Rossies limber up for championship opener


Connacht SFC Semi-Final Roscommon v Leitrim on Sunday in Dr Hyde Park at 3.30 pm

Roscommon will become the final county to line out in the All-Ireland SFC when they will be the long odds-on favourites to beat Leitrim in the Connacht semi-final at Dr Hyde Park on Sunday. Looking at the formbook and both teams on paper, Roscommon should win with a bit to spare but this is championship football and Leitrim will enter the contest with very little expectation and that’s always a danger.

  All you have to do is to look at the way that Carlow denied Dublin any space or time in their game and the way Clare gave Kerry plenty to think about last Sunday too. Waterford should probably have beaten Cork as well, so there are plenty of warnings in there for Kevin McStay’s team as they approach this game. Any signs of complacency will be punished by Leitrim who would dearly love to come to Hyde Park and cause a major shock.

  The Roscommon team is along expected lines with John McManus and Sean Mullooly manning the vital positions at three and six. Tadgh O’Rourke and Enda Smith will form the vital midfield pairing and are an untried combination at championship level. Both are excellent footballers but they will have to produce on Sunday against a very impressive Leitrim pairing of Shane and Damien Moran. Roscommon will be hoping that their attack can prosper against the Leitrim defence and the Murtaghs, Donie Smith and Fintan Cregg should be able to get the scores that will be required.  

  Leitrim were lucky to have emerged from the game with London with a win but that clash will have brought them on a ton and especially that they came from two points down with only ten minutes to play to win it. With the wily John O’Mahony assisting Benny Guckian on the Leitrim management team, this is a dangerous assignment for Roscommon if they do not bring their ‘A game’ to the table.

   The long gap between a disappointing league campaign and this championship game has meant that the Roscommon players and management have had a chance to leave that campaign behind and preparations have gone well according to Kevin McStay and his selectors. The team have put up good scores in recent challenge games but we know that form in challenge games is a very unreliable yardstick when it comes to the intensity of championship football.

  Kevin McStay said it himself at last week’s press night that this championship game is a ‘live or die’ situation for the management team and for the players too and he is right. Roscommon have spent the last two years in Division One and Leitrim have failed to get out of Division Four in that time. The formbook points only one way but it’s not as simple as that. Roscommon have got to go out and deliver a performance.

  Leitrim have a very inexperienced team and against London they had five debutants. Donal Wrynn is an inspirational captain at centre half-back and an excellent player too. Leitrim also have strength off the bench and Ronan Kennedy (who scored two goals against London), Noel Plunkett and Wayne McKeon all made valuable contributions when introduced.

  There may be weak areas in this Roscommon team but they are unlikely to be exposed on Sunday and they should be well able to deal with the challenge offered by Leitrim. It is time for new leaders to stand up and be counted on this Roscommon team. I hear some supporters saying that this will be a cakewalk for Roscommon but that is something that will not happen. This is championship football and Leitrim will come ready for a fight.

  As far as Roscommon are concerned, anything other than a win on Sunday is unthinkable. I am expecting Leitrim to come and throw the kitchen sink at Roscommon in the first half and that when it comes to half-time there may not be much in the game. But with Niall Kilroy playing in a deep role, I am hoping that eventually the Roscommon attack will get enough room to get the scores that will win the game.

  It is an intriguing local derby and there should be a good crowd and a good atmosphere and one thing is for certain: the pitch will be perfect. I am not expecting a big Roscommon win but maybe a four or five point margin in the end.

Match odds: Roscommon 1/12,
 Leitrim 15/2, Draw 16/1.

Prediction: Roscommon