Roscommon may be pointless after two games in Division One, but Strokestown defender Seán Mullooly explains to Roscommon Herald Sports Editor IAN COONEY why Kevin McStay’s young side can pick up valuable league points over the next six weeks…
What might have been after visiting Omagh and returning to Hyde Park, but Seán Mullooly isn’t disheartened. Far from it in fact. Roscommon have been playing relatively well, creating plenty of chances but, crucially, not taking them, according to the Strokestown player.
“We left the Donegal game behind us. It just wasn’t the chance at the end. We missed loads before that. I think Tyrone were a good bit fitter than us in the first game. They were definitely more conditioned but we’ve made a conscious decision not to overdo things this season,” he explained.
Despite the smash and grab nature of Donegal’s victory, Mullooly remains very upbeat about the remainder of Roscommon’s league campaign. He accepts that it’s going to be difficult to survive in the division but he still believes that the Rossies can spring a fewn surprises.
“I would give us a chance against Mayo and Kerry. Maybe Dublin in Croke Park might be a bridge too far for us but we’ll still be competitive. But we’re definitely targeting the next two games. We feel that we can get something from them.
“We’re definitely looking forward to the Mayo game. I wouldn’t say too many people are giving us a chance but that’s not the way we’re looking at it. We’d be confident of producing another good showing. Most of the lads have beaten Mayo at underage level, so it’s something they’re used to.
“You have to be realistic about the Dublin game and look where they’re at. But it’s great to be involved in these games under lights in front of big crowds, and then we have Kerry to come to the Hyde,” he continued.
A third year student studying Animal Science at UCD, Mullooly had Sigerson Cup commitments last weekend. It’s his first year involved with the Dublin college. He had just returned from a broken wrist 12 months ago when UCD swept all before them to be crowned champions.
“I didn’t go back because I had just returned from injury. Maybe I regret it a bit,” he recalled.
There have been a few regrets in the Roscommon colours too. A narrow Connacht minor final loss against Mayo in 2013 (Roscommon hit the crossbar during the game’s dying embers) was followed by a heart-breaking defeat against Tyrone in that year’s All-Ireland semi-final, a game Mullooly feels where Roscommon were “outfoxed” coming up the home straight. Mayo went on to beat Tryone in the final.
At U-21 level, Mullolly has bagged two Connacht championship medals from 2014 and 2015 but it’s the loss against Mayo nearly 12 months ago that still annoys him.
“I picked up a stupid black card towards the end of the first half. I thought it was a harsh decision. Things had been going well for us up to that point. Then Cathal Compton got a dead leg. It was a game we should have won. Then you see Mayo go on and win the All-Ireland, and you just wonder could it have been us?” he reflected.
Mullolly saw game time as a substitute against Mayo and Dublin in last year’s league when Roscommon were the talk of the town before making his senior championship debut against New York.
“The result nearly went pear-shaped but it was a bit of a novelty going over there. They were decent enough but we missed too many chances in the first half.
“We put a massive emphasis on the league last year. Then there was a quick turnaround to the New York game. Other teams had a few weeks to prepare between league and championship but we didn’t have that. The games came thick and fast. I just think that a lot of lads were tired by the end of it,” he felt.
Mullolly agrees that the approach has been different this term but the nature of Roscommon’s performances so far leads him to deduce that the team can still have a good year.
“There has been definitely a different mindset when it comes to the league this year. The plan was not to go as hard as last year at the start. But I still think that we’ll pick up points in our last six games if we continue to perform well. Ideally we want to stay in Division One but it’s not the end of the world if we go down to Division Two. It’s pretty cut-throat down there too,” he pointed out.
Moved from full-back to centre-back, Mullooly is just glad to be on the starting 15. He notes that spirit in the camp is high, despite all the deflections from last season.
“We have what we have. We can’t change that now. It’s not a distraction. We still have a very good panel of players.
“For my part, I just play where Kevin (McStay) picks me. Neil (Collins) is a big loss to us in defence but there’s nothing we can do about that,” he stated.
For such a young player, one senses that responsibility comes naturally to him. Yet Mullooly doesn’t entertain notions of becoming a future Roscommon captain down the line. He’s coming up against quality players on a weekly basis. His sole focus is to keep them quiet.
“I suppose people see me as being part of the spine that Kevin is trying to build within the team. The thing is that you’re marking someone part of the spine from the other team as well. When you come against a guy like Damien Comer, you wouldn’t be long coming back down to earth,” he highlighted.
Irrespective of what happens over the next month and a half, Mullooly and his team-mates know that there will be still plenty of time to try and get things right of the championship.
“At this time of year, you’re playing matches pretty much every week. You need to recover from the last one and build up to the next one. You step up training on the weeks you don’t have a match.
“In fairness to Kevin, Liam and Ger, all the training is based around football at the moment. We know that we’ve got time between the league and championship to get ourselves right. We didn’t have that last year. It has been really enjoyable so far,” he stressed.
Roscommon have been dogged by leadership issues in the past but Mullooly feels that the young players driving the team at the moment have what it takes to become successful.
“We’ve a very good core of young players that have come through from U-21 together. There are natural leaders there like Enda (Smith) and Ultan (Harney). They relish the opportunity. They don’t have to look up to anyone,” he remarked.
Mullooly feels that Roscommon have done plenty of good things in the league so far. He knows where the team need to improve but he’s not awake at night thinking about it.
“I would be very critical of myself sometimes but you learn not to be too hard on yourself and move on. We’ve created chances but we haven’t taken them, and that has come back to haunt us.
“But it has been really enjoyable. It can be tough getting through traffic in Dublin trying to make training. It’s more about time management than anything else.
Judging by the way Seán Mullooly has started the season, he has mastered the juggling act that comes with being an intercounty footballer pretty well. A bright, exciting career beckons. He’s ready to take it all in his stride.