Roscommon ready for daunting Mayo date

Connacht SFC semi-final:
Roscommon v Mayo in Dr Hyde Park on Sunday at 4 pm

Enda Smith, in action here against Mayo during their Allianz NFL Division One match back in March, is the linchpin of Roscommon’s midfield and will play a big part in Sunday’s championship game. Pic: Bernie O’Farrell

Despite the fact that the provincial championships are now a sideshow in terms of the race for Sam Maguire (and the Tailteann Cup), any time Roscommon and Mayo meet, regardless of the competition, it is an occasion to savour.

Roscommon have won twice in Castlebar in the championship in recent years but it is 23 years ago since the home side beat their great rivals at Dr Hyde Park in Connacht. Bridging that gap would bring great satisfaction to Roscommon players and followers alike.

From a Mayo perspective, the defeat they suffered in Castlebar in 2023 still hurts, and they will want revenge for that loss this weekend. Kevin McStay knows that a provincial title would mean a slightly easier programme of fixtures in the round robin series later on in the championship, and he will be fielding a very strong team on Sunday.

Following a poor league campaign, Davy Burke will be anxious to put that disappointment behind Roscommon, so a win against Mayo would be the perfect tonic.

I believe Roscommon will line-out as expected. Conor Carroll will be between the posts. Brian Stack, Davy Murray, Eoin McCormack and Niall Daly look certainties in defence, with Niall Higgins, Conor Hussey and Paddy Gavin are others in line for a start in the rearguard.

Midfield is a conundrum for Roscommon. If Ultan Harney is fit then he starts. The same would apply to Keith Doyle, but he may he kept in reserve after coming back from injury. Enda Smith would also be in line for a midfield berth.

Up front, Diarmuid Murtagh, Donie Smith, Daire Cregg, Ruaidhri Fallon and Ronan Daly look certain starters, with Dylan Ruane, Conor Cox, James Fitzpatrick and Ciaran Lennon also in with a chance of starting.

A clue to the Mayo line-up came in The Bronx two weeks ago when they easily defeated New York in the quarter-final.

In defence, Rory Brickendon, Jack Coyne and the impressive Sam Callinan are the men in possession of the jerseys, and they look certain to start. Team captain Paddy Durcan, Stephen Coen and Eoghan McLoughlin also look certain to line up in what is an impressive Mayo half-back line.

At midfield, former full-back David McBrien and Matthew Ruane look the likely partnership, while up front Fergal Boland has been very impressive since his return to the team. The Mayo talisman in attack is now Ryan O’Donoghue. Aidan O’Shea is still a very effective performer, while Tommy Conroy and Jack Carney have also been prominent for Mayo in recent months. Mayo have Cillian O’Connor, Darren McHale, Enda Hession and Padraig O’Hora (to name just a few)  to call on from the bench so it looks a strong outfit.

Mayo will try to impose their style on proceedings and will hope to win the midfield battle, but Roscommon are in this game with a real chance if they go about their business in the right way. If they can hold the Mayo attack then a home win can be on the cards.

I just hope that Roscommon are not as conservative in their style of play as they were for many of their league games. They have a number of very talented attackers who can score, and the team will have to get the ball into those players quicker and more directly than we have seen so far this year.

At a newly-refurbished Dr Hyde Park, there could be 20,000 people present on Sunday to see the latest clash of the rivals. It would be fantastic to see another Roscommon win, but Mayo look to have a stronger panel overall. They were slightly more convincing in the league and have the benefit of a championship game under their belts already. I think the visitors will win it by two or three points.

Prediction: Mayo.