So how good are Roscommon? Are Mayo better or worse than in previous years? The form guide suggests that both teams are playing well, but Mayo are drifting in and out of games.
By Michael O’Brien
Roscommon proved in the Connacht final they can meet the demands of red-hot intensity, and play with a sense of physical courage that the county hasn’t seen in many years. The team have ticked a whole host of boxes in terms of progress and development. The concern is that it’s all pretty much based on one game in terms of championship credentials.
Roscommon held up Galway repeatedly, often continuing to tackle for a few seconds after the whistle, in the Connacht final. It worked. Galway’s forwards needed fast ball. Mayo’s forwards know how to survive without quick ball, and they are capable of carving out openings, not always through creativity, but by creating a yard through sheer strength.
The management need to concoct a strategy, once again, that will see Brian Stack get free to receive kickouts. At midfield, Seamus O’Shea and Tom Parsons are big fielders. But they’re not consistent.
When Aidan O’Shea is under the dropping ball, he’s hard managed. He’s in great form. Ciaráin Murtagh and Seán Mullooly will need to throw themselves in for breaking ball like they did in Salthill. The team need to by-pass the Mayo half-backline as often as possible. Keegan, Boyle and company are very strong in 50-50 situations.
One would assume that Roscommon will be aiming to play a very expansive style, hoping that their athleticism will create openings for the likes of Enda Smith to run onto. However, Mayo are vulnerable at full-back, and have been for about five years. Why they persist with Ger Cafferkey is anyone’s guess? It’s stating the obvious, but the ball needs to be sent into Diarmuid Murtagh fast and often.
In the Connacht final, there was huge variation in the number of runs made from defence, and from different players. The Mayo forwards are very strong tacklers, particularly Cillian O’Connor and Jason Doherty. It’s risky taking very short kickouts, given Mayo’s ability to turnover possession.
Rather than playing on the backfoot to try and curb the endless running of Diarmuid O’Connor, Roscommon need Conor Devaney to force the Ballintubber man to mark him, rather than the other way around. The likes of Kevin McLoughlin will roam everywhere, but the likelihood is that Niall Kilroy will still sit deep, and try and anticipate the direction of a few balls into O’Connor and Andy Moran.
The fact that a Cork team that weren’t supposed to have the conditioning to survive against Mayo did go all the way through extra time is a confidence booster in itself. So too in a sense is the fact that Galway bounced back against Donegal.
You could say that Mayo looked a bit wide open at centre-back when the pressure came on against Cork. Or one could argue that their management were just a bit too quick to make subs when they were seven points up. Taking off Colm Boyle and Chris Barrett, with Lee Keegan then getting a black card, left them exposed at the back.
Collectively, Mayo are very strong. And while Roscommon used force to great effect against Galway, the approach will be different on Sunday.
Roscommon will certainly be fresher hitting the field on Sunday, thanks to the approach they took with their preparations for the league. The make-up of the team suggests that they should adapt well to Croke Park.
But by playing a sweeper, and possibly sacrificing a wing-forward to play deep, even allowing for the fact that Devaney will get forward, it’s still a big ask to expect enough of a scoring return against a seasoned team.
That said, Roscommon will be confident, and have broken a major mental barrier by beating Galway with such ease in the Connacht final. You get the feeling that there isn’t a sense of a ‘bonus territory’ mentality among the players. And they won’t be under huge pressure. It’s Mayo, but not in the cauldron of MacHale Park.
The players that came off the bench played well in the Connacht final. Such will be the demands on Sunday that players could be called on much earlier. A team’s bench is more significant when playing in Croke Park than in the provincial championship.
In one sense, one would think that Mayo are perfectly prepared. But they’ve had a demanding run. Roscommon know how to build themselves up over a number of weeks.
Roscommon have done almost everything right so far in the championship. They haven’t had to come from behind though. That said, Mayo generally played their best when they’re a few points down.
There’s a great opportunity for Roscommon, but so much has to go right. If Roscommon don’t take a step back in this contest, the sky is the limit for the next few seasons.
Mayo’s need appears greater than Roscommon’s want.