In-form Mayo have momentum to edge Castlebar showdown

Connacht SFC Quarter-Final: Mayo v Roscommon at Hastings Insurance MacHale Park, Castlebar on Sunday at 4pm

Dylan Ruane (file pic)…likely to start for Roscommon against Mayo this weekend. Photo: Bernie O’Farrell

There is something special about a Connacht SFC game between Mayo and Roscommon. However, Roscommon diehards will know that our wins in the senior championship in Castlebar are as rare as hens’ teeth, and particularly in recent decades. In fact Fintan Cregg’s winning point in 2019 sealed Roscommon’s first win at MacHale Park in 33 years at that time.

Mayo confirmed their status as the best team in the league this spring with a hard-fought win against Galway in the National League final last Sunday.

Kevin McStay and his heavy duty management team have got a real tune out of the Mayo players since taking over and our neighbours are now being looked at as one of the favourites to win the Sam Maguire Cup this year. I would say that that kind of talk is a bit premature, but there is no doubt that they are going really well at the moment, and last Sunday’s league final win will give them huge momentum going into this match.

Roscommon have momentum too. Finishing third in Division One is a fantastic achievement for Davy Burke and his players. Roscommon have been ultra-competitive in the league this term. There was no more than a kick of the ball between the teams in any match that the Rossies played this year, a testament to the hard work Burke’s players have put in.

Davy Burke will have to re-jig midfield for this Sunday, given the absence of the injured Tadhg O’Rourke. Eddie Nolan is available again, but it may be too soon to risk him. Keith Doyle will probably start, but the big question is who will partner him?

Roscommon have a lot of talented attackers and it will be a difficult task to settle on a starting sextet. My choice would be the two Murtaghs, Enda Smith, Ben O’Carroll, Cian McKeon and Daire Cregg. There are plenty of other options with the likes of Niall Kilroy, Conor Cox, Ciaran Lennon and Donie Smith all chomping at the bit for game time. All are top class players.

The options in defence are not as numerous. Brian Stack, Conor Daly and Niall Daly will definitely play, while Davy Murray, Conor Hussey and Dylan Ruane should also start, with Richard Hughes in contention for a recall and Eoin McCormack in the frame too.

While Mayo are strong all over the field, their full-forward line of Aidan O’Shea, James Carr and Ryan O’Donoghue is particularly potent. All three pose a major threat. Mayo are also doing well at midfield where Diarmuid O’Connor and Matthew Ruane have been dominating.

I give Roscommon a great chance on Sunday given how competitive they have been all season. That said, Mayo have to be favourites.

A loss would not be a disaster for Roscommon as long as they produce a performance. It’s probably heresy to say it, but the provincial championships have been downgraded under this new championship system. At the end of the day one’s championship prospects will have much to do with what other three teams are in the round-robin group in May and June.

The days of the fierce rivalry between Roscommon and Mayo and indeed the other Connacht counties are numbered if the authorities persist with the new format. That said, would Roscommon take a win on Sunday? Absolutely! I fancy Mayo to win by three or four points.

Prediction: Mayo.