The most used phrase among Roscommon supporters this week after the Tyrone game is ‘some change in a year’ – and although the team are travelling to Croke Park to face the all-conquering champions on Saturday, there is a feel-good factor about this match in the county that certainly wasn’t there this time last year.
In fact, most Rossies were dreading the match against the Dubs in 2018 and those fears were realised with a 14-point defeat in what was a ‘dead-rubber’. This year, following some outstanding displays, the team can go to Croker with the pressure off and have a real cut at the champions.
How to deal with this match tactically is a dilemma for Anthony Cunningham and his backroom team. Cork showed last weekend that there are scores to be got by running at this Dublin defence and the Rebels gave it a right old lash for almost 60 minutes of the game. However, the reality is that they were beaten by 13 points in the end.
The problem with playing the Dubs is that they are relentless. They keep to their game plan and eventually they wear the opposition out. When they empty their bench in the last quarter of matches it is a frightening prospect for any team, and that was the reality for Cork last Saturday night. Dublin brought on Dean Rock, Kevin McManamon, James McCarthy, Jonny Cooper, Eoin Murchan and Paddy Small, all guys who would get on most inter-county teams around the country.
One thing is for certain: if you play the Dubs 15 against 15 they will eventually wear you down with their constant movement and athleticism, but if you go too defensive they will just play in front of you and wait until the scoring opportunities come up. They can play it either way, thus the tactical dilemma.
The three most influential players on the Dublin team are Stephen Cluxton, Jack McCaffrey and Brian Fenton, and that was seen to full effect again last Saturday evening. Cluxton is the conductor of the orchestra and his kick-outs are key to their success, while McCaffrey and Fenton are arguably the two best outfield players in the country at the moment.
The goal that Fenton scored against Cork after a 50-metre pass into his chest from McCaffrey was one of the best that I have ever seen in championship football. That’s what Roscommon have to deal with on Saturday.
But this is a great chance for Roscommon to go and play with abandon. It is worth saying that Roscommon have not conceded a goal in this year’s championship, which is a tribute to the great work being done in defence by Darren O’Malley in goal, the Daly brothers, Davy Murray, Sean Mullooly and Conor Hussey. Dublin will have to work hard for any score they get.
The picture for Roscommon in this group will become clearer after the opening game when Cork play Tyrone, but the bottom line here is that Dublin will want to win this in order to prevent them needing a win in Omagh in their final game to qualify for the last four. Roscommon need to win to get back into the competition.
Last year, I was dreading Roscommon going to Croker to face Dublin. This time I am really looking forward to it. It’s probably a bit too much to expect Roscommon to win against a team that is being talked about as the greatest of all time, but it will be interesting to see how much of a test they can provide for the champions.
If Cork can be in the game with ten or twelve minutes to go against the Dubs then there is no reason why Roscommon cannot do the same. We will be shouting for Cork in the opener and hopefully we will still be in the championship after Saturday night – one way or the other. Roscommon will be looking for a good performance, but a win is unlikely.