Roscommon ready to rise on Easter Sunday

Allianz National Football League Division One: Roscommon v Mayo on Sunday at Dr Hyde Park at 3.30 pm

One of the biggest league games in many years will take place at Dr Hyde Park on Sunday when Roscommon host old rivals Mayo in a game that is sure to draw a huge crowd.

  Before the league started, the conventional wisdom was that Roscommon would probably be heading into this game needing something to avoid relegation, while Mayo would be flying high at the top of the table.

  As we now know, the opposite is the case. Roscommon are safe from relegation and in the semi-finals with two rounds to spare, and it is Mayo who will come to Roscommon needing a win in the battle to avoid the drop to Division Two.

  It means that we are set for an absorbing battle, and when you add in the traditional local rivalry and the fact that Roscommon joint manager Kevin McStay and selector Liam McHale were rejected by their home county only last year, it adds more spice to a match which could be a classic.

  Given the performance we saw in Letterkenny two weeks ago, I am not surprised to learn that there is only one change in the Roscommon starting fifteen for Sunday’s game, with Enda Smith coming in for Ronan Stack. Geoffrey Claffey played well and deserves his start between the posts, with the established trio of Seanie McDermott, Neil Collins and Niall McInerney manning the full-back line positions. Seanie Purcell was excellent at centre half-back against Donegal while Davy Murray and Conor Daly are chosen as wing half-backs.

  Niall Daly and Enda Smith look a very strong midfield partnership, although Ian Kilbride is back in contention after recovering from injury and is included in the subs. He will be valuable back-up. Fintan Cregg, Ciaran Murtagh and Conor Devaney were all excellent in the half-forward line and will start again while Senan Kilbride, Cian Connolly and Cathal Cregg will start in the full-forward line.

  It will be interesting to see whether the management team will opt to use some of the U-21 stars on the panel with the Connacht Final coming up the following Saturday evening. It will also be interesting to see if Mayo will be able to cope with Roscommon’s all-action running and possession game.

  Mayo will be able to call on the Castlebar contingent after their disappointing loss in the All-Ireland club final on St. Patrick’s Day, and I presume that Barry Moran, Tom Cunniffe and Patrick Durkan will be in contention for starting spots.

  Despite the fact that Mayo have only two points on the board so far, they have played very well in their last three games – against Donegal, Monaghan and Kerry – and they are certainly improving as the year goes on. They have a magnificent record in Division One and they will not want to be in a relegation battle. They have to win this game against Roscommon and their final game against Down the following week to give them a fighting chance of avoiding the drop.

   Then of course there is the little matter of laying down a marker with a view to any possible clash between the two counties later in the year.

  Mayo have some fantastic players to call on, men who have become household names over the past few years. Rob Hennelly, Ger Cafferky, Lee Keegan, Colm Boyle, Donie Vaughan, Tom Parsons, Diarmuid O’Connor, Jason Doherty, Kevin McLoughlin, Andy Moran and of course Aidan O’Shea have all been there and ‘done that’ over the past five years as Mayo have dominated Connacht football. They will not want to give Roscommon any bragging rights and will be determined to prevail here, for a number of reasons.

  The need for Mayo to win this game might tilt the verdict in their favour, but there is a buoyancy about Roscommon football right now that is sure to be there again on Sunday and, in front of a huge home crowd, Roscommon will not want to lose. It is as close to a championship game as you will get at this time of the year. There should be a magnificent atmosphere. Mayo are a top class team and they have been so over the past five years. It is another huge test for Roscommon. It is a test that this Roscommon team can pass, but it will be close.

Match odds: Roscommon 5/4 v Mayo 4/5; Draw 7/1.

Prediction: Roscommon, by a point or two.