U-21s have golden opportunity

Roscommon’s U-21 team have a golden opportunity to get to a Connacht final when they face Sligo at Makievicz Park on Saturday in the semi-final of this year’s championship (throw-in time 2.30 pm).    This is an extremely talented if young U-21 team this year and following a very hard-fought victory in the Hastings Cup final recently expectations are that this team are good enough to at least contest a Connacht final at this grade this year.   The team will feature at least five or six of last year’s All-Ireland winning minor team along with several other players who are now playing on the Roscommon senior team and this panel have trained very hard under John Maughan and his selectors Eamonn McManus and Gerry Fitzmaurice in recent months.   The team will not be finalised until Friday but an intelligent guess at the line-out begins with the likelihood of Colin Nicholson of Clan na nGael lining out in goal. Paul Gleeson, Tom Bannon, Stephen Ormsby and Michael Killilea will all be in contention for positions on the full-back line.   In the half-back line Seanie Higgins, David Flynn, Peter Domican, Adrian Murtagh and James Callery will all have strong claims to be included. Midfield will see team captain David Hoey line out with James McDermott or maybe Richard Dooner.   The half-forward line will see David O’Gara, Cathal Cregg, David Keenan and James Connaughton (St. Croans) all in contention for a place while inside Enda Kenny will start at full-forward with Conor Devanny and Aidan Dooney the likely corner-men. Others in strong contention are Aaron McEvoy and Sean Gilleran.   John Maughan told me this week that there are just a few niggly injuries to clear up before he can finalise his team.   ‘It will be Saturday morning before we have a final line-up because of slight knocks to people like Cathal Cregg and James Callery.      ‘We are looking forward to the game but we will have to play very well to beat a Sligo team that cannot be underestimated. They have been strong at minor level for a few years past and if  we don’t get stuck in from the start we will be in trouble.   ‘We have some extremely talented young footballers and I am confident that we can win this game. It would be a great boost for football in the county to get to a Connacht U-21 final’ he said.   On a separate issue John Maughan was very angry at the requirement of several of the U-21 team to play so many games in such a short time in the coming weeks.   ‘It’s simply not fair to ask some of these young players to play a big championship match on a Saturday and then ask them to play in an important senior National League game less than 24 hours later.   ‘The same situation will apply to the team who wins on  Saturday as the Connacht final is down for Saturday week and  there are league games on Sunday week too. I know that our game with Offaly is probably off now but that had nothing to do with players having to play so many games, it’s because the GAA ‘cocked up’ the London/Leitrim fixture.    ‘If the GAA want to address the issue of player burn-out then they will have to look at their own fixture list first’ he said.   ‘Surely the Connacht U-21 championship with only five teams in it could be run with matches in the evening time or under lights at this time of the year. Even the timing of this match (2.30pm on a Saturday) is totally unsuitable for many people who would love to go to the game’ he concluded.   Nevertheless Roscommon should have enough talented players to overcome what should be a very stiff Sligo challenge and with many of the young men who brought such honour and glory to the county last year on duty added to talented experienced players who are now on the senior team I think that Roscommon can prevail by a few points.