There’s nothing put on about Nigel Dineen’s fighting talk.
His Roscommon charges go into tomorrow’s All-Ireland U21 FC final as 9/2 outsiders but when he dismisses those who write off his team, he does so with an assuredness.
“You can look at that as a positive or a negative,” he said. “The positive is we are going in as underdogs but our lads are focused and they’ll be ready.
“It’s going to take a huge performance to win it but I have no doubt in my players and if they put in the work that have over the year, then they can win it.”
Roscommon, you see, can back up their strong words now. Winning underage All-Ireland and Connacht titles has them believing.
A Connacht SFC winner in 2001, Dineen knows it will take Roscommon’s best performance of the year to win in Tullamore but emphasised “it will take Dublin’s, too”.
The days of Roscommon warming themselves with moral victories is long gone. Dineen was a member of a team that underachieved in the early ’00s but every ounce of the county’s underage talent is being realised now.
That 2006 All-Ireland minor victory was the first indication they were on the right path and with the victories the county’s psyche has changed. They have got over their inferiority complex and coming out of the shadows of Galway and Mayo.
“There is no point going up and getting beaten and maybe putting in a good display, but not winning,” stressed Dineen. “It just needed a little bit extra just to drive it on a little. This is happening. We are now competing in Connacht with the, I say they are the two so-called big teams, Mayo and Galway. That is very important for us. The psychology has changed, no doubt. These guys don’t fear playing Mayo or Galway now.
“I suppose there was always this perception in Roscommon when you were drawn in Mayo, you were only going to turn up and they were going to beat you. These guys have played Mayo in the last three U21 championship games and they have beaten them so that’s gone now, which is great for Roscommon football.”
The likes of Willie Hegarty and Jimmy Gacquin have been instrumental in breeding the type of player that knows nothing of how Roscommon teams feared their neighbours.
The realisation that enough was enough came around 2000 when an underage development plan was put together.
“We were being left behind and you see other counties progressing, you look at the likes of Tyrone and these guys,” remembered Dineen.
“You read how many U21 titles they had won in Ulster and then they went on to win their All-Irelands. That’s where it comes from. That’s the stepping stone there. I think you know everyone in Roscommon said, ‘right, this is it, if we want to compete we have to have this conveyor belt of players coming through’ and from 2000 onwards, it happened.”
Dineen isn’t deluding himself; Roscommon’s opponents tomorrow are formidable. But he’s learned from experience that hype about teams from the capital has a way of fooling itself. There was the Dublin minors last year and prior to the seniors’ All-Ireland success, seasons of big bubbles being burst.
“I suppose there is a lot of hype built around Dublin, if you look at even the senior team, and that has gone against them over the last couple of years.
“They have competed well in Leinster but when it came to the big stage that’s the psychology again we are looking at. In fairness to them they were tipped as favourites for the U21 All-Ireland from the start and they are in the final so they are doing something right. There is always hype around teams. It’s how you deal with it.”
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