Roscommon manager Kevin McStay was already preparing for a clash with his native Mayo long before the quarter-final draw pairings were confirmed “because of the way the stars have aligned”.
The Connacht champions meet last year’s beaten All-Ireland finalists in a novel pairing, having not tasted success over Mayo in their last seven championship meetings.
Roscommon claimed the Connacht title when they shocked reigning champions Galway 2-15 to 0-12 at Pearse Stadium earlier this month. It’s worth noting that it was a Galway team that had knocked out Mayo earlier.
Mayo, though, bounced back to beat Derry, Clare, and Cork through the qualifiers to earn themselves a spot in final eight.
Roscommon have not beaten Mayo in the championship since the 2001 provincial final and this will only be Roscommon’s third game in this year’s championship, compared to Mayo’s six games.
McStay was born in Mayo and the former Ballina Stephenites clubman managed his counterpart Stephen Rochford when he was in charge of the Mayo U21 side in 1999. McStay says it’s a bit disappointing that Roscommon had a relatively lengthy lay-off and didn’t know who they would be facing up until last Saturday evening.
“What’s a bit unfair about the current system is that we are the champion team and we are the team that’s disadvantaged,” said McStay.
“We were scouting three teams, we have people at the different games, tapes were being run through and then late on Saturday night two of them are thrown in the bin, essentially. Whereas the team we were playing, they knew immediately who their opponent was, but we have been half-thinking all along that it would probably be Mayo, just because of the way the stars have aligned.
“That was probably the team that we were leaning towards in terms of our analysis. We had three teams to scout, we don’t have those sort of resources, so we took on scouting Mayo ourselves, and left the other two to another company.”
Mayo haven’t won an All-Ireland since 1951, but they have regularly contested finals in recent years and have only lost on five of their last 18 visits to Croke Park for championship games.
Last year, Mayo were also beaten by Galway in the Connacht semi-final, but bounced back to defeat Fermanagh, Kildare and Westmeath in the qualifiers.
They took Dublin to a replay in the All-Ireland final before only losing, while Roscommon limped out in Round 4 against Clare.
Roscommon were hammered in last year’s Connacht final by Galway and were relegated from Division 1 of the Allianz League this season, when they finished bottom, with just one solitary victory, over Cavan, in the final round.
McStay is also aware that, on their first championship visit back to Croke Park since 2011, Roscommon will have to cope physically with the Mayo onslaught.
“What are their strengths? Experience is an obvious one,” said McStay.
“Even though they struggled for periods in all of their matches this year, particularly in the qualifiers, they were able to somehow work themselves out of it. That is a fantastic sign in a team. Beyond that, the camaraderie of the group that has built up over that period of time.
“Their power is the biggest single challenge. They get to a stage where they just bully us. They almost tease you to kick the ball out to them. They have a way of dominating you in the tackle or in the kick-out and that puts pressure on all of us, but we did two years in Division 1 now with the good, the bad, and the ugly and we would be much better at riding out that storm.
“They also have four or five top-drawer players: Aidan O’Shea, obviously, Cillian O’Connor, Diarmuid O’Connor, Andy Moran. They are big threats, and then Keith Higgins, Colm Boyle, Lee Keegan, they are multiple All Stars but that’s the challenge, that’s the beauty of it.
Mayo beat Roscommon 1-19 to 0-14 when they met in the league on February 25, but just over five months down the road McStay is confident his side are capable of finding more after their big nine-point win over Galway.
“We played very well in the Connacht final, but after the 14th minute we stopped scoring, we were at 1-6, but had seven wides in a row,” said McStay.
“We came out in the second-half got a big start with the goal and then we downed tools for another 15 or 20 minutes.
“We certainly don’t define that as playing great in the Connacht final, in the first quarter and the last quarter we were very strong.
“But there was a fair speed wobble in the middle.
“That’s something we know we wouldn’t get away with against Mayo in Croke Park.”
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