With the Christmas shutdown in operation and FBD League games looming large on the horizon, pre-season is largely over for Kevin McStay and the Roscommon senior football panel. On Thursday last, McStay held his annual media briefing in the Abbey Hotel, providing an update on the panel’s progress so far, incorporating his new role as county junior manager, new faces on the panel for the coming year, and the ongoing issue of financing an operation that aims to compete with the very top teams in the country. KEVIN EGAN reports…
“We’re operating with a pre-season panel of 44” said McStay.
“Initially 53 were considered, but as ever life gets in the way and some weren’t able to come in and help us. One of the bigger disappointments has been the inability of Neil Collins to come home and commit”.
“We had a really good conversation about it and he’s heartbroken not to be able to do it, but he has to forge ahead with his career. I haven’t given up hope that we’re going to see him sooner rather than later. Once he gets a bit of traction over there, maybe he’ll be able to move his operation back towards Ireland, but I don’t know”.
“That 44 will reduce to about 32 in the middle of January, and that’ll be the National League panel. Of the new players, we’re very happy with Tadhg McKenna, Ciarán Lennon, Ross Timothy and Finbarr Cregg. Most of the lads that were there last year were rested and just came back on Tuesday night. They had an extra month off relative to the others.
“Brian Stack is a special case. We’re not going to see him until the middle of the National League in all likelihood, unless he doesn’t play Sigerson with DCU. That’s his priority because he’s on scholarship there.
“Seán Mullooly is just back from exams and he joins us next week. Enda Smith got ill in Australia and we gave him another month off after he came back. Last Tuesday was his first run out. Seanie Mac has committed to us again, but his business is going well, and we’re going to monitor that during the league and see what’s possible”.
“The third level commitment has reduced significantly. We’ve seven now at third level involved in Sigerson, and that may reduce as well. That’s very manageable this year”.
MICHAEL GLAVEY’S PLAYERS
“On the one hand it’s a great success for them as a club and as individuals, and we all wish them the very best next month.
“On the other hand for them personally, there are no minutes around the squad, and it’s going to be difficult because it’s not like the three of them (Gary Patterson, Caoileann Fitzmaurice, Conor Hussey) are established players. They’re all trying to make a breakthrough. We’ll manage it as best we can. They’re going to stay with the club and we’ll see where that leads to.
“In general, the new calendar doesn’t help them, or any player who might miss out on the work that’s done over the winter. We’ve three challenge matches in December, six games in January, four in February and two or three in March.
“It’s a new calendar and it’s mad, in a good way. Players will love it, but from a management point of view you’ve to tear everything up and see how you get the team to peak at some stage because there’s a game every week. You’ve a big pre-season, and if somebody misses that, they’re in huge trouble, there are no more gaps.”
For the first time since 2011, when a Terence Kelly goal wasn’t enough to prevent Roscommon losing out by a single point to Mayo in the Connacht semi-final, Roscommon will compete in the 2018 junior championship, having been drawn to play Mayo on May 2nd of next year.
McStay will take charge of this side and explained how he’ll be hoping to see a change in mindset in the county when it comes to junior football.
“I’ve agreed with the U-20 management that their top six players will come and play for Roscommon at junior. Ideally they’ll get three or four intercounty matches at junior level for Roscommon, which will be great for them as they prepare for U-20.
“I’ll have around 15 that are junior qualified from my panel, and then we might go back to Brian Murtagh, David Rooney — lads that have gone off the panel and see if they’re interested. The agreement is that all the eligible junior players will train with us on Friday nights and they will play on Sunday in the in-house matches. It’s a tough draw but we should be well fit for it — half our senior panel are junior qualified.
“That should work very well for us, and the county board sees the merit in that. The big thing will be if I say to a player that he’s missed out on the senior squad, but he’s junior qualified, so we’d like him to train on a Friday. He may say that he’s there to play senior and he’s not interested, and that’s the moment where you’ll find out if he really wants it or not.
“I was looking at the 2008 All-Ireland junior final when Dublin beat Roscommon, five of the Dublin starting team were All-Ireland champions three years later. Our culture in Roscommon, and in Mayo and other counties, is that “I’m not playing junior football, I’m a senior footballer” — there’s a stigma involved. Whereas Johnny Cooper and Denis Bastick, Eoghan O’Gara, all these fellas, had no problem playing junior and winning an All-Ireland.
MAKING FULL USE OF THE PANEL
The decision to change the starting 15 in advance of the Mayo replay didn’t work out as Mayo blew Roscommon away in the early stages of their second Croke Park clash, but McStay remains convinced that Roscommon have to stay wedded to the principle of players performing a defined role for a certain period of time, as opposed to starting with a view to completing the full 70 minutes every time.
“One of the things that we didn’t fully sell last year was the idea of championship minutes. You get a certain period of the game, you go hell for leather, and then somebody else will come in to finish the job,” he explained.
“The idea that you start with a certain 15 and finish with a better 15 — that has to be the Roscommon way. There’s a huge advantage if we get guys to buy into this because we have a very strong panel, so it would be a sin not to use the six subs every time we go out.
“If we’ve a strong guy to come in for 20 minutes, it means the starting player can really empty the tank completely, and replace him with another good player. That’s a real positive for Roscommon.
“Having Cathal (Cregg), the Daly lads, Peter Domican, gives us the sort of options that we did not have last year. We were throwing in young fellas when we were five, six, seven points down against top teams, that’s an awful way to introduce young lads.
“If I’m bringing on Niall Daly or Cathal Cregg with 20 minutes to go, they’ve been around the block, they know how to mind the ball, to take a chance, that type of thing”.
At the recent county convention, Treasurer Seamus Maher revealed that Roscommon’s team administration expenses were reduced in 2017 and will be reduced further this coming year.
McStay made it clear that he understands the need to follow this path, but he wants supporters to be under no illusion, that his team will be operating at a disadvantage relative to some of the stronger counties in the hunt for the Sam Maguire in 2018.
“We don’t own a bulb, or a square foot of grass to call our own for training purposes. This is a major issue, and this is why the Runnabracken row is a big issue, and why the Hyde row was previously.
“We have nowhere to train, we have nowhere to call our home. To alleviate that, we’ve entered into an agreement that for three years — Kiltoom will be our hub, we’ve signed off on that and both sides are delighted.
“We had no other choice — we need lights, we need a pitch, we have to have that option. But it takes place in the overall context of another significant reduction in the senior budget. This is going to filter down to all the grades, because we’re a smaller county and we don’t have the resources that the bigger counties have.
“To me, this is where a revolution has to happen in the GAA. Eventually the Roscommons, Leitrims and other smaller counties are going to run out of resources unless they remodel all the finances within the GAA, I can’t see any other way”.
“To Seamus’ (Maher) eternal credit, he was as good as he could possibly be within the constraints he was operating under. He looked after the players and the big ticket items as regularly as he possibly could, but his hands were tied.
“What’s going out, at all levels of the game, does not equal money in, and once that happens, it gets difficult. I was hoping there’d be a boost from becoming Connacht champions, but there wasn’t really. We’re a small county, there’s just 60,000 of us, there’s only so much can be done”.
“The Galway hurling final took in more gate receipts than our season in its entirety. Mayo’s national league games would take in more than our championship teams. It has been an incredibly difficult two years to be involved financially, to be in management, to be the treasurer, to be on the executive.
“I would say that single topic has led to all our difficulties in terms of relationships, stress, embarrassment, that has been the foremost cause of any tension or disagreement among our group”.