Right, our second last League match of 2016 takes place tomorrow and it’s another big one for us. As Stephen Rochford warned might be the case at the start of the year, our campaign has become very much a battle for Division One survival while Roscommon have taken to top tier spring football like the proverbial ducks to water.
Already virtually guaranteed of a place in the play-offs, a win over us tomorrow will confirm the Rossies as semi-finalists while also, depending on how results elsewhere go, possibly tipping us over the edge at the bottom of the table. Not a bad position at all for Kevin McStay to be heading into his first competitive encounter with his native county since taking up the reins in Roscommon with Fergal O’Donnell.
While we were away over the last week, it was interesting to read the ebb and flow of the comments about tomorrow’s game. I think it’s fair to say that there isn’t exactly an air of unbridled optimism about the place heading into this one, which I guess is understandable – the two counties’ contrasting results in the five games played so far this season are there for all to see – as well as being a reflection of the Rossies’ greatly enhanced place in the scheme of things.
My tuppence worth – regardless of how tomorrow’s game goes – is, however, that it’s important not to overstate any talk about a changing of the guard out west. I think it’s a given that Roscommon will challenge strongly for provincial honours this summer but – guess what? – so will we, as we’ve done to such convincing effect every year since 2011.
I wouldn’t lay too much store either on that overworked GAA maxim about markers being laid down. Defeat for us tomorrow could have negative ramifications for us as regards where we’re plying our trade next spring (and even then I wouldn’t be overly concerned about that) but will it matter one jot if we both make it to an expected Connacht final meeting in MacHale Park in July?
I don’t think it will. As recently as 2014, Cork beat the living bejesus out of Kerry in the final round of the League only to suffer an equally comprehensive defeat to the Kingdom some weeks later in the Munster championship. Our own record in 2013 is also relevant. This was a year where we avoided relegation in the closing moments of our final League game down in Páirc Uí Chaoimh and then six weeks later ripped Galway to shreds in our Connacht championship opener. Another Stephen Rochford quote is also, surely, relevant here: he said the kind of football we’d be playing in the spring would be very different to what we’d be playing in the summer.
So much, then, for any end of days talk. I do think tomorrow is important in one respect, though, and that’s that we really need to see a fully committed, no-holds barred performance from the lads. It was in anticipation of such a showing that I made the last minute decision to head west for the Kerry match two weeks ago and, more than the deflating defeat itself, it was the fact that this didn’t happen that troubled me the most on the long return drive later on that evening.
Whatever else happens tomorrow, it’s vital that we put in a proper performance tomorrow. The 10-15% we’ve been off in the games we’ve played to date (well, more than this in the Cork game but that one really does appear to have been a ghastly outlier) has proved costly to us and has given us a bit of a hole to climb out of. It’s a hole we need to start clambering out of tomorrow and if we hit Roscommon with everything we have I’ve every expectation that this is what we can do at Hyde Park. And that’s to say nothing of what we might be capable of once again come summer.