There are so many unknowns attached to this fascinating replay on Monday next that credible analysis could go out the window as these two great rivals meet once again to decide who will play Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final.
If any Roscommon supporter was told on Sunday morning last that the full-forward line would misfire and that our most talented player, Enda Smith, would be out of the game for long periods then a heavy defeat would have been the confident prediction. But, as we now know, other heroes emerged as Roscommon battled their way to a deserved draw. It’s the nature and beauty of championship football.
So many questions need to be answered in this game. The collective wisdom of the national pundits is that Mayo played poorly and will complete the job on Monday, but I don’t see it that way. I reckon that there is huge room for improvement in Roscommon from last week.
From a Mayo point of view, they were solid in defence and they had aces in the pack in Lee Keegan – who remains Mayo’s biggest attacking threat – Paddy Durcan, and Colm Boyle. I presume Keegan will be played in the half-back line in the replay and Kevin McStay will have to devise some sort of a strategy to curb the multi-talented Westport man. Keegan is undoubtedly Mayo’s most potent attacking threat.
Mayo will most likely start Tom Parsons at midfield and they will hope for better showings from Aidan O’Shea and Cillian O’Connor, who are talismans for their team. Andy Moran is usually worth at least two or three points and Conor Loftus and Diarmuid O’Connor remain a big threat. This is a Mayo team that will be hoping that their incredible resolve and reserves of experience can pull them through another big championship encounter – but they have to be nearing the end of the road.
Roscommon have much to work on too. In that frantic second half, while their workrate was huge, there were many mistakes made and the ball was carried into contact and lost far too often. Many Roscommon players took the wrong option late in the game and instead of recycling possession they ran up a blind alley or were dispossessed. Kevin McStay will be hoping for a huge improvement in that area of performance on Monday. If it is forthcoming, Roscommon are in with a huge chance.
The Roscommon defence looked strong last weekend but they will have to remain focussed for the entire game on Monday. A number of times in the first half last Sunday Mayo players were allowed to run straight through the middle and that could prove fatal with the likes of Lee Keegan and Cillian O’Connor around.
Roscommon will have to get a grip on the midfield duel and I would persist with Enda Smith and Tadgh O’Rourke there. Fintan Cregg is an option too. Niall Kilroy will continue in his role as the ‘spare man’ and his workrate and clever use of possession is so vital to this Roscommon team.
Roscommon will also need the likes of the Murtaghs, Cian Connolly and Donie Smith to perform and get vital scores. Mayo’s use of Ger Cafferkey and Keith Higgins to stop Diarmuid Murtagh paid off most of the time last Sunday but Roscommon will need Murtagh to prosper if they are to win it.
Roscommon’s kick-outs were good last Sunday and every bit of spare possession will be so vital. Roscommon will have to show the same hunger and intensity that they displayed last Sunday and take the game to Mayo from the first whistle. They have the youth, pace and intensity to do it.
The Roscommon players now know that they can cope with the big day in Croke Park; the pressure, the atmosphere and playing in such surroundings. They will have learned so much from last Sunday that will stand them in good stead this weekend. Of course you have to have a bit of luck in any big game and hopefully that will be on Roscommon’s side this weekend.
Mayo are a magnificent team and they have marvellous players all over the field but how often can they go to the well in terms of the huge effort and intensity that it takes to win these big championship games? One thing is for certain, Roscommon will not be standing back. They know that this is a great chance to beat one of their fiercest rivals and get to an All-Ireland semi-final.
I am expecting another titanic struggle between these two teams on Monday and of course things will happen that no-one will have predicted and in a lot of cases those things will have a huge influence on the outcome. Anthony Nolan is the referee and he will bring a different emphasis to proceedings for sure. I know the rules are the same for every referee and team but different referees concentrate on different elements of the play so both sides will have to be aware of that too. Joe McQuillan let a lot go last Sunday but Nolan could be much stricter.
I saw a lot of jersey pulling off the ball last Sunday – mostly by Mayo players – and it was something that was penalised a lot in the Connacht final. It will be interesting to see if Anthony Nolan picks up on that on Monday. I know that it’s all part of championship football, but it’s against the rules too.
Last week I predicted that Roscommon would win and I am more convinced than ever that they can do it on Monday. There is huge improvement in this young and hungry Roscommon team and if they can get going in attack we have the players on the field and the management on the line to get us through by a point or two.
Match odds: Mayo 1-2; Roscommon 9/4; Draw 8/1.