Rossies must win shoot-out in last chance saloon

All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers: Roscommon v Clare at Pearse Stadium Galway on Saturday at 3 pm
It’s a long way past Clare from here!

Previewing major football games is a very dangerous occupation to have this summer. Despite having played the game (albeit at a low level) and followed it closely all my life, it is amazing how wrong you can be and I will hold my hands up after last Sunday’s Connacht final replay. I got it totally wrong and probably not for the last time either.

  I thought that there was huge room for improvement in Roscommon and not as much in Galway. What transpired was that the opposite happened. Galway pushed on and played direct football while Roscommon regressed and learned nothing from the drawn game. So where does that leave us ahead of this incredibly difficult game against Clare on Saturday? In a very difficult position, that’s where.

  The statistics suggest that the odds are stacked against Roscommon. In the history of the qualifiers since 2001 only two teams have managed to defy the dreaded six-day turnaround after being beaten and they are Dublin, some years ago, and Cavan this year.

   On the evidence of what we saw in MacHale Park last Sunday, there is little cause for optimism. There was no intensity, hardly a decent shoulder was hit in the entire game, and it was only when the game was over as a contest that we saw a few decent scores go over, when there were a number of subs on the team.

  The dilemma facing the management team this week is whether to give the lads who started a chance to redeem themselves or make changes to freshen things up. My opinion is that changes are needed not only in personnel but in terms of our style of play.

  We have to try a midfield partnership that is capable of competing for the ball in that sector. Remember that Clare’s best two players are their midfielders, Cathal O’Connor and Gary Brennan, who between them scored 1-4 against Sligo last weekend and who have wreaked havoc in almost every game they have played this year. If we cannot compete at midfield then we will not win this game.

  I am not going to even try to guess who will be playing for Roscommon at midfield this weekend because the selection is very hard to predict but the players who take to the field will have to try and put last Sunday out of their minds and attempt to rescue their championship season and that is going to be a huge task.

  Whoever is selected for Roscommon this weekend will have to stand up and be counted and we need to see leaders emerge on the field of play. We need to see players not afraid to tackle hard but fair and to take the game by the scruff of the neck. It’s all right to blame management for playing systems, etc. but they do not have any control on what the players do when they go out on the field.

  We have to throw off the shackles and return to the kind of game that suits Roscommon and that is a fast-paced running game.

  Our play is too ponderous and lethargic and a number of our attacking players who were outstanding in the league have lost their way altogether. 

  If Roscommon take Clare for granted then they have no chance of winning this game. To add to the midfield prowess of Ger Brennan and Cathal O’Connor, they have the prolific David Tubridy at full-forward and have other excellent performers like dual star Podge Collins (son of the team manager Colm Collins), Keelan Sexton and Eoin Cleary.

  Clare were two points down against Sligo last Saturday but they outscored them by 1-13 to 1-4 in the second half to win easily. Remember too that Clare won Division Three of the football league earlier this year beating Kildare in the final in Croke Park so they will come into this game brimming with confidence after that and a couple of great wins in the qualifiers against Laois and Sligo.

  This game will test the resolve of the Roscommon management and players to the limit. The prize is a place in the last eight of the championship on Sunday week. Roscommon are not as bad as they showed last Sunday in Castlebar. If there is a total change of attitude they can buck the trend and put last Sunday’s nightmare behind them.

Match Odds: Roscommon 8/13 Clare 7/4 Draw 8/1.

Prediction: Roscommon by a point.