Momentum, form, tradition and home advantage all point towards the likelihood that Gary O’Donnell will accept the Nestor Cup this Sunday but the Galway captain doesn’t believe Roscommon’s difficult season to date holds as a reason for optimism.
Kevin McStay’s side has lost a bunch of players for a variety of reasons this year and the loss of their first six league games means they will secede their place in the top tier of the league next year with Galway clambering up the ladder in their place.
The hope is that Roscommon’s season will be the exact opposite of their 2016 campaign when they impressed in the spring and fell flat come the summer.
“We’re familiar enough with Roscommon,” said O’Donnell. “We’ve played them in FBD, national league and championship the last three or four years fairly regularly. We’re well aware of the quality players they have. Same at underage where they have been quite dominant at times.
“They have been playing Division 1 football so they are quite used to playing high-quality matches. It’s not something that they are going into cold. In terms of their backs-to-the-wall kind of stuff, we have been in that position before.
“I know for a fact they have the players capable of winning a Connacht championship and they probably know it as well. It’s not a matter of underestimating them by any means. Favouritism is only a term. Pearse Stadium is a venue where the weather can dictate things as well.”
That much was evident 12 months ago when these two sides played out a poor draw in the provincial decider in Salthill and, though Roscommon reached parity thanks to two injury-time points, Galway were far from despondent with the stalemate.
“The weather that day was fierce and both teams were probably a bit tentative,” said O’Donnell who claimed a point in the draw and the replay which Galway won easily. “It was our first Connacht final in a couple of years and we probably didn’t express ourselves.
“They were on the attack when it was blown up so we were probably lucky to get out of it that day. The replay was a different scenario but one more shot at goal in the first game and we were in the qualifiers.”
O’Donnell is sure Galway have progressed since then. Kevin Walsh’s status as a Galway legend and two-time All-Ireland winner allowed him walk into the dressing-room with gravitas when he took over from Alan Mulholland and the management team’s actions since have simply deepened the buy-in from the squad. Much was made last year of the fact that 52 players declined invites to try out for, join, or return to, the squad but the successes of 2016 have been a major factor in the influx of new and old blood back into the ranks this term.
“In the last two games of the league, and against Mayo, it was the bench that really got us over the line. The competition for places is really fierce. We have A v B games where there is huge competition for places. Even lads who come back from niggles, there is someone else already there to take the jersey. That probably wasn’t the case in other years and that is brilliant. The quality of guys who are coming in are all recognisable names and that makes a difference.”
There is a sense to Galway of a journey that is only just starting. They knocked a half-decent night out of the semi-final win against Mayo but everyone was present and correct for a recovery session in Salthill the morning after.
“It’s only a Connacht semi-final and we’re well aware that we’ll be judged on our next game as well.”
Onwards it is.
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