Castlebar holds no fear for improving Rossies







Allianz National Football League Division One (Round 1) 

Mayo v Roscommon at MacHale Park on Saturday at 7 pm

Three months ago the thoughts of Roscommon having to start their league campaign in MacHale Park was not a very appetising prospect. In fact, such is the dismal record that the Rossies have at the venue it couldn’t have been a much tougher start. Down at least eight prominent players from 2018, supporters (and pundits) were fearful of what might happen.

  However, since Anthony Cunningham, Mark Dowd and Iain Daly have taken the reins they  and the players have worked really hard to stiffen up Roscommon’s defence and on the evidence we have seen so far great work has been done in that regard.

  While no one is predicting a Roscommon victory, the team will be much harder to score against and to beat too and that is a great platform from which to work for the future. I am expecting Roscommon to give Mayo a tough game and that would give the panel of players great heart going forward.

  I spent some time chatting to Mayo GAA people this week for the preview and the word is that James Horan will be picking his strongest team for this fixture. Mayo lost their three home games in the league in 2018 and it almost cost them their place in Division One. Horan is also giving youth a chance and Michael Plunkett, Conor Diskin and Fionn McDonagh are expected to feature on Saturday.

  Of course many of the tried and trusted are still there. The full-back line of Brendan Harrison, Keith Higgins and Colm Boyle are a proven unit. Lee Keegan is returning to fitness and will surely feature at some stage. Jason Doherty will probably lead the attack with the impressive Brian Reape at full-forward. Reape has been playing great football so far this year and will have to be marked very closely. Cillian O’Connor and Andy Moran are unlikely to feature.

  The Roscommon line-up will be close to that which did so well in Tuam last Sunday. Hopefully Sean Mullooly will be back in contention for a place but in his absence Conor Daly can deputise. Niall Daly is returning to his best form at centre half-back while Tadgh O’Rourke and Enda Smith will have a battle ahead of them at midfield. It was also good to see Davy Murray back in business last weekend and Gary Patterson and Conor Hussey also did well.

  Up front Roscommon will have to be sharp and it was great to see Donie Smith return to his best form last Sunday. Roscommon need him firing on all cylinders on Saturday night. Ciarán Lennon and Cathal Cregg will have vital roles to play and Colin Compton has been a welcome addition to the attack.

  I am not expecting a football classic this Saturday night but I am expecting a tough battle in front of a huge crowd of at least 15,000 people. But I will repeat that Roscommon supporters will have to be patient. It is unrealistic to expect that the team can win at places like MacHale Park having done just a couple of months work under the new management.

  But from dreading going to MacHale Park a few months ago I am now looking forward to it. It may not be a win but it’s a performance we are looking for and I think we will get that.

Prediction: Mayo