Roscommon and Dublin will want their Super 8s clash in their rear-view
All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Super 8s, Group Two, Phase Three: Dublin v Roscommon (Tomorrow, Croke Park, 3.30pm)
A DEAD rubber. The dreaded words the GAA hierarchy didn't want to hear in the inaugural year of the Super 8s.
It was bound to happen in the last phase of games but at least there is plenty happening in Salthill and Ballybofey to hail the re-jigged quarter-final format a healthy success.
The problem the Association has at this juncture is unearthing eight counties in the country to merit the ‘Super' tag.
This year Roscommon have been some way short of the gold standard required to push for an All-Ireland semi-final berth.
It has been a weird year for the beaten Connacht finalists.
They pushed Galway all the way in their provincial decider and probably thought they would give a better account of themselves in the Super 8s, especially after their brilliant attacking display to see off Armagh in Round Four of the All-Ireland Qualifiers.
But it didn't pan out that way.
Tyrone hit 4-24 past them in Croke Park. A week later, Donegal eased up with seven points to spare in Dr Hyde Park.
The Super 8s have been a demoralising experience for the Roscommon management and players.
Knowing that they have nothing to play for at headquarters tomorrow other than pride, the last 14 days will have tested the players' mettle.
Conditioning-wise, they were well off the pace and heads began to drop in some places long before the final whistle against Tyrone and Donegal, which prompted manager Kevin McStay to candidly observe that some of his players weren't good enough to compete at the higher altitude.
To compound their woes, the usually unflappable McStay was hit with a 12-week ban for putting a hand on a linesman during the Donegal clash.
Despite exiting the Championship to the Rossies in Portlaoise, Armagh boss Kieran McGeeney insisted he would love to have qualified for the Super 8s, describing them as “three free games”.
“You want to be part of that, even if you're getting a hiding,” said McGeeney.
“I think it tells you where you are and where you need to go and having a couple of signposts along the way when you're a young fella isn't a bad idea.
“I can tell them: ‘This is what you need to do'… but sometimes when you get hit straight in the face and you see the level that those boys are at...”
Roscommon have got hit “straight in the face” in consecutive weeks and are likely to sample a third against the Dubs tomorrow.
It won't feel like “three free games” to Roscommon right now - but it's how they absorb the lessons of the last few weeks and apply them in Division One next season.
Ahead of stepping into the lion's den tomorrow, the Roscommon management team will be hoping Dublin will take the foot off the gas and mind themselves as they have already qualified for the semi-finals.
The Dubs will look to fly out of the blocks, do enough damage on the scoreboard before indulging in some energy-saving keep-ball in the second half.
Competition for places within Dublin ranks almost guarantees they will go for the jugular early on against Roscommon who decided to pack the centre of their defence against Donegal after shipping such a high score against the Red Hands a week earlier.
They will try to ‘mind the house' again – but don't expect miracles from their attack as their transition play was painfully laboured and they relied almost exclusively on long range scores to stay in touch with Donegal.
McStay has freshened things up by making five changes to the side that lost to Donegal and hopes to see some encouraging signs from new ‘keeper James Featherstone, Peter Domican, Darra Petit, Ross Timothy and Ciaran Lennon.
Where do you start with the strength in depth of the Dubs? Jim Gavin has a couple of considerations ahead of tomorrow's dead rubber, one of which is players on black cards.
Niall Scully, sitting on two black cards, is one away from a suspension. John Small, Dean Rock and Philly McMahon are the three other Dublin players on one black card apiece.
The Dubs are at a stage of their evolution where they can actually decide when to raise or reduce the tempo of a game, as if controlling a dimmer switch.
With all great champions, they are in that enviable utopian state with their nearest rivals still a comfortable distance away from their coveted throne.
Roscommon can't wait to see the back of this fixture. Likewise, Dublin will want it in their rear-view with a semi-final just around the corner.
Roscommon (All-Ireland SFC v Dublin): James Featherstone; David Murray, Peter Domican, Niall McInerney; John McManus, Darra Petit, Ross Timothy; Tadgh O'Rourke, Enda Smith; Niall Kilroy, Ciarain Murtagh, Conor Devaney; Diarmuid Murtagh, Brian Stack, Ciaran Lennon Subs: Colm Lavin, Cathal Cregg, Finbar Cregg, Fintan Cregg, Donie Smith, Gary Patterson, Ian Kilbride, Niall Daly, Padraig Kelly, Sean McDermott, Shane Killoran
THE tally Roscommon have conceded from open play in their previous two Super 8 encounters with Tyrone and Donegal. That unenviable tally could climb considerably before the end of their Super 8 campaign.