Once more into battle

It would have been very easy for Fergal O’Donnell and his selectors to bow out last September. Their place in the annals of Roscommon GAA had been assured. The Tom Markham Cup was in the possession of David Flynn, over 16,000 Rossie fans had taken over the town of Ennis to see the famous All-Ireland replay win against Kerry while 15,000 more waited in the pouring rain to welcome the cup home on a never-to-be-forgotten night.   However after an endless round of functions, celebrations and presentations Fergal met with his selectors and after a number of the players who were underage again this year pleaded with Fergal to stay he decided to give it another year. Fergal told The People in an interview two months ago that he loves the coaching end of looking after players, rather than the glory of winning championships.   ‘If we can leave them better players than when we took them over then we have done a good job’ he told me last May.    This Saturday evening Fergal his selectors and most importantly the 2007 Roscommon minor team face a massive challenge from Mayo in the Connacht semi-final. The excitement and glory of 2006 is well and truly over and Fergal knows that only too well. It’s a new year and there are new challenges.   I spoke to him earlier this week about Saturday’s big game and about the Roscommon minor team of 2007. The first priority this year was for the team to get out of the three-team round robin competition between Roscommon, Leitrim amd Sligo which was introduced this year much to the annoyance of Fergal and the Roscommon team management at the time. They just had to get on with it.   ‘Our first priority was to make sure we did enough to get out of that group and we did that but we were lucky to have got a draw against Leitrim the first day but we played much better against Sligo in the second game’ Fergal told me.    There has been a long gap since the last game but Fergal says that the training has gone fairly well in the interim.    ‘The training has gone well but the Leaving Cert is always a consideration and guys are very tired after doing exams and we have to take that into consideration. However most of the guys finished last Thursday or Friday which is a big bonus.’   There is mixed news on the injury front ahead of Saturday night’s game. ‘Donie Shine is back with the panel and we are delighted about that but he is not match fit which is a pity because he gives us a great presence but we will have to see how he goes. However Niall Carty is out altogether. He was coming back from his knee injury but he has had a setback so that’s it for him and it’s a real pity because he is a great player and a huge loss. We have another worry too as Jack Sharkey is now doubtful after sustaining an injury last Thursday night in training so we will have to hope that he will be able to take a full part.’   Fergal is very happy with the effort that the players have put in. ‘The guys have been top class. I couldn’t have asked for any more. We have trained hard and we have done all we can for this game’ he said.    Fergal knows what challenge lies ahead against a strong Mayo team. ‘Mayo will be very strong. I think they are stronger than they were last year and they will be coming to Hyde Park with all guns blazing espcecially after we beat them last year.’   The manager is slightly worried that this year’s Roscommon minor team are conceding more scores than he would like. ‘We have been conceding more scores than I would like and we will have to ensure that doesn’t happen on Saturday. Last year we weathered any storm that came about in the various games and I want us to be able to do that again. You need to do that to survive’ he said.    Fergal is confident that Roscommon will be competitive. ‘Look, you cannot really forecast what’s going to happen until the game is well into the first half but we are really hopeful that we can give a good account of ourselves but in these games you need a little luck as well as skill and determination so we will have to see how it goes.    ‘It’s a pity that we have had a few injuries and we would be very strong if we had everyone fully fit but we have to play the hand we are dealt and hopefully it will be good enough on Saturday evening. I’m looking forward to it’ concluded Fergie.   I don’t think any Roscommon fan would expect in their wildest dreams that the minor team could repeat what happened last year – however a win in the Connacht semi-final against Mayo is always a big achievement. Let’s hope that Fergie can lead his men into another Connacht final. A win over Mayo on Saturday evening and we can begin to dream again!!