O’Neill likely to be on the bench on Sunday

Roscommon and neighbours Longford renew rivalry in the National Football League Division 2A for the third year in a row at Hyde Park on Sunday next in an encounter that is a championship game in all but name as both sides bid to tighten  their grip on one of the top two places in the Division behind the leaders Monaghan.   Such is the interest in this game that a crowd of 4,000 to 5,000 people is expected to attend as John Maughan’s men do battle with Luke Dempsey’s team who are one of the most improved in the country and a team who will provide a major challenge to Roscommon on Sunday.   The pre-match speculation is that Seamus O’Neill is recovering from his hamstring strain but is unlikely to start — however he could play some part in the game which would be good news for Roscommon given his influence on the team.   Roscommon team manager John Maughan is looking forward  to Sunday’s game despite the injury to O’Neill and the continuing absence of Derek Connellan.   ‘We know we didn’t play well the last day against Carlow but we are really looking forward to this big game now’ he told me this week.    ‘It’s virtually a knockout game and there will be a big crowd and a great atmosphere and those are the type of games that players want to play in’ he said.    ‘There has been a real positive buzz at training this week and I am very confident that we will do well on Sunday. Longford are an excellent side and will be a very hard team to beat but I think we can do it’ Maughan concluded.   Longford come to Roscommon on Sunday having beaten Leitrim in the last round by seven points. They played very poorly in the first half of that game but improved considerably in the second half.    Roscommon’s team will surely be along the same lines as that which started against Carlow. The defence was under pressure for long spells of the second half in that game so they will need to play far better next Sunday against a very good Longford attack which will feature the Bardens, Brian Kavanagh and Padraig Davis.   Michael Kilillea looks like he will be retained at full-back with both John Nolans featuring in the half-back line. Sean Purcell, Seanie McDermott and Stuart Daly should complete the defensive line-up.   David Casey and Michael Finneran were in midfield the last day and they faded after a good start. Seamie O’Neill will surely join the fray if he is needed here at some stage but he is unlikely to start.   Up front Gary Cox and John Tiernan will be the wing half-forwards while Karol Mannion will be hoping that he can re- produce the form that saw him score three goals against Longford in last year’s game in Pearse Park.   David Hoey and the excellent Cathal Cregg are the likely corner-forwards with Ger Heneghan again at full-forward. This is a fascinating game the winner of which will be in pole position to claim that all-important second place.   The key to the outcome  lies in the battle at midfield. If Seamie O’Neill is not fit to start Roscommon could be under pressure and Michael Finneran and David Casey will have to produce the goods against Liam Keenan and Bernard McIlvenney.   I think the outcome comes down to that conundrum. If Roscommon can get an even break at midfield they have the attackers to get enough scores to win the game. However if Longford hold sway in the centre then Paul Barden and Brian Kavanagh in particular will make Roscommon pay dearly. Both are class forwards and will have to be watched carefully.   I think that given a dry day this could be a great game between the neighbours. Roscommon have the indian sign over Longford in recent years and I have a feeling that despite Luke Dempsey’s men being a much-improved outfit Roscommon will do enough to scrape home. One thing is for certain, a repeat of the level of performance that we witnesssed in Carlow will mean certain defeat — however the players will know that themsleves.   With two more vital games to go after Sunday it promises to be a hectic three weeks for all teams in the Division. Round one next Sunday!