I have been chatting to a few of my Roscommon friends over recent days and they appear very confident about their team’s chances this Sunday. I can understand why they might feel that way. Former midfielder and current team manager Fergal O’ Donnell has his team putting in good performances these days. I have heard stories of training camps and twice daily sessions being conducted, so it would appear that no stone is being left unturned as he pushes and strives for success. They are extremely fit and well drilled and are a formidable side. In their two games played in this year’s championship they played superbly. OK, the quality of the opposition i.e. New York and Leitrim wouldn’t be ranked very highly in the current ratings of championship contenders, but other teams have struggled in New York and Leitrim have always proved to be formidable opposition in Carrick on Shannon.
I was there to witness the latter performance and was impressed with the confidence and the cohesiveness of the current Connacht champions. They are a much better side than last year. Their game plan is simple. Get the ball as quickly as possible into their big men in the full forward line. Senan Kilbride is the more talented in my opinion despite the fact that Donie Shine commands most of the headlines. Kilbride, you might recall, was brilliant for his club side in this year’s All Ireland Club final and also for his county team in their opening game of the championship. This guy can play, folks and if he is allowed to dominate then a Mayo success will prove difficult. A lot depends on the quality of ball coming in to him. I would be inclined to get an extra defender into his zone any time he is in possession. Shine on the other hand needs a little more room in which to manufacture a score but, as he proved against Leitrim, he has an eye for goal. On his day he is also lethal from frees, so discipline, also, will be paramount in this sector. Cathal Cregg on the half forward line is a player I have huge regard for. He is exceptionally talented, very quick and always looks to take on his man. When Roscommon looked a beaten side in the Division Four final a few months ago, Cregg was moved into the full forward line and he almost single handily dragged his team back into contention with a few terrific scores. Mayo must be aware that he might not play the entire seventy minutes in the half forward line where he is currently selected. He cannot be allowed to run at Mayo’s defence and suck frees as this could also prove fatal from a Mayo point of view. Karl Mannion who lines out at midfield was a huge Mayo fan as a young fella as his dad is a Mayo man. That fact will be far from his mind on Sunday. Both he and the towering Michael Finneran are having a superb championship so far this season. However I expect that the Mayo pairing will be better than these two when push comes to shove on Sunday.
Seamus O’ Shea was excellent against Galway and I see no reason why he cannot reproduce a similar performance come Sunday. Not wanting to be outshone by his older sibling I suspect the younger brother will put in a big shift. Up front Mayo needs a more consistent performance from all six to win a Connacht final. There is undoubtedly big pressure on those playing in their first Connacht senior final and with four in the forward line up; seasoned campaigners Andy Moran and Alan Dillon will once again carry the burden of providing the leadership and guile up front. I am quite surprised that the towering Barry Moran isn’t to be carried as a sub for Sunday’s game. I believe he was recalled for the trial match last weekend and, from reports, did well. The Roscommon full back line are fairly small and he would have provided an ideal option as a big target man on the edge of the square if things weren’t going according to plan.
All the pressure of this final is on Roscommon and it will be interesting to see if they crack under it. I think Mayo are an improving side and will have garnered huge confidence from beating their old rivals Galway. It’s Mayo for me by a couple of points.
The Windy City
I was in Chicago last weekend. I was tuned to RTE Radio 1 for most of Saturday afternoon listening to the matches from Ireland. However I was anxious to see the Leinster final on TV on Sunday. I was up at the crack of dawn and made my way to Gaelic Park for the 8am throw in. I recall my last visit to the venue about twenty years ago to see a ‘live’ match when there was barely standing room. Not so last Sunday. At 8am there were approximately twenty enthusiastic GAA heads sitting in front of the big screen. I met George Gannon who is 95 years of age. He proudly informed me that he had played against the “Mortimer’s grandfather” years ago. George drives to Gaelic Park to see most games throughout the summer and was full of questions regarding Mayo’s potential. He was well pleased when I suggested we would beat the Rossies this Sunday. We sat impatiently for the live feed but by 8.15am realised there was a problem. Most decided to stick it out but I scampered off down the road looking for an Irish pub showing the match. I arrived at Cullen’s pub minutes before half time. There was a bigger crowd here but still far from a full house. I didn’t get too excited watching the match as it was a poor game. The Dubs are slipping out of form at the wrong time of the year. It seems to me that several players are looking over their shoulder waiting for the signal to be hauled ashore. Consequently many of the Dublin players are playing without confidence and it now seems that manager Pat Gilroy doesn’t know what his best fifteen is. In fact he has too many players at his disposal. Wicklow by contrast have about sixteen or seventeen players and are playing out of their skins. With all due respect Wicklow will not win this years’ All-Ireland but they have brightened up the lives of Wicklow fans with yet another year of high drama. The back door has been kind to them and I think their luck might just continue for another few weeks.
I returned to Gaelic Park in the afternoon to watch a few more live matches. The guys in the bar there were able to tell me that a telecommunications crew working in the area had inadvertently snipped the line carrying the signal for the match! I don’t think those guys were invited in for a cold one! I stayed for a few hours and chatted to a few of the lads who were playing matches throughout the afternoon. Most of the young fellas that I spoke to were finding it difficult to find work. Some were considering moving on to pastures new in the hope of finding employment before returning home in a few weeks time. Tough times in Chicago too.