As this strange Championship campaign hurtles on at top speed, we’re back in do-or-die action again today. This afternoon at Dr Hyde Park we face Roscommon, with this behind-closed-doors tie throwing in at the Roscommon venue at 1.30pm. David Gough from Meath is the ref and the match is being broadcast live on RTE2.
Although last year was our first Championship defeat to Roscommon since 2001, they’ve been sticky enough opponents for us in recent years. Sure, we blew them out of the water in the All-Ireland quarter-final replay in 2017 but they fully deserved the draw they secured the first day we met them at Croke Park that summer.
The bulk of that team – more experienced and more battle-hardened – will still be in their ranks today. They come into this game as defending Connacht champions – they’ve bagged two Nestor Cup wins since we last made it to a Connacht decider – and a few weeks ago they were crowned National League Division Two champions.
So they’re in a good place right now. While playing us never holds much, if any, fear for them they haven’t always relished playing us in recent years. But this year is different – they’ll no doubt sense our possible frailties and I’d say they can’t wait to get stuck into us.
That means that today is a huge test for James Horan’s evolving side. While we were far and away the best side in Connacht when we were in our pomp in recent years, those days are well gone. So many of the big names for us then no longer feature on the starting fifteen for us now. This is a different time and it’s one in which we have to stake our claim anew.
The knockout format of this year’s Championship means there’s absolutely no room for an off-day on any match day. The safety net we made such productive use of since 2016 isn’t there this year. If we perform with the kind of lassitude we’ve shown in Connacht in the past five years then our inter-county season will be over later on today.
It could still be over even if we play well. As Kevin McStay explained so well on the preview episode of the podcast, Roscommon are a fine side who are coming into this game with a decent bit of momentum. It would be no great shock if they became the first Roscommon team since 1980 to record back-to-back Championship wins over us.
That said, our cause today is far from hopeless. Despite our League campaign ending in relegation a few weeks back, we’re playing far better football now than we were in the spring. With every game we get to play the newcomers continue to gel in a more productive way with the established lads. While we’ll have to be at our best to get past the Rossies this afternoon, it’s equally the case for them if they want to get the better of us.
There’s no point trying to call it – we’ll find out soon enough in any case how it’s going to go today. Another day looing at the television but, no more than Zoom calls and being confined to within 5km of barracks, it’s a part of pandemic life we’ve all had no option but to get used to.
So take it handy there on the way to the sofa, try to arrive early enough to secure a good seat and get ready to telegraph all that roaring you’ll doubtless be doing over in the direction of Hyde Park. Today’s a tough test, but sure isn’t that what’s the Championship is meant to be about? Time for the tough to get going. Up Mayo.