It’s scarcely believable but this Sunday – Easter Sunday, no less – the lads take the field for their opening match in this year’s Championship. Roscommon provide the opposition in what’s a Connacht SFC quarter-final tie. The match throws in at Hastings Insurance MacHale Park at 4pm, Noel Mooney of Cavan is the ref and it’s being shown live on RTÉ2.
It’s only a month since we played the Rossies in Round 5 of the National League. We came into that game at Dr Hyde Park already having reached the top of Division One, a place Roscommon had occupied until they were beaten by Monaghan in the previous round.
If anyone wants a refresher on Roscommon’s form heading into our meeting last month, my pre-match piece on that one is here.
Our position at the top of the table was copper-fastened by the win we achieved at their place that day. It was, though, far from a comfortable win for us, as we let slip the bulk of an eight-point lead, with Roscommon banging in two late goals as we held out for a nervy two-point win.
Although they lost, the Rossies would surely have been happy enough with how that game went. They’d largely matched us over the seventy minutes and the two goals they scored demonstrated their ability to hurt us where it counts.
From our perspective, though, this was a game we won without lining out with either Aidan O’Shea or Ryan O’Donoghue, though both of them were on the field before the finish. Our increasingly influential goalkeeper Colm Reape was also rested that day, with Rory Byrne lining out instead (and doing fine too, it must be said), while it was the first full outing that captain Paddy Durcan had this year.
Roscommon have played two more League matches since we met them.
In Round 6, they lost for the third successive time, as they fell to Kerry in Tralee by 1-12 to 0-12. This one followed a roughly similar trajectory to our game, with Kerry racing into an early lead only for the Rossies to claw their way doggedly back into contention. No more than our match, they’ll have taken plenty of heart from their performance against the All-Ireland champions, not least given the fact that, once Kerry start well against any team on home turf, they’re well capable of going to town on them.
Back at Hyde Park in Round 7, Davy Burke’s charges finished out their Division One campaign against a rudderless Donegal, a side that, mental maths aside, were already relegated before they took the field.
Roscommon showed the hapless O’Donnell County no mercy, thumping them by 0-21 to 0-9. That twelve-point margin of victory ensured that they finished ahead of Tyrone on points difference, with both counties on eight points, though the Rossies had the Red Hands on the head-to-head for good measure.
This meant a notable 1-2-3 for the three Connacht counties in Division One, demonstrating both the strength of football within the province right now as well as the howling lunacy of this year’s provincial draw that sees all three of us bracketed together in one half of it.
It wasn’t unbridled good news for the Rossies in that match against Donegal, by the way, as they lost midfielder Tadhg O’Rourke to injury that day. It was, unfortunately for the Tulsk Lord Edwards player, a season-ending Achilles injury, for which he has already undergone surgery. Roscommon weren’t the strongest around the middle as it was so this is, without doubt, a blow to them.
They’ve had a weekend off while we were playing Galway in the National League final last Sunday and the fact that we won that game and, with it, a 13th League title, surely won’t perturb them unduly. After all, the last three times we won the League – in 1970, 2001 and 2019 – Roscommon subsequently beat us in that year’s Connacht Championship. They’ll surely be well fired up to extend that run to four.
We’re obviously favourites to win but favouritism doesn’t always count in provincial matches like this. Roscommon will rock up at Castlebar on Sunday coming off the back of an extremely encouraging Division One campaign and their narrow loss to us last month will buoy them up still further. They’d like nothing better than to turn us over again, like the way they did at MacHale Park in 2019.
Roscommon have named their team and subs for Sunday – details here.
We’ll be looking to maintain the strong momentum we’ve built so far this year. Kevin McStay is on record as saying that his preferred route this summer is via Nestor Cup success, knowing that wins over our two big Connacht rivals – followed by a provincial decider against either Leitrim or Sligo – will point us towards the new All-Ireland group stage in fine fettle.
This is obviously a match that both managers have been plotting about and planning towards ever since the provincial draw was made. Both of them will be sending their respective teams into battle on Sunday determined to secure an opening round win in this year’s Championship.
Which of them is likely to see their team do it on Sunday? Let’s finish with a vote on that.
Will we beat Roscommon?
- Yes (77%, 549 Votes)
- No (23%, 163 Votes)
Total Voters: 712