Posted by Christy O'Connor
Friday 10 June 2016
From our GAA Experts to football fans all over Ireland, this week's Win, Lose or Draw predictions are starting to take shape.
Against Leitrim in Carrick-on-Shannon three weeks ago, Roscommon got the job done they were expected to. They won by 13 points. They scored 1-21. Roscommon only conceded 0-11. And yet, Kevin McStay, joint-manager, read the players in the dressing room afterwards for five solid minutes. “Standards, standards, standards,” boomed McStay’s voice. In his opinion, the squad hadn’t been true to the levels and principles they set, and which are expected off them.
Those internal standards have risen ever since. The squad got two weeks’ excellent work done before tapering off ahead of Sunday’s match with Sligo. Management are much happier with where the squad are at now. They are also more confident of delivering a better performance against Sligo than they expected to produce before the Leitrim game.
Given the long season Roscommon have already had, the start of the summer was always bound to be tricky. Staying in Division One was such a priority that it almost because Roscommon’s raison d'être during the spring, especially in the early rounds. They began hard training in early October. Roscommon were fitter than every other team during the opening half of the spring but other teams were always going to catch up, while Roscommon were always likely to start running out of gas, which they did. The championship was set to be like a second season and managing that situation in order to be ready for the summer was always going to be difficult.
Staying mentally sharp was bound to present another challenge but the narrow escape in New York had as much to do with execution as concentration. Roscommon had six good goal chances, only one of which was taken. At least two, if not three, more should have been nailed.
The squad had a night out in Manhattan that Sunday evening of the match. Although Leitrim was less than three weeks away, management gave the players a week off after they returned home from the US. Remaining fresh was important but now that mid-June has arrived, Roscommon need to start pressing their foot on the accelerator again.
Roscommon also need to prove that they have developed the ruthlessness required to win at the top level. And even more so now with Sligo in town. Sligo ambushed Roscommon last year. They feel they can play with Roscommon’s heads. Sligo manager Niall Carew began the mind games three weeks ago when suggesting that home advantage could put added pressure on Roscommon. “If things aren’t going to plan,” said Carew, “supporters tend to get frustrated and this tends to spill on to the players.”
Carew was talking up his own players this week. He feels Sligo are a better team now than they were last season. “I think we’re in a better place, better balanced,” said Carew. “We’ll be very disappointed if we don’t win.”
Sligo were operating two Divisions below Roscommon in the league. They could have been relegated to Division 4 on the last day if results had gone against them but the most impressive aspect of Sligo’s campaign was how they responded to the pressure when the heat was at its highest point; five of the seven league points they accumulated were picked up in their last three matches. They took down Kildare and eked out a draw against Tipperary. That’s a sign of a team which reacts well under pressure.
Sligo’s scoring rate also dramatically increased during the league campaign; seven of the eight goals scored were hit in three of Sligo’s last four matches. Niall Murphy was their top scorer with 0-40 (0-18 from play) but Sligo’s next two highest scorers were Brian Egan (3-2) and Mark Brehony (0-11, 0-4 from play). Then again, Adrian Marren, who gunned down Roscommon last year, was out for most of the spring with a knee injury and didn’t start a match until Sligo’s last league game.
Roscommon though, have still been operating at a different level. After Conor McManus, Ciaran Murtagh was the second highest scorer in Division One. Murtagh hit 31% of Roscommon’s scores during the league but he managed just 0-3 against Leitrim and Roscommon had nine other scorers from play on the day.
Just as importantly, Roscommon are better defensively set up than they were against Sligo last June against. Their game is about pace and movement but Division One football gave them a new worldliness. They were an expansive team during the league but Roscommon have no truck with playing men behind the ball when the need arises.
For the Roscommon management, this is year-one of a four-year project. This season has been a foundation year in that process but that still doesn’t impact on their ambitions of trying to win a Connacht title in 2016. And by Sunday evening, Roscommon will at least be in a Connacht final.
In other games this weekend, Cork take on Tipperary in the Munster GAA Football Senior Championship semi-final at Semple Stadium . Here, Corks' Eoin Cadogan chats to eir about how preparations are going;
Here's who our GAA experts are predicting will win all this weekends games;
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Westmeath to win: 73%
Offaly to win: 24%
Donegal to win: 95%
Fermanagh to win: 3%
Roscommon to win: 91%
Sligo to win: 7%
Louth to win: 10%
Meath to win: 87%
Draw to win: 3%
Tipp to win: 15%
Cork to win: 82%
Draw to win: 3%
That's the way the mood is going for this weekend's games - now it's time to make your predictions for the chance to win two All-Ireland Final tickets.
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