Seamus Duke talks to Roscommon manager Anthony Cunningham
So now we know what’s ahead of Roscommon in the 2019 Super 8s. At least the powers that be have acknowledged that the winners of the provincial championships should be rewarded by having their first game at home. Until last Saturday evening Roscommon were unsure of who they would be meeting in that opening fixture. Now we know it’s Tyrone. It’s actually the same first fixture as Roscommon had last year. However, this year it’s in Dr. Hyde Park and there is a crackle of excitement around the county as the Rossies prepare to welcome Mickey Harte’s team into our own backyard.
Anthony Cunningham is one of the most under-stated team managers that I have dealt with in my time covering Roscommon GAA. He is incredibly passionate about what he is doing and is at home coaching players and overseeing matches. He prefers just to get on with it and strikes me as a man who hasn’t much time for a lot of the hoopla that surrounds big occasions nowadays, with the massive media scrutiny that’s involved.
But he is never less than cooperative and friendly and when I spoke to him last Sunday his enthusiasm at the prospect of getting started in the Super 8s was very evident. “We can’t wait for it, to be honest” were his opening words.
“We took a short break after winning the Connacht final…we had two very hard weeks of training and now the lads are just resting and preparing for Saturday. Everyone is looking forward to this massive challenge starting on this weekend. We are ready to go again now” he said.
“Conor Devaney is definitely out but we might see him again before we are finished this campaign. Ultan (Harney) is out long term but everyone else is fine”.
Cunningham is well aware of the challenge that Tyrone will bring on Saturday. “Tyrone are a formidable side. We saw that last Saturday (against Cavan) and remember that they were in the All-Ireland final last September. They have a team full of experienced top class inter-county players so we know what we are facing” he said.
“They have reverted to the system that they have had in recent years. They defend in numbers and then break quickly and there are always players coming off the shoulder ready to run hard and set up attacks. It’s been very successful for them over the years and we have to come up with a plan to match that.
“But we are going into the game in a confident mood. Winning the Connacht Championship the way we did has given us great confidence and it is huge to have our first Super 8 game at home. It goes without saying that we will be targeting a win to set us up for the rest of the campaign and make no mistake our aim is to beat Tyrone on Saturday.
“It’s very exciting to be at this stage of the competition. They don’t call it the Super 8s for nothing. The best eight teams in the country are left at this stage. We have games to follow against Dublin and Cork so it doesn’t get any easier. But we will concentrate on Tyrone first.
The Roscommon manager continued: “We are expecting a huge Roscommon following in Hyde Park on Saturday. The fans have been magnificent so far and I know they will be there in huge numbers on Saturday and hopefully we will give them plenty to shout about.
“The players feel that they have unfinished business after what happened last year. They feel that they just didn’t do themselves justice and they want to put that right. It would be great to put that right against Tyrone on Saturday.
“It’s a very exciting start to the campaign and I have to say I can’t wait for it. It’s a huge challenge for sure but that’s what we are here for and we will relish it. The players have been magnificent and have worked hard and we will be going all out for a win. I know it won’t be easy but with the home crowd behind us we feel we can go out and produce a big performance and set us up for a trip to Croke Park the following weekend” he concluded.