By Ian Cooney
It has been said that “adversity is the first path to truth”, so the soul searching within the confines of the Roscommon senior football panel must throw up something substantial this week. Otherwise welcoming Donegal to Dr. Hyde Park on Saturday evening next at 5 p.m. (live on Sky Sports) will be a futile exercise.
Kevin McStay has urged everyone to reserve judgement about this team until their season has ended. Last Saturday’s result against Tyrone has backed him and his players into a corner. Now, they must come out fighting.
Every other game in last weekend’s opening phase of the Super 8s was competitive. Roscommon put it up to Tyrone for 20 minutes. For the remainder of the match, the reality was harsh and resurrected all the doubts about this team’s ability to compete at this level.
What’s more, Donegal didn’t throw in the towel against Dublin. They were never likely to, giving the reigning All-Ireland champions plenty to think about. Declan Bonner could reference the cheap concession of a second goal alongside a few refereeing decisions that went against his charges as the thin margin between success and failure.
But there was never a sense of Donegal trying to rescue the game during its dying embers. They were looking at the bigger picture — beat Roscommon and take their chances against Tyrone in Ballybofey to reach the All-Ireland semi-final.
With Michael Murphy operating like a Rolls-Royce in the middle of the field, the Ulster champions have the perfect conductor to manage Saturday evening’s contest. When the sides met in the league in 2017, he was the difference between the sides.
But there’s much more to Donegal, despite the absence of key forward Patrick McBrearty. They’ve pace everywhere, and in Ryan McHugh a player who will be encouraged to run directly at the Roscommon defence. Once again, questions over Roscommon’s physicality are likely to emerge if Murphy, Frank McGlynn, Paul Brennan, Eoghan Bán Gallagher, Hugh McFadden, Leo McLoone and Odhrán MacNiallais are allowed dictate proceedings.
Can Roscommon heal their psychological scars in the space of a week? It’s highly unlikely that Kevin McStay will adopt a defensive mindset in an effort to stop the haemorrhaging of scores. He simply hasn’t the time to do so.
Whatever strategy the Roscommon manager opts for, there must be a siege mentality embedded within his players’ mindset. They performed against Armagh, but raised the white flag against Tyrone. Donegal’s quality is closer to Tyrone, so the scale of the challenge is huge.
Yet, in Hyde Park of all places, there must be some showing of solidarity — a reaction that sparks a performance to be reckoned with. Someone needs to lay down a marker early and let Donegal know that nothing will come cheaply.
Ultan Harney’s shoulder injury isn’t as bad as first feared. It remains to be seen if Saturday comes too soon for him. Ciarán Lennon was an unused substitute in Croke Park, but he will surely be deployed at full-forward at some stage on Saturday evening.
Roscommon’s credibility is on the line. Praised for their attacking prowess against Armagh, the same people bemoaned their naivety against Tyrone. Where the reality lies remains a mystery as Roscommon aren’t consistent at this level.
But Kevin McStay can’t go out into the transfer market and pluck players that will make a difference. What he has is the best available to him. In the space of 70 minutes on Saturday last, they sent optimism levels hurtling towards a black hole. Now, they must resurrect the spirit that landed Super 8s fodder on their doorstep.
Realistically, victory on Saturday evening is unlikely. But a performance to back up the waning belief that they can be competitive in this sort of company remains plausible.