The weekend after next (April 28th) Roscommons minor footballers take on Leitrim in the first round of this years Connacht Championship at Dr. Hyde Park. It’s the first time in 50 years that a Roscommon minor team will be facing into a new championship as the defending All-Ireland champions and after last year’s unforgettable campaign there will be huge interest in how Roscommon fare this year. I spoke to team manager Fergal O’Donnell who has taken the reins again this year – about this year’s team, the preparations and training and the afterglow of last year’s brilliant Connacht and All-Ireland title wins – and the problems associated with training a team that this year will be defending both titles. Did you take much coaxing to come back to train the minor team this year after what you achieved last year? Well, it was very hard to walk away after winning last year because there were several players who were there on last year’s panel who are involved again this year so we had a good base to start with. However I never realised that there would be so many functions and ‘dos’ associated with last year’s win. They are still going on and they have been a distraction to this year’s preparations – there is no doubt about that – but we have had to get on with it. There are still presentations going on in relation to last year and while a lot of these functions are club-related it’s a big strain on the players, a lot of whom are doing exams as well – but I suppose it’s a price you pay for winning an All-Ireland. Was it hard to start again from the bottom after last year? In ways yes. It’s very, very unfair to this year’s team that they are being compared to last year’s team but I suppose it was inevitable that would happen. This is a different team that has won nothing and that’s the way it stands at the minute so comparisons are a little unfair. We have a few players from last year but then again so have Mayo, Galway, Leitrim and Sligo. It’s interesting to hear other teams this year in challenge games when they beat Roscommon saying ‘we have beaten the All-Ireland champions’ and it’s not really like that because it’s a new team. How has training gone so far this year? Pretty good so far. We have been working off a panel of 30 players and that has worked well. There are one or two players more that I would have liked to have had in and we have a few serious injuries which is a pity. Niall Carty is out for the year and he is a huge loss. Alan Burke and John Donnelly are also injured and we could have done without that. We had no serious injuries last year for instance, which was a big help. Peter Domican and Niall Carty did get injured early last year but we knew that they would be back which is different to a long-term injury situation. We have trained hard and played a number of challenge games and of course the games in the Minor League but you don’t really know until you hit the field in the championship but I would be reasonably happy with our efforts so far. Has last year’s win given young Roscommon players more confidence? I suppose it has. The younger players are certainly very positive in training and of course a win like last year’s will have a positive effect but there are a few players that I would have liked to have in the panel this year but who didn’t come in for one reason or another but I suppose you will have that anyway. But the players that we have are certainly more positive about their football after the win. One thing that I noticed is that we have not had the humiliating defeats in challenge games that we had last year in the build-up to the championship and that is a sign of increased confidence. What are the prospects for this year? It’s hard to know really. We are involved in this round-robin competition in Connacht, first with Leitrim and Sligo and we have got to ensure that we emerge from that group. We play Leitrim in our first game next weekend and that will be a tough game – make no mistake – and we cannot look any further than that. The group will be decided on scoring difference if there is a tie on points so we must ensure that we win both our games to make sure of qualification for the semi-finals against Mayo or Galway. Our aim at the start of last year was to be competitive in the Connacht championship and we were and the aim is the same again this year. Anything else is a bonus and you need a bit of luck then after that. We had good wins over Sligo and Leitrim in the league but that will count for nothing when the championship game is played. I know that it’s a cliché but I am not looking past the first game against Leitrim. Are you still enjoying your role? Ah yeah I love the coaching part of it all. There is a great buzz out of trying to make young players better at the game. We have the same back-up team as we had last year and I’m delighted about that because we worked very well last year. We did great things in 2006 and we are looking forward to 2007. A lot of hard work is required and a bit of luck too – we will have to see how it goes!