Posted by Christy O'Connor
Friday 8 July 2016
From our GAA Experts to football fans all over Ireland, this week's Win, Lose or Draw predictions are starting to take shape.
The challenge was perfect. The context was ideal. After spending the previous six years smashing convention at U-21 level, this year’s Connacht U-21 final represented the final citadel Roscommon still had to sack in the grade. It had been 50 years since they defeated Mayo in a Connacht final. Mayo were never going to just bow the knee and walk quietly off the stage. They didn’t. Mayo won with an injury-time point but context is still everything. Between 1982 and 2010, Roscommon won just one Connacht U-21 title. Prior to this year, they had won four of the previous five Connacht titles.
Since winning a landmark All-Ireland minor title in 2006, Roscommon have come close to reaching that level again without ever fully getting there. They lost All-Ireland U-21 finals to Dublin in 2012 and 2014. Tyrone defeated them in last year’s U-21 semi-final. Roscommon also narrowly lost All-Ireland minor semi-finals in 2011 and 2013 to Tipperary and Tyrone. In April 2015, Roscommon CBS were the first school from the county to reach a Hogan Cup (All-Ireland Colleges A) final, which they lost to Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne.
This is a golden underage era. The senior team have made huge strides but taking that next step represents the giant leap Roscommon still have to make. And a first Connacht senior title since 2010 is viewed as the natural next step on this journey.
The current crusade has been a decade in the making. After sustained underage underachievement, the first development squads were launched in 2004. That year’s U-16 team formed the basis of the All-Ireland minor winning team two years later under the guidance of Fergal O’Donnell, the current senior joint-manager. O’Donnell initiated a culture of high-performance, which set the benchmark for everyone else to try and reach or surpass. After O’Donnell established the template, progressive and ambitious young coaches continued to drive the machine forward. New players continued to come off the production line. Of the 21 players used in last month’s Connacht semi-final win against Sligo, all but five came through the development squads model.
Club Rossie, the commercial and fundraising arm of Roscommon GAA, is another symbol of the county’s footballing drive and energy. One evening in 2014, Thomas Carthy and David O’Connor had a chat over a pint and a cup of tea in Roscommon town. Carthy, a successful businessman, threw out the idea of a ‘Roscommon Bus’ to O'Connor, chairman of Club Rossie. The concept of the bus was intended to save money. The leasing costs were met through the benevolence of a number of sponsors and drivers offered their services for free. Fuel was the only remaining charge but the acquisition of the bus was about far more than the bottom line; it was a statement of intent, a symbol of a whole new level of ambition.
When Roscommon qualified for the 2012 U-21 All-Ireland final, one of the fundraising ventures in place was a €2 text competition to guess the final score. Now, Club Rossie are conducting much bigger business. Their membership span is so wide that it includes two different packages (gold and bronze), with each member entitled to varying numbers of entries into a €30,000 cash draw. Club Rossie have set a target of selling 500 gold memberships at €228 each. Other business packages are available at €800 a pop.
With a population of just 64,065 at the last census, Roscommon fully appreciate the need to absolutely maximize their resources. With the county producing such a talented young crop of players, Roscommon want the enterprise in place to create the right environment for the team to move to the next level.
Can they? Roscommon’s scoring power, fitness levels and the pace of their running game entitles them to a top-eight status but they still have to prove they can live in that company. For all the progress Roscommon made in the spring when reaching a league semi-final, they still lost four of their eight league games. They almost collapsed against New York. They trailed Sligo by eight points at half-time.
Roscommon eventually overran Sligo from the sheer force of their attacking game. Of their 39 shots at the target, 24 came in the second-half, from which they mined 4-10. They had ten goal attempts throughout the 70 minutes.
Galway though, will not be as open. In their Connacht semi-final, Mayo didn’t create a single goal chance. In the second half, Galway restricted Mayo to just nine shots at the target, only three of which were from play.
Galway will feel they can win midfield, and that they can get at the Roscommon defence. Paul Conroy was outstanding against Mayo, when making 38 plays, while Tomas Flynn was brilliant in patches. Niall Daly has
been solid at midfield for Roscommon, making 27 plays against Sligo, but Roscommon still don’t know their best midfield pairing.
Although Mayo won nine Galway kickouts, Galway will mix up their own kickouts here but Roscommon’s form has been to go short on theirs. Eighteen of the 32 kickouts they won against Sligo were short kickouts from Geoffrey Claffey. Galway will more than likely let them go short again and then press them high up the field to try and turn them over. That battle will be a decisive factor in the game because Roscommon try to build much of their running game from their own kickout.
If Galway can halt that charge, they will feel capable of doing damage on this Roscommon defence. Damien Comer and Danny Cummins didn’t score from play against Mayo but Mayo were playing a sweeper and Comer sacrificed his own game to become more of a provider. Given the damage Sligo’s Pat Hughes did at full-forward, Comer will fancy his chances of doing a number on the Mayo full-back line, especially now that Neil Collins is out injured. Collins made a big difference when coming on in the second half against Sligo but he got injured in training last week.
Galway were really impressive against Mayo but Mayo were poor on the day and it’s still difficult to gauge where Galway are at. They were supremely efficient in the second half when scoring 1-06 from just ten shots but they’ll need to create far more attacks with the high volume of attacks Roscommon will be expected to generate.
Galway will fancy their chances. Kevin Walsh will also surely have learned a great deal from the last time he took a team into a Connacht final. After defeating Mayo and Galway, Walsh’s Sligo were hot favourites going into the 2010 Connacht final but Roscommon turned them over. That side was managed by Fergal O’Donnell.
Walsh will want payback now. Galway are also craving a first Connacht title since 2008. Yet Roscommon’s greater depth on the bench might just be enough to get them over the line. And to finally make that next big step.
There's general agreement on who our GAA experts are predicting will win all this weekends games, apart from Donegal vs Monaghan which is again a close call;
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Roscommon to win: 46%
Galway to win: 49%
Limerick to win: 18%
Cork to win: 80%
Monaghan to win: 96%
Longford to win: 3%
Cavan to win: 96%
Carlow to win: 2%
Kildare to win: 85%
Offaly to win: 13%
Clare to win: 33%
Laois to win: 64%
Derry to win: 40%
Meath to win: 55%
Mayo to win: 94%
Fermanagh to win: 5%
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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