John McEntee: Roscommon must play smart if they are to survive in Division One
ROSCOMMON is a county I frequented more than any other as a young man.
In the west of the county, only a stone’s throw from Mayo, sat a Halal meat factory in the town of Ballaghaderreen.
My father, along with a band of merry men, would make the weekly two-and-a-half-hour trip each Sunday evening to their place of work.
On occasions, perhaps when a cow was calving or Granny Molly was visiting, the initial lift was missed and one of us would be tasked with running him down the road.
It was a tough place to get to as you traversed five counties, bouncing from pothole to pothole negotiating corners like you were playing Gran Turismo on the PlayStation. You needed your wits about you for sure.
The local people were great, they still are. They have a massive interest in football and they adore their GAA, irrespective of whether they support Roscommon or Mayo – where the local club have historically played.
Travel 30 minutes south of Ballaghaderreen and you enter the uncompromising surroundings of Dr Hyde Park.
Few teams travel to Roscommon town and leave happy with their performance. Down were the only team to beat them at home in the League last year. This year it was Dublin, ably assisted by two fortuitous goals – the sort of sloppy scores you take but don’t crow about.
My last visit to the ground was a few years ago as we supported a buoyant Armagh team as they took on a bunch of unknowns – only to leave with our tails between our legs.
Since then, those guys grafted their way to three provincial finals, winning one in 2017, and have bobbed between the top two League divisions since.
This week Roscommon are at home to Kerry in arguably the most important tie in Division One.
In bygone eras Kerry could be accused of being poor travellers – their away record was much less impressive than their home form – but this year they’ve demonstrated greater consistency and balance.
They are as adept at hard work as they are at finishing with poise and all the time they have one eye gazing at national silverware, while the other eye is fixated on Dublin’s blip in form.
So do Roscommon have a chance of upsetting the odds? Absolutely. They are a fiercely dogged team, who put the damper on Monaghan after their facile victory over the Dubs, and they proved too stubborn in a draw against Tyrone, who have an excellent record against them.
The Rossies will aim to keep Kerry to a maximum of 13 points, as, if they are foolish enough to try to outgun this Kerry team they will be badly beaten. It is critical they tighten up their defence and smother each Kerry attack so they are starved of any fluency.
I often think that Dr Croke’s of Killarney play a similar brand of football to their county team. We’ve seen how they obliterate teams who are intimidated by their big-name players and stand off their men as they spray passes and pick off scores at ease.
But on Sunday, in the All-Ireland Club SFC final, we saw how a team like Corofin can get into their faces and disrupt their patterns before imposing their own brand of play quite successfully. Kerry are beatable.
Roscommon will take heart from the way Mayo beat Kerry last Saturday. It is at this point that Roscommon should reflect on the difference between them and their neighbours.
Mayo’s defensive record is the best in Division One by some distance. By contrast, Roscommon have leaked 27 points more than Mayo and are nowhere near as solid defensively.
Right now, this is the only game that matters for them. If they can hold Kerry to the magical figure of 13 points then Lady Luck might just grant them a goal or two to sneak this result.
This weekend Mayo aren’t just the inspiration, they are also a team on whom Roscommon’s future in Division One depends.
Monaghan travel to Mayo knowing their destiny is entirely in their own hands. Games against these two teams are always highly entertaining.
In February 2017 I watched Darren Hughes rattle the Castlebar net to help his team win by a narrow margin and in 2018 a trip to St Tiernach’s Park saw Mayo gain revenge. That game was tight on the scoreboard but was one in which Mayo were vastly superior. Monaghan know what they have to do.
A win in Castlebar secures their place in Division One in 2020. A defeat coupled with demotion might weigh a little too heavy on some players’ minds heading into Championship season.
To be a winner sometimes you have to roll the dice.
I expect a change in Monaghan this week and for them to come away from Castlebar with a point.
For Roscommon, they must roll the dice twice and hope their number will come up on both occasions. It’s a tall order.