Monday, June 02, 2014

CONNACHT SENIOR FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP SEMI-FINAL PREVIEW:

 

Will Diarmuid Murtagh be drafted into the Roscommon attack on Sunday next?

Will Diarmuid Murtagh be drafted into the Roscommon attack on Sunday next?

 

 

Here we go again. Mayo in the summer-time, a recipe often laced with ingredients for a surprise but one that very rarely veers from the script. Sunday will be no different. James Horan’s men will be expected to win, and they should leave Dr. Hyde Park with the spoils. But surely Roscommon are primed to make life difficult for last year’s beaten All-Ireland finalists. If not, the familiar post-mortem will be as gruesome as ever.

 

 

By Ian Cooney

 

 

In John Evans words in an interview with the Roscommon Herald last November, Roscommon were competitive for 20 minutes against Mayo 12 months ago. Then “they packed up the tent and went home”. The end result was a drubbing that Roscommon have become far too accustomed to.

The aim on Sunday is pretty straightforward – try and close the gap to suggest that Roscommon will, some day, beat Mayo in the championship at senior level. Since 2001 and 1991 before that, Mayo’s superiority has rarely been in doubt. But when the psychological barrier was broken at minor (in 2006) and U-21 (in 2010) levels, it paved the way for regular triumphs against the ‘Green and Red’. It’s something to look forward to further down the line.

Judging this season as a yardstick, Roscommon should give Mayo a game. It may not be a case of supporters wondering what might have been, as it was in 2011 when the sides last met at Dr. Hyde Park, but certainly the progress that John Evans’ men have made suggests that a ‘big performance’ is in the pipeline.

The problem is that they’re playing one of the top teams in the country. When the sides clashed in the Connacht final three years ago, Roscommon were presented with a chance in hellish weather conditions to take Mayo’s scalp. Crucially, they didn’t take it and both teams’ paths veered off in very different directions.

Roscommon went backwards after the Fergal O’Donnell era. On the other hand, Mayo raised the bar considerably and have been well worth their place in the last two All-Ireland finals. But they haven’t managed to prise open the window of opportunity. For James Horan’s men to come back and bask in the glory of All-Ireland success at the third time of asking would be some feat, but that’s the only currency that matters in Mayo right now.

Twelve months ago, the hangover from the 2012 defeat against Donegal didn’t last long. Mayo pulverised every team they came across in Connacht, resulting in a very one-sided provincial championship that brought the prophets of doom out in their droves.

Taking New York to the cleaners is hardly a reliable guide to the sort of championship form that Mayo are in this season. But the Connacht championship needs a good, competitive game on Sunday. Deep down, James Horan will be hoping for one too.

David Keenan is a major loss to Roscommon in an area of the field where the home side will have to, at least, gain some parity. If the Mayo half-back line start running at Roscommon, creating overlaps at will, it will be another long afternoon.

Ronan Stack could revert back from the left-half forward, where he played against Leitrim, to wing-back. Ian Kilbride is another option but the St. Brigid’s player has little competitive football under his belt as a result of injury and the suspension he picked up against Cavan at the end of March. Conor Daly is ruled out with a hamstring injury.

If Stack is dropped back into defence, Enda Smith could come in at wing-forward, although the Boyle player is struggling with a groin injury. There will also be calls for Diarmuid Murtagh to be included from the start, although it will be hard to displace his brother Ciarán after his impressive first-half display against Leitrim.

James Horan confirmed at the Mayo press night last week that Jason Gibbons and Barry Moran were unlikely to be fit. Michael Conroy and Enda Varley are also carrying knocks. Cathal Carolan and Shane McHale are also out for Sunday’s showdown. But, crucially, Mayo have plenty of options and Horan will have confidence in any player he bring in to do a job.

This is a big game for Roscommon. Nobody is expecting miracles, but at home in Dr. Hyde Park, a place John Evans wants to turn into a “fortress”, the desire to be competitive is realistic.

When Roscommon last shocked Mayo and Galway in 2001, they were playing Division One League football at the time. Despite the perceived theory that Mayo don’t like coming to the Hyde, they very rarely lose there, and there’s nothing to suggest that something radical is going to happen on Sunday.

Roscommon’s big-game players – Donal Shine, Cathal Cregg, Senan Kilbride, Cathal Shine, Niall Carty and Seán McDermott – need to convince the watching public nationally that a Roscommon revival has taken root. Taking the game to Mayo and being in contention with 15 minutes remaining would represent ample evidence.

Mayo will win, but the Connacht Championship might be in a healthier place next Sunday evening.

 

HERALD PREDICTION: Mayo (by six points)

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