Round 3 of this year’s National Football League takes place this coming weekend. Once again it’s a tasty Saturday evening fixture under the lights for us, back on home soil where the visiting opposition are neighbours Roscommon. Throw-in at MacHale Park on Saturday has been set for 7pm.
When we last met in the League, at the end of March last year, things were a bit different for both of us. The Rossies were riding high in Division One and heading for the play-offs while we had lost four times in five outings. Had the neighbours beaten us that March Sunday on a sodden Hyde Park surface they’d have relegated us but instead our win over them that day was the start of a 2016 tailspin for them, while it marked our first stirrings in what subsequently proved a long year’s action for us.
Eleven months on and it’s a case of contrasting fortunes. While we haven’t exactly burst from the blocks in this year’s League, one win from two outings does represent a more positive start for us, not least in light of the fact that the victory was chiselled out of adversity down in Tralee. Roscommon, by contrast, have lost two from two and with the likes of Dublin and Kerry still to come for them they’re already in a battle to retain their Division One status.
Like Monaghan in the opening round, the Rossies are sure to have earmarked this match against us as one to target. They’ve a good recent record against us at MacHale Park too – even if it’s only in the FBD – and if they win on Saturday evening it’ll be the third time in a row that they’ll have prevailed against us at Castlebar. More importantly, though, it’d also mark their first League or championship success over us since the 2001 Connacht final.
Neither side will be anything close to full strength. Kevin McStay’s squad have had well-documented issues of late with players retiring and/or opting off the panel while our lengthy injury list was added to last weekend by Kevin Keane’s season-ending cruciate damage.
A report on the RTÉ website (here) provides some information about player availability on our side for this weekend. Aidan and Seamus O’Shea remain out: the Mayo News reported yesterday (paper and digital versions) that Aidan’s recovery has been slower than expected and that he hasn’t even returned to full training yet. This would suggest that there’s no way he’ll be back in time for the Dublin match the weekend after next and Seamus could well miss the entire League at this stage.
Tom Parsons is, of course, suspended for Saturday – a ludicrous state of affairs but one we’re stuck with. Ger Cafferkey continues to make progress but his projected time for returning to action is March while Chris Barrett and Michael Hall remain sidelined too.
That’s the bad news. The more positive developments are that All-Star corner-back Brendan Harrison and forward Conor Loftus are both likely to be in the match-day panel for Saturday. Lee Keegan might be as well, though I guess that depends on how the celebrations are going down in Westport. Ceteris paribus, as the man says, it’d be as well to let that well-deserved carousing run its course before involving Lee again but that’s one for Stephen Rochford and the Footballer of the Year to sort out between them.
So, given all that, what team are we likely to see lining out for us in MacHale Park? Rochy’s style in naming his pick is one of incremental change, with the default option of only making changes to the previous day’s line-out where this is forced upon him. Tom’s unavailability means we’ll see at least one alteration to the side that started down in Tralee – most likely with Danny Kirby coming in for the Charlestown man – but if the decision is to go with the more assured backline we saw in the second half against Kerry then it could be two switches rather than one, with Eoin O’Donoghue perhaps poised to make his full League debut at corner-back.
As usual, we’ll most likely be naming our team for this one on Friday evening. And, no, don’t expect us to name our bench then. I’ve no idea when they’ll be announcing their line-up – last time out they did so on the Thursday, ahead of their Sunday afternoon clash with Donegal.
The ref for this one, by the way, is our old pal Joe McQuillan. We last had the pleasure of the Cavan official’s company in that Round 2B qualifier game against Fermanagh in early July last year.
Let’s end with a poll: the bookies have us down for this one at prohibitive odds of 1/6 but how do you reckon it’ll go under the lights on Saturday evening?
How will we do against Roscommon?
- Win (80%, 350 Votes)
- Lose (12%, 53 Votes)
- Draw (8%, 33 Votes)
Total Voters: 436