Right, it’s Monday and our Connacht Championship semi-final clash with Roscommon takes place this Saturday at MacHale Park so it’s time to start thinking about it. The match throws in that evening at 7pm and Meath’s David Gough is the ref for it.
The curtain-raiser at MacHale Park on Saturday, by the way, will be the Connacht JFC semi-final meeting between ourselves and Leitrim, which throws in at 4.30pm. Sky Sports are broadcasting the main event live from 6.30pm.
Ourselves and the Rossies already have one gallop each under our belts in this year’s Championship. Neither of us were troubled in our opening outings, as we thumped New York by 21 points just over a fortnight ago while, seven days later, Roscommon had 14 points spare over Leitrim.
Let’s wind the clock back a bit, though, in examining what the neighbours have been up to and how they’ve been faring out as they prepare to head to Castlebar on Saturday.
Last summer had to count as a reasonably satisfactory one for them. True, they didn’t manage to hold onto their Connacht title, losing the final by 0-16 to 2-6 to Galway, and they ended up as whipping boys to Tyrone, Donegal and Dublin in the Super 8s, but at least – unlike us – they made it as far as the All-Ireland Series and got to play ball into August.
With Kevin McStay departing after their Championship exit last year and Anthony Cunningham taking over from him, Roscommon, back in Division One again this spring, battled hard to hold onto their top tier status. It was a fight they narrowly lost.
We met them in Round 1 on a night in which you wouldn’t have put the proverbial dog outside the door. I’ve never seen a game of football played in worse weather and, with the bitter cold, gale-force wind and beating rain, it wasn’t a night for any kind of masterful tactics. We did, though, get to see the first signs both of Roscommon’s more defensive style under their new manager and the increased physicality they’ve brought to their play this year.
It was a match we eventually won by just a single point, on a scoreline of 1-8 to 1-7. In truth, however, that scoreline flattered the Rossies a little, as their goal was a scrambled effort that came with virtually the last kick of the game.
They recovered well in Round 2 the following weekend, beating Monaghan – who’d scalped Dublin in the opening round – by 1-12 to 0-13 at Hyde Park. The following weekend, also on home turf, they drew 1-10 apiece with Tyrone but this was a match they could and should have won.
Indeed, they would have, had Ultan Harney not engaged in some brainless he-man nonsense deep in stoppage time, which resulted in a decision to award them a 21-yard free directly in front of the posts reversed. As events transpired, that was an incident that, in effect, ultimately cost Roscommon their Division One status because, had they won that game, they’d have ended up on four points and would have stayed up ahead of Monaghan by virtue of the head-to-head rule.
Still, with three points on the board after three rounds they were going okay. But then Cavan – a team they’ve always seemed to have the upper hand on – inflicted a 3-13 to 0-13 defeat on them in Round 4 at Breffni Park. The following weekend they let an uncharacteristically uncertain Dublin off the hook at Hyde Park, losing that one by 2-14 to 1-12.
That meant that they now needed some return off their final two matches to have a chance of staying up. But these were both tough ones and losses to Galway in Round 6, by 1-16 to 1-10 in Pearse Stadium, and Kerry in Round 7, by 2-17 to 0-13 at Hyde Park, consigned them to the drop.
So they now move on from that ultimately unhappy League campaign to face ourselves, who ended up as NFL title winners. If we think that should make us feel better about ourselves than they should then we may need to think again.
This is because of what I’m terming Seán Rice’s warning from history. The legendary Mayo News columnist was fast out of the traps after our League final win to point out that both of the previous times we’d won the League – in 2001 and in 1970 – Roscommon dumped us out of the Championship soon after.
Looking back over the results archive, I can see that we also failed to get out of Connacht after we’d won the League in 1954. We did, however, manage to get the better of Roscommon in the Championship after that League success but then lost the Connacht final to Galway. You have to go back to 1949 – a full seventy years ago – for the last time we followed up a League title win with a Connacht Championship success.
But – I hear you retort – their Championship record against us is only woeful. That is true. In fact, the most recent time they’ve ever beaten us in the Championship was that godawful smash-and-grab Connacht final win over us in 2001, following which we’ve beaten them eight times and drawn once.
It’s been a while, though, since we locked horns against them in Connacht. In fact, our last provincial Championship meeting with them was as far back as 2014, when James Horan was managing us first time around. We were very gratified to leave Hyde Park that day with a less than convincing one-point win under our belts.
They also came close to toppling us when we met in a novel All-Ireland quarter-final showdown at Croke Park two years ago. Roscommon, then the newly-crowned Connacht champions, did plenty right in that drawn encounter and we’d have had few complaints had they shaded the result that day. A week later, though, we absolutely eviscerated them in the replay.
So, that’s the background. There’s little news to report so far this week on player availability and all that, though James Horan did tell the Mayo News last week (here) that captain Diarmuid O’Connor will be available for selection, having missed the New York game with an eye socket injury.
According to James, though, neither Cillian O’Connor nor Seamus O’Shea will be considered for a place in the starting fifteen on Saturday, while both Fionn McDonagh and Donal Vaughan are “touch and go” for it. I guess we’ll name our team on Thursday or Friday evening.
Warnings from history notwithstanding, the bookies have installed us as strong favourites for Saturday evening – Paddy Power price us 2/9 to win. As ever, though, let’s leave the final say on this kind of soothsaying with your good selves and finish up with a poll on Saturday’s showdown.
Will we beat the Rossies?
- Yes (87%, 598 Votes)
- No (13%, 89 Votes)
Total Voters: 687