By Ian Cooney
A third Nickey Rackard Cup title is the prize on offer for the Roscommon senior hurlers when they cross paths with Tyrone in Saturday’s national decider in Croke Park at 3 p.m.. As expected, victory against Fermanagh in Enniskillen on Saturday last confirmed Roscommon’s place in the decider where they will face a Tyrone side who quickly brushed aside the disappointment from their performance at Dr. Hyde Park seven days earlier to overcome Donegal and return to the final for the second year in succession.
For manager Francis Halloran and his management team of Tommy Guilfoyle, Steve Cusack, Cyril Crosbie and Martin Beirne, getting to the final represents a box that they would have earmarked to tick at the beginning of their tenure. Initially, there was disappointment in failing to emerge from Division 3A, but, to their credit, they’ve used the frustration from that league campaign to go through the group stages of the Nickey Rackard Cup unbeaten, which included that 3-24 to 0-21 swatting of Tyrone on Saturday week last.
“The objective at the start of the year was to get to the final. There have been a lot of learnings on the way, both inside and outside the line in terms of getting to know the guys and seeing what makes them tick.
“But we’re in a good place now. If you said to me last Christmas that we’d be in the Nickey Rackard Cup final, I’d have taken the hand off you,” admitted O’Halloran.
The County Clare native was in the position to rest some key players against Fermanagh last weekend. Injury doubts continue to surround two key players — full-back Peter Kellehan and centre-back Conor Cosgrove. Needless to say, Roscommon will need both men on duty against a Tyrone side who won’t be lacking in motivation, given what transpired in the final against Mayo last year when they were soundly beaten and their below-par performance against the Rossies recently.
“We learned a lot from the Armagh (league) game in the Hyde. We only had a couple of weeks to get ourselves right for the trip up there, and we did the business emphatically.
“The roles are reversed this time around given what happened to Tyrone in the Hyde a few weeks ago. It’s up to us to make sure that there’s no complacency in the players’ heads. We just have to focus on the match. We have to worry about ourselves as opposed to spending too much time thinking about them.
“I think the Tyrone result against Donegal last Saturday tells you everything you need to know about them. We’ll be taking nothing for granted. We’ll work hard this week and get ourselves ready for Saturday,” he vowed.
O’Halloran believes that reaching the final showcases the progress his players are making in a relatively short space of time.
“We only have five months work done. A lot of other managements have had five years with their panels. We got a sheet of paper with names and phone numbers on it at the start of the year. We didn’t have the benefit of seeing these players in championship action with their clubs. So, to get to where we are now is a massive achievement for us as a management team.
“All we’ve looked for is honesty and workrate. It hasn’t too much to do with style. We’ve got that in most of your games. Looking at it forensically, our third quarter has let us down at times. Sorting that out comes from within the group. Players have to be leaders and ensure that our intensity doesn’t drop for those ten or 15 minutes at the start of the second half.
“We need to get that right for Saturday because we mightn’t get a chance to rectify it in the final quarter if it happens again. In fairness to our guys, they’re learning all the time. The commitment they’ve given us has been second to none,” he explained.
With the U-20 team reaching their All-Ireland final and the U-17s going well in the Celtic Challenge Cup, O’Halloran feels that the county’s hurling scene is going places, and the boost that a victory on Saturday would give cannot be overstated.
“It would be special for these guys. We haven’t too many players in our panel who have played in Croke Park. We have a lot of lads that have never come in on the bus under the Hogan Stand. That can be very daunting, but we’d be hoping that it will bring out the best in our lads.
“Roscommon hurling is in a good place. But there’s a lot more to be done in terms of the coaching pathway that needs to be looked at going forward. That’s where Roscommon hurling will get the benefits — if clubs have good structures and everyone is singing off the same hymn sheet,” he concluded.
Suffice to say that the rhythm associated with a national title would be music to everyone’s ears on Saturday evening.
HERALD VERDICT: Roscommon