Fergal O’Donnell has many links to Connacht Senior Championship success in the recent history of Roscommon football. He captained Roscommon to win the Connacht Championship in 2001 – and that was the last year that Roscommon beat either Galway or Mayo in the provincial championship (they beat both counties that famous year).
Then in 2010, the year of Roscommon’s last senior provincial success, Fergal was the manager as the team overcame Sligo at McHale Park.
Having rejoined the senior squad as joint manager with Kevin McStay, Fergal is hoping that the six-year gap can be bridged on Sunday. Fergal says that Mayo’s defeat by Galway shows that anything can happen in the championship.
“Most people were saying this year that Roscommon would get to the Connacht final easily, yet at half-time in the game against Sligo it didn’t look that way – and similarly Mayo were looking good at half-time against Galway, but Galway were better in the second half…those things happen in the championship.
“Galway and Mayo are the big two in Connacht and we knew that we would have to beat one of them to win a title – and now it’s Galway instead of Mayo.”
So does the focus change now that it’s Galway in the opposite corner in the final?
“Not really, our sole focus was to get to the Connacht final and we did that a week earlier and the lads were gone back to their clubs so we didn’t really think too much about it. The big difference about the final now is that both teams would reckon that they have a chance to win it. Mayo were the dominant team for the past five or six years and now the question is who is ready to step up: is it us or Galway?”
There is a perception out there that Roscommon are weak in the midfield area and we saw in their win over Mayo that Galway, with Paul Conroy and Tom Flynn dominating around the centre, are very strong in that area, so are the Roscommon management making special plans in that area for the final?
“We are short a lot of lads who played in those positions last year – like Cathal Shine and Kevin Higgins and others for various reasons – but we are happy with the way David Keenan and Niall Daly played against Sligo. Look, we know that we will have a big task against Conroy and Flynn, but it was going to be tough regardless of who we played and we will be taking a closer look at that in the run-up to the game.”
Fergal says that the Roscommon supporters will have a crucial role to play on Sunday.
“It’s been a while since we have been in Salthill for a game and it’s not an easy place to get in and out of but we would be saying to people to come in time. Hopefully conditions will be good. Sometimes there is a breeze in Salthill but we are hoping that the supporters are there in force and that we give them plenty to shout about.”
Fergal says that it is a tough ask to win the title, but that he is looking forward to the big day.
“Galway have pulled out a great win against Mayo and that will give them confidence, but we had a very good win against Sligo too, considering where we were at half-time. There is a lot of talk about our underage success but Galway have won two All-Ireland U-21 titles and a minor title in the past decade and we are looking at this as a 50/50 game. It is game that we can win, for sure, but it will take a massive effort to beat Galway and if we don’t play to out potential we will struggle. But if we can get a performance I would be very hopeful of a win,” he concluded.