Monday, July 09, 2018

Enda Smith is congratulated by selector Liam McHale following Saturday’s thrilling six-point victory against Armagh at O’Moore Park, Portlaoise. Picture: INPHO/Bryan Keane

 By Ian Cooney


The hoopla emanating from the Roscommon dressing-room makes the unrelenting humidity underneath O’Moore Park’s main stand bearable. There’s plenty of back-slapping. Players, management and backroom staff embrace. Micheál O’Muircheartaigh leaves a quiet room and opines that it’s the best football he has seen a Roscommon team play in 30 years. These are heady days.

When Kevin McStay emerges, perspiration trickles from his forehead. One can sense that it’s still sinking in. He had challenged his players to deliver as they strove to take the next giant leap forward in their development. Now, the 2018 championship season has achieved something palpable irrespective of what happens against Tyrone, Donegal and Dublin over the next month.

It’s fantastic, you can hear the noise coming out of the dressing room. It’s a different country when you’re winning these games. But we know the other side. We know the dejection of losing the Connacht final, so today’s one of the good days.

“It’s very important. We have three quarter-finals now to further develop this particular group. I’d even say that today was a coming of age for the group,” he highlighted.

The Roscommon manager confirmed that Ultan Harney had “popped his shoulder” after colliding with John McManus in the warm-up. It was a setback the Rossies didn’t need, especially with the mood Armagh were in.

“Armagh under Kieran McGeeney, it was always going to be put up to us. And fair play, they contributed to a massive contest. We wobbled, it looked like it was gone, but we came back great, made a few key interventions and got the scores just that little bit handier. We butchered plenty of goal chances throughout the second half, as did Armagh. But it’s so good to come out of a game like this,” he continued.

McStay referred to the conditions, adding that bringing in fresh legs was paramount in the searing heat. Yet the 2018 heatwave was never going to alter Roscommon’s expansive style of play.

“There was a lot at stake, but with the team we have, we can’t have an attritional, 13 men behind the ball style. We just can’t play that way. We’re not a big team. We’re a footballing team, an athletic team, but it’s hard to play against teams like Armagh and Tyrone who have big men, so we have to live on our wits a bit.

“All I wanted was to find out does this matter. I think it matters to all of us in the backroom team, and I did put the pressure on the players, and on ourselves. Because if I was in Kieran’s dressing room now with my team, I’d be wondering where are we going with this? Why, on the very big days, does Roscommon always take a step back?

“We want to be in there among the Mayos and the Galways, whoever else is in there. So today was a big day to see, and I put it up to them, and if that pressurised all of us, well that’s life — that’s the environment we play in. I’m really happy with the way we responded,” he explained.

The Super 8s beckon, starting with Tyrone in Croke Park next Saturday and McStay encouraged everyone to row in behind the team to see where the next three games takes them.

“We’ve ticked every box that that group has said they would do, and beyond that what we’ve done is give ourselves a real good shot in the arm for the match next weekend.

“I’m not saying that we’re going to win any games in the Super 8s but we’re going to be competitive, and find out a lot more about ourselves.

“I don’t think any team is going to write us off, they’ll see us as dangerous opposition. All the teams will expect to beat us of course, but they’ll still be saying — keep an eye on them lads, you wouldn’t want them to cut loose,” he concluded with a wry smile.

It was that sort of day.




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