Can resurgent Roscommon ‘strike’ a blow to Cork campaign?

Allianz National Football League Division 2A:  Roscommon v Cork in Kiltoom on Sunday next at 2 pm. Referee: Eugene Murtagh (Longford).   Seamus Duke  A clash between Roscommon and last year’s All-Ireland finalists Cork at home was always going to be an attractive prospect but because of recent events in Cork GAA and the fact that this will be Cork’s first game since their strike, this is probably the biggest league game that Roscommon have prepared for in a number of years.   There are several reasons why this game is crucial to both sides. The Cork players will be desperate to show that they are a side to be respected. Leaving the strike aside, they got an unmerciful hammering in the All-Ireland final by Kerry and they will want to show the rest of the country that they are a serious side capable of mixing it with the very best teams.   The Cork players will also be desperate to show new manager Conor Counihan that they are up for the challenge and good enough to represent the Rebel County. Cork are also starting with zero points after two games so they will have to win at least three out of the five games they have to play if they want to remain in this division – and make no mistake about it they are expecting to come to Kiltoom to win.   On the other hand the Roscommon players are approaching this game with a spring in their step. They re-discovered their spirit and determination against Meath and they really should have won that game but the manner of their performance will give them a great boost ahead of Sunday’s game.   All the things that were absent in the Roscommon display against Monaghan  re-appeared in the game against Meath and a similar display will ensure that Roscommon will be there or thereabouts again this Sunday come the final whistle.   Roscommon played to their strengths against Meath and this young team  moved the ball quickly, their pace and determination key to the good performance. They will have to maintain that level of intensity against Cork and maybe even raise it another notch or two.   The two changes made by John Maughan and his selectors this week  brings back even more experience into the Roscommon team and that is another positive as Roscommon approach the game.   Seanie McDermott, who is this year’s team captain, has been Roscommon’s best defender over the past three years and he will be an big asset to the team in the half-back line. It is good to see Gary Cox back too. The St. Faithleachs man is a top-class attacker on his day and his return is very welcome for the overall panel too. Conor Devanney loses out but the young Kilbride man has a long career ahead of him at this level and he is a very good sub to have.    The Roscommon defence and full-back line in particular will have to be vigilant on Sunday. Despite the fact that James Masters will not be in action, it is likely that Donnacha O’Connor, Kevin O’Sullivan and John Hayes will be in the Cork full-forward line and all three are excellent players who can take a score.   The Cork half-forward line will probably be led by John Miskella and Enda Kenny will have his hands full marking the talented Corkman. However, as is the case in most of the big games at this level, midfield will be crucial and Cork are very strong there, with Nicholas Murphy their ace centrefield man.    It is the Cork half-back line that I think is their strongest line and the line that will pose most problems to Roscommon on Sunday. Noel O’Leary, Ger Spillane and Anthony Lynch are three strong, skillful and experienced players and Cork will be hoping that this will be their springboard to success on Sunday.   Behind that line is the multi-talented Graham Canty who is probably the best full-back playing the game at the moment so despite being without Masters and Derek Kavanagh Cork will still come to Kiltoom with a very strong team. Roscommon will have to play the open and fast brand of football that we saw againt Meath. Players like David O’Gara, Cathal Cregg and Seanie McDermott will be vital in that regard.   Mark O’Carroll and Karol Mannion are well capable of getting at least an even break with the Cork midfield and the Reoscommon attack will be under pressure to deliver.   Frankie Dolan had a great second half against Meath and his experience and ability to pick up the breaking ball will be crucial. Ger Heneghan was a big improvement against Meath from the Monaghan game and he and Senan Kilbride will have to be more prominent on Sunday. Jonathan Dunning faces a big challenge as he will be marked by the hugely-talented Graham Canty.   For people who really enjoy the psychological side of sport it doesn’t come better than this game. On one hand we have a young Roscommon team who  are on an upward curve, facing a Cork side who will be bursting to show that they have put all their many problems behind them.    Roscommon team management, county board officials and supporters are understandably angry at the daft decision to award Meath and Dublin two points each because of the Cork strike, which could be crucial when the final table standings are decided. But that’s an argument that will take place another day.    It may be only a league game but the stakes here are so high that it is almost a championship game in terms of importance – for both sides. The weather will play its part too. The hope will be that it is a dry day similar to the weather we had when Roscommon played Meath as a dry sod suits this young Roscommon team.   This is a game that Cork will have targetted to win to help stave off relegation. Roscommon will have to display the kind of drive that they did against Meath if they want to win.   It is a very hard game to call but I have a feeling that Roscommon are a better side than Cork think they are and that the Munster men could get the shock of their lives if Roscommon tear into the Rebels they way they did against Meath.   I hope that John Maughan’s men can carry on from the display against Meath. If they do, and ignore the media hype which is sure to be a factor, they will win this mouth-watering clash at Kiltoom where there should be an electric atmosphere again. Two points would put Roscommon in a very good position heading into their final four games in the division. Prediction: Roscommon to win narrowly.  Bookies odds: Roscommon 15/8, Cork 8/15; Draw 8/1.