Roscommon have kept a quiet house these past few months. It is, perhaps, why interest has moved elsewhere.
Kevin McStay, you get the feeling, is thankful they’re out of the spotlight. In the job since October of 2015, he’s had his fair share of headlines to contend with. Some positive, most were not.
Where 2016 had opened brightly with league wins in Killarney, Páirc Uí Rinn and Letterkenny, the year finished on a particularly sour note. Joint-manager Fergal O’Donnell, along with Stephen Bohan and David Casey, walked from the set-up in September, claiming “a concerted effort had been made (outside of management and players) to undermine and disparage” them.
The stampede out the door after O’Donnell suggested all was not well with Roscommon football. Geoffrey Claffey and Niall Carty, two former captains, announced their retirement. Then Senan Kilbride called quits on his inter-county career. The list grew and grew. Neil Collins, Cathal Cregg, David Keenan, Sean Purcell and James McDermott would not be involved for the 2017 campaign.
Such a mass exodus compelled former Roscommon player and manager Gay Sheerin to comment that, “If there was a Roscommon person there [in charge], a lot of those players wouldn’t have walked”. Three league games had been lost by this point.
Their subsequent three league fixtures also passed without a win, including a 2-29 to 0-14 thumping at the hands of Dublin. Acceptance set in that players who had made themselves unavailable weren’t coming back. McStay had what he had and it clearly wasn’t enough to prolong their stay in Division 1.
Expectation lessened ahead of championship, interest dissipated. “A lot of the hype last year came from the joint management of Fergal and I. He had achieved so much and I had the Sunday Game background feeding into the whole curiosity about Roscommon,” McStay remarks.
“This year, we were pretty much left to our own devices. But we just haven’t been producing, so I don’t see why anybody would be interested in us when we’re not producing. I hope by July 9 they’ll be interested, and we’ll give them something to be interested about, but we have to produce.”
A Roscommon team hasn’t produced against either of Connacht’s leading pair since the 2001 provincial semi-final win over Galway. There have been seven meetings since then; six wins for the Tribesmen and one draw. Roscommon’s average losing margin stands at 11 points. “I’m just getting fed up getting beat by Mayo and Galway so it’s up to us to break through that,” McStay continues.
“We’d be aware that outside of our own group we’d be perceived as no-hopers, I guess. Within Roscommon, they’d be very curious and a little bit edgy about our chances. But within the group, we’d be going up there thinking we have a serious underdog’s chance. There will be life on Monday, but for now, it’s only about July 9. We have to play, have to perform.”
That they didn’t during last year’s Connacht final replay, Kevin Walsh’s charges easing to victory on a scoreline of 3-16 to 0-14. Half an hour in, the Tribes had established a 2-9 to 0-3 advantage. A sobering afternoon for the Rossies.
“We let ourselves down in that replay. That wasn’t a fair reflection of what we were and certainly, we’d have to do an awful lot better this year. It’s not hurt, I don’t feel hurt about it. I feel disappointed and I was a little bit embarrassed if the truth be told because a lot of the things we were hoping to get done, we didn’t get done.”
Galway, taking into account their promotion to the league’s top flight and a second consecutive championship win over Stephen Rochford’s Mayo, have kicked on from where they were 12 months ago. Roscommon, not alone in terms of their relegation from Division 1, would appear to be moving in the opposite direction. That doesn’t deter McStay’s belief, though, that Sunday’s opponents can be toppled.
“We’ve played 15 Division 1 games over the last year and a half. Like, we’ve had an awful lot of stuff thrown at us by top, top teams; Dublin, Mayo, tough, tough nights. And then there was some really strong performances when we got really close to some of the top teams in the country on league weekends; entertaining Kerry up here in the Hyde, Donegal, and being ultra-competitive with them.
“They were very competitive losses, especially the games at home, so I think our players can lean on that. Galway are a coming team, no question, but they’re not Tyrone, they’re not Donegal and they’re not Kerry.”
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