but he backed me today. He gives players the momentum to go out and express yourself which is huge. He instils a lot of confidence in you.
“After winning Connacht in 2017, the consensus view was that we’d win it every six or seven years. We wanted to right that wrong, to get a bit of consistency into our performances. It looked like we weren’t going to do that in the first half, but we went in and said we didn’t want another sad story or another moral victory. And we’re delighted now.”