By Ian Cooney
So now we know. Roscommon’s season hinges on a match against Armagh in Portlaoise next Saturday that will either catapult the Rossies into the upcoming carnival of football that is the Super 8s or spend the remainder of the summer feeling sorry for themselves. Things didn’t pan out as expected against Galway in the Connacht final but Kevin McStay is happy that some straight, honest talking since then have put those issues to bed (throw-in at O’Moore Park, Portlaoise, on Saturday at 3 p.m.).
Certainly, being pitted against Kieran McGeeney’s men, who produced a late rally to see off Clare last weekend, gives Roscommon a realistic chance of achieving their goal. Truth be told, it will be a huge setback if Roscommon don’t prevail against a side that have beaten Westmeath, Sligo and the Banner County since being dumped out of the Ulster championship by Fermanagh.
“We’d be happy with the draw,” McStay told the Herald on Monday morning. “But I’m sure Armagh are thinking the same way. It represents a fighting chance for both teams to make the Super 8s.
“We’ve played them a good few times in challenge during my tenure, so we know a fair bit about them. I’d have a lot of respect for Kieran McGeeney and we’d have a good relationship,” he continued.
Yet while supporters will be relatively satisfied with the draw, McStay takes a different slant on things
“To be honest, it didn’t really matter who we got. This gameis all about us and how we react to being beaten in the Connacht final.
“We were awful close against Galway but I’d be happy that we’ve faced down that soreness, or whatever you want to call it. We’ve gone away and cleansed our soul. We’ve parked it because this weekend is all about the big prize of three All-Ireland quarter-finals, which would be huge for us,” he pointed out.
Reflecting on what went wrong in the second half against the Tribesmen, McStay assured that the players and management had faced up to their responsibilities since then, adding that everyone was now looking forward to next weekend’s challenge.
“We had some great chances. If we had taken them, we would have increased the pressure on Galway. We had issues with our tackling, our tracking back and the opposition’s kickout in the last 15 minutes. People fell asleep and lost concentration. Our subs didn’t work, and that falls back on those players and the management who made the changes. We’ve tidied things up the best we can since then.
“But I don’t subscribe to all the doom and gloom since the Galway game. Supporters and pundits tend to focus too much on the result — win and it’s great, lose and the season is a disaster. The reality is somewhere in between. I would just urge everyone to wait until the end of the season to judge us.
“Reaching the Super 8s would be key to our development going forward. It would be a setback if we didn’t get there but I have every sense that we’ll be doing everything in our power to be part of it. Three All-Ireland quarter-finals and the type of games they would entail would be fantastic for this group of players,” remarked McStay.
Fergal Lennon has been ruled out for the remainder of the season with a back injury. His brother Ciarán is on the comeback trail from a hand injury, but next weekend will come too soon for the Clann na nGael forward. Cathal Compton and Fintan Cregg will return to training this week following injuries picked up in the Connacht final, and both players are expected to play some part against Armagh. Ronan Stack, Darra Pettit and Shane Killoran are on the treatment table but, on the plus side, Ultan Harney and Niall Daly have trained well since the provincial decider and are available for selection.
“At this stage of the season, all these games are 50/50. There comes a time in your season when everything is on the table. This weekend is hugely significant for us in terms of our plans, hopes and dreams for the rest of the summer.
“I think this game crystallises our requirement. It bring our season to boiling point. There’s no life beyond this weekend. The prize is a place in the Super 8s, and we want to be part of that,” he concluded.
With the safety net removed, Roscommon’s season has indeed reached a crossroads. A team that harbours ambitions of being competitive against the top teams have been handed a draw that, deep down, they would have taken before 8.30 a.m on Monday. It’s up to the players to make the most of an opportunity that has a glittering prize at stake.
Expect Roscommon to deliver.
HERALD VERDICT: Roscommon