Roscommon can Galway in battle outgun of Salthill

Connacht SFC Final: Galway v Roscommon at Pearse Stadium, Salthill on Sunday at 2 pm

Roscommon senior footballers can continue a highly successful season by capturing the Nestor Cup for the 23rd time when they play Galway at Pearses Stadium on Sunday. It’s a decider that few were predicting but Galway’s win against Mayo has set up a final pairing that hasn’t happened in the province since a draw and replay (won by Galway) in 1998.

  Convincing arguments can be made for both sides ahead of Sunday’s clash. That makes it a difficult game to call. On the Roscommon side, a magnificent league campaign was tainted somewhat by poor displays against Mayo and Kerry, although to have retained their Division One status with two rounds to spare was a significant achievement.

  The poor performance, and the fact that everything could have come to a shuddering halt in New York, is now a distant memory, but a reminder that this team is still in its development under Fergal O’Donnell and Kevin McStay.

  A comprehensive win against a very poor Leitrim side did not answer any questions as to how far Roscommon could go in the championship. Then, in the semi-final, an impressive second half rescued what might have been another shock defeat to Sligo.

  Roscommon are where they want to be. The question now is: Can they go one step further and win this title on Sunday?

  Of course the answer is yes, but it will not be easy, and Roscommon will have to return to the flowing, running, possession game that we saw in the games against Cork and Donegal in the league and in the second half against Sligo. The attackers are there to get the scores, but, as anyone who follows football knows, forwards cannot score if they are not getting the ball.

  Roscommon’s woes at midfield are well-known and it is an area where Galway are particularly strong. Knowing Kevin McStay and Fergal O’Donnell and his selectors, I am sure they will have a game plan drawn up with that in mind for Sunday.

  Neil Collins (out through injury) is a huge loss and it will be interesting to see who will be picked at full-back for Sunday’s game. Sean Mullooly, Niall McInerney and Niall Carty are the contenders for that vital spot. Carty could return. Whoever gets the nod will have a tough job marking the excellent Damien Comer.

  Geoffrey Claffey will have to ensure that the kick-outs are spot-on. It is such a vital part of top class football now. Seanie McDermott, Niall McInerney, John McManus, Davy Murray and David Keenan will all have vital roles to play, and don’t be surprised to see Davy Murray picking up the other Galway dangerman, Shane Walsh.

  Midfield is the big conundrum for Roscommon. On the basis that the selectors are not keen to make too many changes, I expect to see Niall Daly there, with Cathal Compton or Enda Smith for company. It is likely that Cathal Shine will be kept in reserve.

  Up front, the options are more clear-cut. Conor Devaney, Fintan Cregg, Ciaráin Murtagh, Cathal Cregg, Senan Kilbride, Donie Shine and Donie Smith all have big claims for a starting spot, with Diarmuid Murtagh also back in training after his injury. It’s a formidable looking attack that can deliver the match-winning scores it they get enough possession.

  Galway have arrived in this final after a sensational win against Mayo. They are exceptionally strong at midfield, where Paul Conroy and Tom Flynn are a very impressive combination. Galway look vulnerable in the full-back line, where Eoghan Kerin and David Wynne made their competitive debuts against Mayo. In the half-back line, Gary O’Donnell and Gareth Bradshaw are experienced campaigners and Bradshaw loves to attack when he can.

  Up front, Damien Comer and Shane Walsh are the key men. Both are outstanding footballers. Gary Sice brings more experience to the Galway attack, while Eamon Branigan, Danny Cummins and Johnny Heaney are as yet unproven.

  The weather could also be a factor, and it is very seldom that there is not a significant breeze in Pearse Stadium. Long-standing Roscommon fans will not need me to remind them that since the refurbishment of Pearse Stadium, the Rossies have not won a championship match there at senior level. These records are always there to be broken, but tradition still plays a big part in these big games.

  Roscommon will have to get their match-ups correct and the way to win this game is to be positive and drive at Galway every time they can. A defensive battle will suit Galway, and that’s why they beat Mayo.

  Despite the provincial championships being much maligned, a Connacht title success is still a huge prize and we have not grasped that prize that many times over the years in Roscommon. The lads who go out in the Primrose and Blue on Sunday can write their names into Roscommon GAA folklore if they can win this title.

  It is a game that Roscommon are well capable of winning, but they must ensure that the attack gets enough ball to get the scores that they need. Galway are a county that traditionally plays good open attractive football so I would be hoping that we will see the two teams going head to head.

  I am not convinced that this is a super Galway team and they caught Mayo on a very bad day in the semi-final. They have good players all over their team, but I have a doubt about their defence, and, on the basis that Roscommon are capable of putting up a big score, I am going for a narrow win for the Rossies.

Match odds: Galway 10/11 v Roscommon 11/10; Draw 15/2.

Prediction: Roscommon, by two points.

3 KEY AREAS ON SUNDAY

* Midfield masters? Roscommon have been weak at midfield all year, but as injured players are returning, the options open to Kevin McStay and Fergal O’Donnell are increasing.

  Paul Conroy and Tom Flynn are a formidable pairing and Roscommon will need at least an even break in this vital area.

  Niall Daly will probably start – and he has been effective all year – but who will his partner be? Enda Smith, Cathal Compton and Cathal Shine are all options.

 * Centres of attention: Whoever is chosen here for Roscommon will have the unenviable task of marking the excellent Shane Walsh. He didn’t play that well against Mayo, but is a class act. David Keenan, Davy Murray, Seanie Purcell, John McManus or even Niall Daly could be handed that marking job. If Walsh can be frustrated, then Galway’s attacking threat will be lessened considerably.

* Full-back focus: With Neil Collins out, Roscommon will be calling on either Niall Carty, Niall McInerney or Sean Mullooly to shadow the very dangerous Damien Comer. All three Roscommon players will be well acquainted with Comer from college and underage games in the past. He is a dangerous attacker who has a knack of scoring vital goals. – SD