Roscommon have a swagger, but they're too porous to progress
THEY’RE like the annoying little brother of Connacht football, third-wheeling and chirping in on the relationship between Galway and Mayo.
The entire country was captivated for months by the prospect of the courting couple meeting up in Castlebar. Roscommon were barely invited into the conversation, despite being the ones that had given residence to the Nestor Cup for the previous twelve months.
That their only game between the Division Two final on the last day of March and the Connacht final on June 17 was a leisurely stroll past Leitrim contributed handsomely to that.
If the decider against Galway had been played in reverse, you could have argued that rustiness was an issue, but they started superbly and then tailed off badly.
To unpick the Tribe defence as effectively as they did at times in the first 25 minutes, hitting 1-5, was a mark of the ability they have in attack, but to only score 1-1 in the second period and none of it from play was ultimately what cost them.
If any team gives Roscommon space in which to play, they could pay a heavy price. They aren’t heralded in the way that others are, but in the two Murtaghs, Ciaráin and Diarmuid, they have two of the finest artists in the land.
For a while during the league, Donie Smith was unplayable too, hitting 0-16 in just two games against Louth and Clare. He’d been coming off the bench until registering 0-7 (five from play) in just 30 minutes against Louth, and he hasn’t been out of the team ever since.
His first contribution of the whole year proved vital too, coming on to drive home a last-minute penalty against Meath that salvaged a precious draw that ultimately helped them climb back into Division One.
It is where they need to be and where they deserve to be.
Very few sides in recent years have bounced straight back from relegation out of the top flight to regain their place a year later, but in spite of a blip when they took Down lightly, they always looked the best side in the second tier.
They showed their attacking class in the final against Cavan, hitting 4-16, and yet they conceded 4-12 on a day of brilliantly flawed entertainment.
It was a rare occasion when they went with Niall Kilroy pushed up man-for-man rather than operating as a sweeper, and they paid a heavy price in the first 20 minutes as Cavan cut them in bits.
Had you looked at it in isolation you’d think neither side was that bothered about defending that afternoon, but the evidence from both since has suggested that it’s not a strength of either camp.
That’s where the astute and likeable Kevin McStay’s issue lies. They went against the grain to paint the space in front of their goal yellow with bodies in the game against Galway, and for a long time it worked.
Niall McInerney shunted Damien Comer into corners, Barry McHugh and Ian Burke weren’t much involved, and only for the dastardly Shane Walsh being so magnificent, Roscommon could have had it won by half-time.
But that was a reaction to Galway’s own style and their preference is to attack the game. It gives their forwards a licence and their defenders a migraine.
They were wide to the world once more against Armagh. It was the best kind of entertainment for supporters but it must leave Roscommon wondering quite how to set up when the big league kicks in this weekend.
Kilroy was back as the sweeper but Andy Murnin barely had to move from between the width of the two posts to win ball. Peter Domican couldn’t a hand on him, and it was a surprise that it took so long for Niall McInerney to be switched across.
He has been a relative rock for them, but they’ve constantly rotated around him. Having played just four minutes since the Clare game in the middle of the league, Seanie McDermott came in against Armagh and did well enough to suggest he’ll hold on to the number four jersey.
Fintan Cregg was centre-back against Galway and struggled, with Niall Daly chosen to come against the Orchard when Ultan Harney took a bang in the warm-up.
Be it against a pacy team or a kicking team, they have issues protecting their goal and it will be interesting to see how they approach the game with Tyrone at Croke Park this weekend.
You sense that they’d prefer to be true to themselves and go on the attack, and that rather than be pleased at holding Galway in a game for 69 minutes, they’d have taken the provincial final as a negative because of their own scoring return.
Aside from anything else, that Connacht final was the only time they’ve faced top tier opposition since the start of the year.
It’s well worn how they struggled on kickouts in the second period of that game, though the injury to midfielder Cathal Compton just before half-time wasn’t given as much credence as it perhaps ought to have been.
Enda Smith reverted to the centre thereafter and was instrumental in their victory over Armagh, hitting 2-1. He and Cathal Cregg both had to fight their ground to win their places back during the tail end of the league.
The Galway game was also a rare occasion when dipping into their bench had little impact. There is a depth of attacking options there, as evidenced by gathering up 3-21 off the bench during the league, and 0-9 in their other two championship games to date.
Despite being the only representative in the Super 8s to have played their league football outside Division One this year, Roscommon are not here to make up the numbers.
Any team that gives them space could live to regret it. They’ll relish bringing Donegal into the atmospheric Hyde, but having to go to Croke Park twice with their defence struggling as it is could well be an unfair disadvantage that costs them.
Probable starting XV v Tyrone
2018 top scorers (Championship scores in brackets)
Diarmuid Murtagh 3-42 (0-16)
Donie Smith 1-34 (0-6)
Ciaráin Murtagh 1-32 (1-9)
Cathal Cregg 3-11 (0-7)
Conor Devaney 1-14 (1-2)
Most minutes played
Conor Devaney 766
Niall Kilroy 724
David Murray 677
Diarmuid Murtagh 670
Ciaráin Murtagh 664
Super 8 fixtures
July 14: Roscommon v Tyrone (Croke Park, 5pm)
July 21/22: Roscommon v Donegal
August 4/5: Dublin v Roscommon