Friday, July 15, 2011

The Connacht Final. Kind of a Big Deal

Sunday’s Connacht Final is a big deal and a sideshow all at the same time. Whoever goes home with the Nestor Cup on the front dash of the bus will be licking their chops at the prospect of a trip to Headquarters. Who loses will either run up a white flag or else realise that they can be right back to where the Connacht Champions are in seventy short minutes. But it’s not a given that shoe will drop and it’s fairly certain that nobody will want to take the chance if they can help it.

Fergal O’Donnell cannot be praised enough for all he’s done with Roscommon. To develop minors is a challenge. To integrate those into a shell of a team that’s been destroyed by various events over the past decade is a challenge.

But to do both those things, win a Connacht Final and now be in a position to dominate Connacht and challenge for national honours – because that’s what we’re talking about here – is nothing short of breath-taking. The man can’t be praised enough for what he’s done in his county’s hour of need.

Roscommon can win if they can shut down the O’Sheas, not let Mayo score heartbreaking goals and deliver ball to the boys that can use it – Shine, Kilbride and the rest. If that happens Roscommon return to Croke Park one year wiser from their loss to Cork and, of the teams left in the qualifiers, it’s only Cork they should fear. If they can go one step further, Roscommon are seventy minutes away from the All-Ireland final. That makes for one hell of a summer, and one that doesn’t have to end there either.

Mayo can win by doing the opposite of course – the O’Sheas dominating midfield, starving the Roscommon frontline while serving up the sort of ball that can make the Mayo inside lin the toast of the heather county.

Everything after that is a bonus for Mayo. Winning a quarter-final would be wonderful – and, like Roscommon, Cork are the only team in the qualifiers whom Mayo should fear – but age is against them. It’s a steep learning curve for manager and players. Of course, there is still that voice ag cúl an chinn that whispers: good enough, old enough. It’s no harm to listen to that voice every now again. What use a summer where dreaming is banned?

While the blood will course through the winners’ veins, the losers should allow themselves one night’s sulking, and no more. On Monday, they are only one game away from being in exactly the same position that the Connacht Champions are in, and they must get that truth into their heads quickly.

Everything that went wrong in the Connacht Final can be righted by one game, and then you’ve exactly the same chance as the Connacht Champions. It would not be great to draw the Munster Champions in the quarters, just as it would not be great to draw the Munster losers, but there you go. The odds are on your side either way and, if it’s a matter of a semi-final, Goliath might just wonder for a moment when he sees David marching from the West, thoughtfully swinging his slingshot and eying up the big man.

FOCAL SCOIR: Nobody really knows what’s going to happen over Roscommon Hospital and any protests to do with it at the Connacht Final. The people of Roscommon have clearly been led up the garden path on the matter and are right to be annoyed – more so because of the lies than the closure of the hospital itself, even. Everybody understands the country is broke but being lied to is hard to take. For all that, it would be a crying shame if the game were disrupted or fans were delayed or anything bad were to happen. I hope Mayo and Roscommon and the Galway minors can celebrate the west on Sunday, and it won’t be the last day out for any of us.