Photo: @Caramcq (via Twitter)
We’ve become very accustomed to outnumbering – and outshouting – the opposition in terms of supporters at matches in recent years. Last Saturday was probably our apogee in this regard – conservative estimates put our numerical advantage over Cork at the Gaelic Grounds at somewhere in excess of 10:1.
That won’t be the case this coming Sunday. Our lot will, of course, be travelling to Croke Park in their thousands – the Mayo News yesterday estimated that we’d have at least 15,000 there, perhaps more – but so too will supporters from Roscommon, as well as smaller numbers from Galway and Kerry.
I’m not sure how many those two will muster but the Rossies are expected to bring at least 10,000 with them. As the above photo confirms, the demand for tickets at Roscommon GAA HQ yesterday was on the higher than normal side of things.
Which is exactly what you’d expect in a football-mad county that’s having its first big day out in Croke Park for a number of years. Looking back at the records, it’s very clear that these kind of days haven’t come around too often for the Rossies.
The most recent championship match they played at HQ was back in 2011, when they went under heavily to Tyrone in a Round 4 qualifier tie. The last time they stepped out at the venue as Connacht champions was the previous year. Cork – on their way to winning Sam that September – made short work of the newly-crowned Nestor Cup holders in that All-Ireland quarter-final tie, beating them by 1-16 to 0-10.
I don’t have the facts and figures in front of me but, as someone has already noted in the comments, it’s almost certain that Roscommon’s most recent win at Croke Park occurred well before any of the current team were born. That would have been back in August 1980 when the great four-in-a-row Connacht champions got past Armagh in a 2-20 to 3-11 All-Ireland semi-final semi-final shootout, before going under narrowly to Mick O’Dwyer’s legendary Kerry side in the final.
When you place Roscommon’s recent record of playing in Croke Park – two matches since 2010, two heavy defeats – with ours, the enormous disparity in big match experience becomes stark. To paraphrase Martin Carney: very much so, Marty.
Since we got going under James Horan in 2011, we’ve played eighteen championship matches at HQ. We all know the salient facts about these – and have the scars to show for some of them – but they’re worth repeating all the same.
Those 18 games comprise three All-Ireland finals and one replay, six semi-finals and one replay, six All-Ireland quarter-finals and one Round 4 qualifier fixture. That’s a serious number of big days out in a relatively short space of time.
While people outside the county are often quick – some quite often too bloody quick in light of their own county’s failings – to fling those three final losses in our faces, many forget how many good days out we’ve had at HQ. These are, for the record, worth spelling out too.
We’ve won all six All-Ireland quarter-finals we’ve played in, most of them decisively and two of which were recorded over the then defending All-Ireland champions. By the way, we’ve won quarter-finals both as Connacht champions and, last year, when coming up through the qualifiers, as we’re doing again this year.
We’ve also won three All-Ireland semi-finals and drawn two more. We’ve drawn an All-Ireland final. We won a Round 4 qualifier. In total, out of the eighteen games we’ve played at Croke Park in the championship since 2011 our record consists of ten wins, three draws and five losses.
It’s little wonder, then, that we bristle at the notion that we’re some kind of accursed tribe. We’re not, we have plenty of good memories from previous days out in Croke Park at this time of year and we still have high hopes that our run in that regard isn’t over yet.
That track record also demonstrates the different way both sets of supporters – and, perhaps, the two teams – will approach Sunday’s showdown. It’s a novel one for sure – and the one area where the Rossies have more experience than us, in that, unlike us, they’ve played a Connacht team in a championship match outside the province – but, for us, the only novelty is that it’s the neighbours we’ll be playing.
The rest of it, our seventh All-Ireland quarter-final appearance in seven years, will all be utterly familiar for us. By contrast, for the Primrose and Blue the whole experience – both for Kevin McStay’s callow charges and the county’s followers – will be a voyage into uncharted waters.
Experience, of course, only gets you so far – as James Horan’s wet-behind-the-lugs team proved when dismantling Cork in the quarters back in 2011 – but on this metric it’s certainly the case that we come into Sunday’s tie with a massive headstart over the opposition. It’s one we need to use to the full to help us clinch our seventh successive All-Ireland quarter-final victory when we square up to the neighbours this coming weekend.