January’s not yet over and there could well be snow on the way later on this evening but Gaelic football’s 2019 pre-season is already behind us, along with the rather hastily-abandoned handpass curtailment rule. This coming Saturday evening the real stuff begins once again.
For us it’s been a long wait. Ejected from the championship before June had ended last summer, it’ll be just a few days shy of seven months on from that traumatic evening in Newbridge when the lads take the field at MacHale Park to face Roscommon.
Once upon a time we used to proclaim that, win or lose over the course of the spring, it was only the League. Nowadays such dissembling is confined to the FBD. While no county ever expresses too much interest in claiming League silverware, every team wants to win every game in the competition, especially in the ultra-competitive top division.
It’s been to our great credit that we’ve managed to retain our place in Division One for so long. After the League was reorganised over the course of the 1997/8 season, we took our spot in the top tier (then Division 1B) at the start of the 1998/9 season, which means that this year is the 21st season in a row where we’ve played Division One football. Twenty-one years sure is a mighty long time.
But every year we have to battle all over again to retain our place at the League’s top table. This time round we start that journey at home, with a match against Roscommon, whom we’ve played – and beaten – a few times in the League over the last few years but who are making a return to Division One this year.
Their absence from the League’s top division last year, combined with the almost Leitrim-like way we’ve avoided each other in Connacht over the last while – our most recent provincial championship meeting with them was way back in 2014, when James Horan was manager first time around and when we squeezed past them by just a single point in Hyde Park – means that you have to go back to 2017 to find our most recent clashes with them.
We did, though, play each other on three occasions that year. The first meeting was in the League at MacHale Park in late February when we secured an easy win, a result that briefly saw us rise to the top of Division One. By the time we next met them that year, however, it was in the All-Ireland quarter-final where they were the newly-crowned Connacht champions and we had had to battle our way through to the last eight via the qualifiers.
Roscommon’s most recent win over us (aside from pre-season) remains that smash-and-grab 2001 Connacht decider but they came very close to beating us in that novel all-Connacht quarter-final at Croke Park. We had Aidan O’Shea to thank for his perfectly-timed interception late in the game, which snuffed out a great goal-scoring chance for them in a tense contest that ended in a 1-12 to 2-9 draw.
Eight days later back at HQ, however, we obliterated them in the replay. We tore into them right from the start that day, eventually trouncing them by a whopping 22 points, on a scoreline of 4-19 to 0-9.
Aside from the FBD, we haven’t met them since. Now managed by Anthony Cunningham and fresh from that encouraging FBD final win over Galway yesterday, Roscommon will have no fears about locking horns with us once again. Their manager sees yesterday’s Tuam victory as the ideal platform for Saturday evening’s League opener.
It’s too early in the week, of course, to be thinking about team announcements for Saturday. For the two FBD matches we named our starting team – which we then stuck to – on the Friday evening so maybe that’s we’ll be doing over the coming weeks as well. I’ve no idea when they’re likely to name their starting line-up.
We do, though, know who the ref is. Derry’s Barry Cassidy has been handed the whistle for this one. It’s been a long time since we’ve had him in charge of a match involving us: from what I can see the most recent game was our League encounter with Donegal back in late February 2016.
Right: nothing for it, I guess, but to end with a poll. We haven’t had one of those for a long time either but with the action back on a regular basis the water will need constant testing too. Okay, then, let’s see how the temperature is ahead of Saturday’s League opener under the lights in Castlebar.
How will we do against Roscommon?
- Win (75%, 542 Votes)
- Lose (19%, 141 Votes)
- Draw (6%, 44 Votes)
Total Voters: 727