I’ve had a day away from the football (apart from watching a bit of The Sunday Game just now), what with all the Father’s Day fun and games that the kids had up their sleeves this morning and then, later this afternoon, I had some very long grass to cut. But, before turning in, it’s worth setting down a few final thoughts about yesterday’s match.
I watched the first half of it again late (very late, in fact) last night on the web over a bottle of beer and, from the vantage point provided by the TV cameras, that display in the opening 35 minutes looked even more devastating than it had done in the flesh earlier on in the day. I know there was plenty of talk afterwards about how poor Roscommon were (the lads on gaaboard.com seem to be mainly of this view) but we know from bitter experience what it feels like to have 2-4 rammed down your throat in the opening quarter and it was always going to have taken a superhuman effort to have made a match of it from there. Sure, they never made any fist at a comeback and they could – and, perhaps, should – have ended up on the end of an even worse hiding but the simple fact was that the match was over the minute Pat Harte blasted home our second goal. The rest was just detail.
For me, the most pleasing thing about yesterday was that opening start and, in particular, how we made our dominance count on the scoreboard to such devastating effect. How often have we seen bright openings wasted by a failure to turn possession into scores? Yesterday, the scoring rate was a fair reflection of the amount of ball we won in the first half and it was great to see the likes of O’Shea, Killer, Moran and Dillon using their heads in going for the main chance rather than taking easy points. Sure, that same clinical attitude was missing in the second half – Tom Parsons should probably have scored two goals after he’d come on for David Heaney – but all the intensity had long gone from the game by then and Roscommon had finally begun to realise that all they could was limit the damage.
The big downside for us, I guess, is that we’re into the Connacht final without having had any kind of serious contest. That’s not ideal, for sure, but it’s hardly new territory for us – sure, weren’t we in exactly the same position twelve months ago as well? The difference this year is that we played better in murdering Roscommon than we did in dispatching Sligo twelve months ago and the manner of our win yesterday does indicate that, after two years of frustrating stagnation, our fortunes could be pointing up again.
That doesn’t mean we’ll beat Galway in the final (and it will be Galway – if we can end up with 20 points to spare over Roscommon, then surely the Herrin Chokers can expect to come out at least a point ahead of the Yeats County) but we’ll certainly be heading into Pearse Stadium with a fair bit of confidence about our chances of dethroning the Connacht champions. At this point, we look as if we’ve improved since this time last year and we’ll have a better idea next weekend as to what shape Galway are in.
The bottom line from yesterday is that the ruthlessness we showed in the first half suggests (but at this stage only suggests) we have the potential to punch at a higher level this year compared to last year or the year before. We have no idea yet what this level might be and so there’s little point setting out goals (especially ones that fall short of the summit) for what the team will achieve in this year’s championship. If we accept – as I think we now must – that the championship only really begins at the quarter-final stage, then we can be happy that we’re closing in on qualification to the business end of the season.
It follows, of course, that winning Connacht is no longer an end in itelf and I think I’ve finally come around to accepting the viewpoint that what’s important in terms of the current championship structure is that, come what may, you stay in it for as long as you can with the aim of reaching the real contest, which starts with the quarter-finals. My preference for the front door way of getting there is based on the fact that we’ve tended to be a confidence team and so defeat in a provincial final has left us ill-equipped to avail of the second chance the qualifiers afford us. Even I can see, however, that such a mindset no longer makes any sense given Tyrone’s exploits last year, not to mention Kerry’s renaissance in 2006.
Our sole aim now should be to get into the hat for the All-Ireland quarter-final draw and yesterday’s win gives us two opportunities of making this select group. Personally, I’d like to see us qualify for the All-Ireland series at the first attempt on the 19th of July but if it takes a second swing at in, then so be it. The important thing is that, after an absence of two years, we get there and, once we do, we can then start to think about aim-setting for the remainder of the campaign.