This Sunday in Tuam Stadium a Roscommon team that is beginning to improve and show some signs of unity and purpose under the stewardship of their great white managerial hope — Fergal O'Donnell — take on Liam Sammon’s exciting cocktail of youth and experience in the FBD league final. After the managerial trauma of the last few years culminating in John Maughan’s well publicised resignation last season, all Roscommon supporters will hope that O’Donnell who had a stunning success with the county minors in 2006 will provide a genuine stabilising influence for the county team in the coming years.
In any dealings I have had with Fergal, either on the field of play or off, I have found him to be a tremendous guy, sound as a bell in local parlance, and he may be just what the doctor ordered to bring Roscommon back to being a solid, competitive, hard-working and ambitious team. We wish him and his panel well for 2009. There is also no shortage of optimism in the city of the Tribes as Liam Sammon’s charges strolled through the FBD group stages without breaking a sweat.
In all the successes to-date Sammon has been giving as many of the under 21s in his care as much game time as possible in the senior jersey. Some of the players such as Jonathan Ryan, Martin Coady, Eoin Concannon, and Damien O’ Reilly have looked the part and will provide real options for the NFL. Indeed, choosing a starting XV for Sunday week's NFL opener with Westmeath will be a difficult challenge for Sammon. With the Corofin contingent absent for another month at least, chances will continue to present themselves for Galway's fringe players to impress.
Sammon is also managing the county u21 team, and they face Mayo on Saturday March 14 in the Connacht Championship, which is one for your diaries. While this Sunday’s FBD league final does carry some importance for both sides it is the start of the NFL for both counties that will be in the back of their minds. Roscommon open their Division 3 campaign with a home game against Offaly, while Westmeath entertain Galway on the same day. Mayo are at home to Derry that day too and all three western counties will be hopeful of collecting two points on their first league outing.
Corofin need to improve
Last Sunday in Ruislip (London ), Corofin, the Connacht club champions, had little to gain.
They were expected to beat Tir Chonaill Gaels easily. And if they did not, there would have been a colossal chorus of guffaws from their detractors within the province. To their credit they prevailed easily and advanced to take on Kilmacud Crokes in four weeks time in Mullingar on Saturday, February 21.
Jimmy Sice’s men won pulling up, however they also will have learnt a lot about themselves and what needs to be done to improve for the stiffer examinations that lie ahead. The province of Connacht has a magnificent mini-run going in the All-Ireland club football championships with recent successes by Ballina, Caltra, Crossmolina, and Salthill, and the onus is now on the 1998 champions to keep that run going. The baton of progress has been passed on and it must not be dropped. In order to reach the final, they will need to do three things.
Put a target man on the edge of the square
Alan O’Donovan hit five sweet frees and is the side’s top scorer, while Joe Canney has been a revelation all season, however they need a powerful big ball winning man in beside them. Neither looked like scoring from play last weekend and the question the Corofin management team has to ask is whether they re-position Kieran Comer in at full-forward or put former county player Jason Killeen, who had the flu last Sunday, into the number 14 jersey.
At least they have options, however they will need more punch in the red zone if they are to get back to Croke Park.
Create more scoring opportunities up front
Currently the side is overly dependant on scored frees to get them into the winners’ enclosure. There needs to be more creativity and movement and penetration from the forwards. No forward apart from Kieran Comer scored from play last weekend. If they meet a very disciplined defence which avoids fouling like investors buying bank shares they could find themselves starved of scores.
It is fine and dandy having a mean defence, however to win the All-Ireland they will need their forwards kicking a few more scores from play.
Stop Brian Kavanagh
Kavanagh is a class act. He is a top quality county forward and it will be interesting to see who Corofin detail to pick-him up. Michael Comer would normally be considered their top man-marking defender and he may be given that role.
Kilmacud however have a few lively forwards and Mark Vaughan, Mark Davoran, Ray Cosgrove, Pat Burke, and Fermanagh’s Liam McBarron can all be awkward customers. However for me, Kavanagh is the catalyst and the man that must be stopped. If they do that, Corofin will be a long way to booking the buses for Croker.