A first Connacht title in seven years ensures 2017 will be fondly remembered in Roscommon, but Sunday’s Croke Park clash against Mayo promises to be interesting.
Delivering on the All-Ireland SFC quarter-final stage is what Roscommon intend to do, but they face a Mayo outfit that have stitched a three-match winning sequence together.
Since losing to Galway out west, Mayo have beaten Derry, Clare, and Cork. Two of those victories arrived after dramatic extra-time battles, so Stephen Rochford’s charges have enjoyed an action-packed adventure.
Roscommon’s summer progress has been smooth - two emphatic wins over Leitrim and Galway mean Kevin McStay’s charges will head for GAA headquarters loaded with hope.
Mayo have delivered several outstanding displays at the Jones Road venue in recent years, a fact that encourages Rochford.
“The boys have turned in some of their best performances over the last number of years there, but that is history at the same time,” Rochford remarked following the Cork success.
“Next week is going to be a massive challenge. No doubt having played that additional time in that warm weather will ask questions of us, but at the same time, we are back where we wanted to be.”
So too are Roscommon, who proved too strong for Galway at Pearse Stadium on July 9. Cian Connolly and Brian Stack’s goals decorated a fine Roscommon display, but recapturing the drive and desire of that performance will be a tough task.
Goalkeeper Colm Lavin has been safe and solid in his debut campaign, while John McManus, Seanie McDermott, and Niall McInerney remain key figures in the Roscommon defence.
At midfield Enda Smith and Tadhg O’Rourke are combining effectively, with Fintan Cregg and Conor Devaney hugely industrious.
The Murtagh brothers, Ciarain and Diarmuid, have impressed, while the exciting Connolly is a serious threat inside.
Connolly can finish opportunities so Roscommon must deliver quality possession inside. That will not be an easy feat to achieve, though, considering that Mayo include the O’Shea brothers and Tom Parsons.
Mayo are proven performers at this level, their 2016 triumphs at the venue over Westmeath, Tyrone, and Tipperary showing that they can deal with expectation.
The drawn All-Ireland final was another near September miss before Dublin shaded a similarly tight replay. Rochford’s players are used to operating in these type of encounters, but Roscommon have been boosted by their provincial exploits.
Now McStay’s charges need to take the next step by reaching the last four, which would be a remarkable achievement following such a disappointing Allianz Football League in the spring.
Six Division One losses in a row had Roscommon worried, but they took satisfaction from their victory over Cavan. It ended the run of defeats, while also providing a pre-summer boost and Roscommon’s developing side has blossomed in the intervening months.
There was never any sign of a shock when Leitrim visited Dr Hyde Park as Diarmuid Murtagh and Devaney landed the scores which truly mattered.
Then, in Salthill, Roscommon started in blistering fashion, with Galway unable to cope. Kevin Walsh’s Tribesmen responded impressively by beating a fancied Donegal in a Round 4A qualifier last Sunday, which offered further evidence of the craft Roscommon demonstrated.
Enda Smith’s importance to the Roscommon cause should not be underestimated, so it is vital that the Connacht champions gather plenty of possession in the middle third.
Mayo’s panel is packed with willing runners from deep so Cregg and Devaney’s industry will be a critical factor. Devaney is also able to pinch scores, his three points against Galway were vital and Roscommon crave that type of style and service once more.
Denying Cillian O’Connor time and space in open play and chances from frees is what Roscommon will also be striving to do. Veteran Andy Moran remains an influential figure for Mayo, so the Roscommon defence must operate in a resolute fashion throughout.
Roscommon’s recent underage record means that they possess enough talent to participate in All-Ireland quarter-finals on a regular basis. Now Roscommon want to deliver on the vast promise that has been shown for much of the past decade. McStay, Liam McHale, and Ger Dowd have Roscommon ready for battle. This should be an intriguing match on an important afternoon in Croke Park for Connacht football.