So, regardless of what has happened on the other side of the provincial draw, on Sunday we’re back in Championship action once again. This time we’re up against defending Connacht champions Roscommon with the match taking place at Dr Hyde Park. Throw-in on Sunday is 1.30pm and the game is being broadcast live on RTE2. Meath’s David Gough will ref it.
Like ourselves, the Rossies were supposed to play a provincial quarter-final this year. Their trip to Ruislip to play London was, however, one of the first Championship matches to be axed once Covid struck and complications since then with international travel meant there was simply no way the Exiles could be included this year. Because of this, Sunday marks the start of Roscommon’s defence of a provincial title they won so impressively last summer.
Let’s start there when looking at what Sunday’s opponents have been up to in the recent past.
In the spring of last year Roscommon – having been promoted as Division Two champions the year before – fell back down out of the League’s top tier. Because of this they weren’t fancied to go well in Connacht last summer and we certainly felt we’d have more than enough in the tank when we met them at the provincial semi-final stage. After all, we were then the newly-crowned League champions.
But on that wet and windy Saturday evening in late May at MacHale Park, we discovered that Roscommon were well up for the fight. They beat us by a single point, 2-12 to 0-17, to record their first Championship victory over us since 2001 and their first at the Castlebar venue since way back in 1986.
Fair play to them, they went on to back up that win by claiming the Nestor Cup a few weeks later. Their margin of victory over Galway was four points as they battled back from five points down at the break that day in Pearse Stadium. They were full value for the win, which landed them their 23rd Connacht title.
The Super 8 campaign didn’t, though, work out well for them. An opening round defeat to Tyrone at Hyde Park meant that, with Dublin still to face, they were dead men walking in the group after just one game. The Dubs duly hammered them the following weekend but two weeks after that they finished their summer on a positive note by beating Cork down at Pairc Ui Chaoimh.
This spring Anthony Cunningham’s team were faced with what’s now a familiar task for them – get out of Division Two. Critics might sniff that the Rossies aren’t good enough for Division One but one could equally argue that they’re too good for the game’s second tier. Twice they’ve been demoted from Division One in recent years and on both occasions they’ve bounced back up straight away. It’s a trait we’d do well to learn from as we start to think about the Division Two League campaign that will face us at some point next year.
In actual fact, Roscommon started this year’s Division Two schedule rather badly. A home draw, 2-14 apeice, against Laois was followed by a one-point defeat, 0-13 to 0-12, to Fermanagh at Brewster Park that left them glancing a bit nervously in the direction of Division Three.
From then on, though, it was victories all the way. They won five on the spin, three before Covid struck and the other two after the League’s resumption a few weeks back, to top the table and so claim the Division Two title.
Those wins were a 1-8 to 0-4 success over Clare at Hyde Park, a 2-11 to 0-13 victory at Newbridge over Kildare, a 1-16 to 0-12 win over Westmeath back on home turf and then those two wins in Ulster in October to finish off. The first of these was a highly impressive 3-10 to 0-15 win over Armagh up at the Athletic Grounds, while the Division Two title was secured at Breffni Park as they bested Cavan by 1-12 to 0-13.
Notice anything about those scores? That’s right – it’s six games now since the Rossies conceded a single goal. That’s a decent defensive record.
Despite this and notwithstanding too the fact that we’ve failed to reach a Connacht decider since way back in 2015 (still less win one), we’re apparently favourites to win on Sunday. I find that hard to credit, not least given the difficulties we often encounter to eke out a result at Sunday’s venue – we last beat Roscommon there in the Championship in 2014. But, apparently, favourites we are.
Despite the levity with which I dealt with this question on the last episode of the podcast – where I made light of the Rossies’ challenge and predicted a 3/4 point win for James Horan’s team – I honestly think this one is no better than a 50:50 shot for us. While I’d be very hopeful we’ll do it, it wouldn’t be the greatest shock either if we didn’t.
What do the rest of you reckon, though? Let’s end with a vote on that.
Will we beat Roscommon on Sunday?
- Yes (62%, 567 Votes)
- No (38%, 349 Votes)
Total Voters: 916