At last, it’s almost upon us. Roscommon’s entrance into the 2013 All-Irelanf football championship race is shrouded with far more nervous tension than excitement. Mayo have a habit of cutting loose against their Western neighbours in Castlebar and given the trend of this year’s championship game between the top teams and the rest, the fear is that it could happen again. The bookies certainly think so with Roscommon priced at 5/1 in some quarters to prevail on Sunday.
By Ian Cooney
Yet Roscommon will be well-prepared under John Evans. One would hope that they won’t be as naïve defensively as Galway were when they were submerged by a Mayo tsunami a month ago. That performance by James Horan’s men has sent the Mayo public’s expectations into overdrive. Plans are already being made for the August Bank Holiday weekend but it’s hardly the type of talk that the Mayo boss will have let infiltrate through the camp over the last number of weeks.
In the unlikely event of a Roscommon victory, solid performances from both sides resulting in a four or five-point Mayo success would be satisfactory. The last thing Roscommon need is another trimming in Castlebar. The last thing Mayo need is another non-contest, which will hardly prepare them for the more searching challenges ahead.
A feature of Roscommon’s performances in the league was the team’s workrate, especially during the latter stages of the campaign. That will be the starting point on Sunday. Stop Mayo from getting into their stride early and let them know they’re in a game.
If ever there was a match where Roscommon needed a good start, this is it. In 2010, Roscommon’s last visit to Castlebar (a game where they were also rank outsiders), the Connacht final against Sligo was played on Roscommon’s terms early on. It set the template for the memorable performance that followed.
Being the last team to taste championship action this year, Roscommon have known about this game for some time. John Evans probably expected that Mayo would be the opposition, although he could hardly have envisaged the stroll in the park enjoyed by James Horan’s men in Salthill. Perhaps, such an easy game makes Mayo slightly vulnerable but being competitive in Division One, regularly reaching the knockout stages, makes them formidable opposition.
Horan has been keen to dampen expectations in Mayo but it’s a difficult assignment in the county, especially when national pundits are talking up the team’s chances this year. Cillan O’Connor is a huge loss though and with Andy Moran and Alan Dillon only coming back from injury, the home side’s attack is a weakened force on Sunday.
But Roscommon will probably be missing Donie Shine. John Evans has refused to rule the Clann na nGael player out of his plans but it’s hard to see how Shine can be involved with so little game-time under his belt. In games like this, Shine’s loss is huge as he thrives on the big stage.
Instead the onus will fall on Senan Kilbride’s shoulders. Kilbride’s prowess in front of goal has been well flagged by his performances in the St. Brigid’s jersey. Now he must replicate that form in the ‘Primrose and Blue’ jersey on Sunday. David O’Gara has developed a knack of scoring goals, while Donal Smith and Cathal Cregg are also certain starters.
At midfield, Michael Finneran could be partnered by Kevin Higgins, Karol Mannion or Cathal Shine with the latter two also primed to feature in the forward line if they’re not chosen at midfield.
Further back the field, Seán McDermott, Niall Carty and Neil Collins looks like the preferred full-back line. The Daly brothers, Niall and Conor, will be centre-back and wing-back respectively. Ian Kilbride is nursing an ankle injury. Donal Ward and Seán Purcell have just returned from injury. David Keenan could also feature at wing-back where he delivered a Man of the Match performance against Cavan in Roscommon’s final league game in April.
There will definitely be a championship debutante in goal with Darren O’Malley and Tadgh Lowe vying for the number one jersey in the absence of Geoffrey Claffey and Mark Miley who left the panel earlier in the year. Donal Keane and Darragh Donnelly are definitely ruled out through injury as a result of collar bone and knee injuries picked up in recent challenge games.
Apart from O’Connor, Michael Conroy and Chris Barrett won’t feature for Mayo. However, the return of Barry Moran strengthens the home team’s options at midfield.
Roscommon have absolutely nothing to lose on Sunday. It has been 12 years since the county’s senior team defeated either Mayo or Galway in the championship. That’s unlikely to change on Sunday but the recent demoralising reversals at the home of Mayo football can be avoided. If it is, Roscommon will have something to build on for the qualifiers.
HERALD VERDICT: Mayo by six points.