Seamus Duke on Sport – 18th March

Footballers have county in dreamland

Coming back from Letterkenny last Sunday evening we stopped off in Sligo to get something to eat. I was along with several long-standing Roscommon supporters, some of whom have represented Roscommon with distinction over many years.

  To a man, it was agreed that none of us could remember a Roscommon team that had played with such style, fluency and such an attacking intent as we had just witnessed against Donegal. But it was amazing that no one in the company (myself included) was prepared to predict anything brilliant for the team. We are afraid to make any bold predictions. It was almost as if we were all afraid to say anything, as if we were tempting fate.

  The last two months have almost been too good to be true. Surely we would wake up some morning and realise that this is all a dream? But no, what we have been seeing is a very exciting, improving young Roscommon team who are putting in a massive effort for the cause and who have a game plan –based on huge fitness levels – that is working a treat. But, make no mistake, while this great run is based on hard training, fitness and work rate, you will win nothing without having good players and Roscommon are blessed at the moment with some fantastic players.

  Every squad member is making a huge contribution but I think that the players will forgive me if I mention three footballers who have been called back into the panel and who have made a huge contribution to this run, namely Conor Devaney, Fintan Cregg and Seanie Purcell. They are like new players and all three have been excellent in every game they have played.

  The Donegal match was always going to be a huge test for this Roscommon team and they passed it with flying colours.

  When the home side came to within two points in that second half, previous Roscommon teams would have wilted under the pressure but this Roscommon team responded with a quite brilliant goal and a number of spectacular points.

  I fully realise that this is still only the National Football League and it is a fact that many of the other county teams will be catching up with Roscommon in terms of fitness as the summer approaches, but to have stayed in Division One of the league is a huge boost for the players and the management team as they set out on what will be a four-year journey.

  The next league game against Mayo is now a far bigger one for Mayo than for Roscommon. The Mayo men must win to stay in with a chance of avoiding relegation, and it will mean a huge crowd in Hyde Park on Easter Sunday. I know the pressure is off Roscommon but they will want to win it if they can, to put down a marker for later in the year. Despite his playing down the fixture, there will be a huge focus on Kevin McStay in the run-up to that game.

  It would be the irony of all ironies if Roscommon, with McStay in joint charge, were to win and send Mayo down to Division Two.

  But one thing I loved in the aftermath of the win last Sunday in the Roscommon camp was that there was no big chat, no jumping around the place and back-slapping amongst the players or management. They know they have a lot to learn yet and the ship is sure to hit an iceberg along the line, but the recovery from any setback that comes will mark out how this Roscommon team will do in the long term.

  With a number of high profile players to come back into contention, Roscommon should have a really strong panel come championship time. Midfield is still a problem area but – remarkably – Roscommon are winning games without dominating that sector.

  Roll on Dr. Hyde Park on Easter Sunday now and with the probability of a league semi-final to look forward to prior to the trip to New York, these are busy times for Roscommon football.

  Leaving Letterkenny on Sunday last, someone said: “They should rename this pitch O’Donnell and McStay Park!” Indeed. It was one of the more memorable days on the road following Roscommon. We are beginning to get used to it!

Future looks bright as U-21s impress

Not to be outdone last weekend, the Roscommon hurlers, U-21 footballers and minor footballers all scored good wins.

  The U-21 match against Galway was a great game of football. Roscommon upset the odds with a super display, although they were almost caught at the death – but they thoroughly deserved to win.

  It was great to see Diarmuid Murtagh and Sean Mullooly back in action and both played well. Jack Connaughton and Fergal Lennon were outstanding in defence and Cathal Compton was superb at midfield. But Cathal Callinan was sensational. He covered acres of ground and kicked four super points from play in a ‘man of the match’ display.

  Sligo are up next and Roscommon will have to be careful travelling down to Markievicz on Saturday. We all remember what happened two years ago when a hotly-fancied Roscommon team went to Sligo and almost came unstuck. But it would be a surprise if Roscommon don’t qualify for another provincial final.

Hurlers’ final flourish

The hurlers are now in the Division 3A Final and that is a great achievement for Justin Campbell and his men ahead of their final game against Tyrone this weekend.

  A win and promotion would be the perfect preparation for the Christy Ring Cup games later in the year.

Minors maul Mayo

The minor footballers ran up an astonishing total against Mayo last weekend, and while it was only a Connacht Minor League game it is a great start to the year for the new management team, led by Kieran Kilkenny.

  Roscommon play a very strong Sligo team this weekend and that will be a big early test for the team.

Train with the senior footballers

The Roscommon senior footballers have a training camp fundraiser at Easter and it’s a great idea and hopefully it will be a big success. There are details elsewhere in this week’s paper. On the back of a few great wins it should be a great success – let’s hope so.

A welcome Irish win

I know that Italy were very poor but I really enjoyed watching Ireland play The Azzurri at the Aviva last Saturday.

  The try that Jamie Heaslip scored before half-time was one of the best that Ireland have ever scored and to score nine tries in the game was fantastic.

  It was also brilliant to see Ireland finish the game with five Connacht players on the field. Hopefully Denis Buckley will get his chance soon as well.

  This weekend’s clash against Scotland will be a much tougher test as the Scots are improving and they come into this game on the back of a great win against France. Ireland should have enough to win by a couple of points at home.

Feast of sport this weekend

The next couple of days will provide sports junkies with a mighty line-up of entertainment. The club finals are on today (Thursday, 17th March) and I am expecting Na Piarsaigh and Castlebar Mitchels to take the honours in Croke Park.

  Later in the evening I expect Liverpool to finish the job against Manchester United in the Europa League second leg at Old Trafford.

  We have Cheltenham on all week with the World Hurdle on today and the Gold Cup tomorrow (Friday, 18th March). I have Don Cossack backed for a couple of weeks in the Blue Riband event, but that certainly does not guarantee him victory.

  Then we have Six Nations rugby at the weekend, the National Hurling League, the U-21 semi-final and lots more sport as the weather improves and people get out and about.

Quote of the Week

“Today we started looking like a Division 1 team who deserves on merit to be here.”…Kevin McStay after Sunday’s win against Donegal.

From the Internet League Magic

“I had a depressing thought at some stage during League Sunday last night. I can’t remember the exact moment it happened: it could have followed Roscommon’s latest outburst of total futbol, any of the five flashes of audacious genius from Joe Canning, any of the scores taken by Seamus Harnedy or Lester Ryan Saturday night, Aidan O’Shea’s glorious point while being wrestled to the ground like King Kong in Castlebar or the Galway footballer’s last-gasp goal and latest Lazarus job in Armagh.

The thought was this: I don’t want this League to end.”

(Courtesy of Balls.ie)