Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Rosserini Fight the Good Fight

Roscommon is a fine county, and it’s always a highlight of the summer when Mayo play the sheepstealers.

Roscommon and Offaly - midlanders both - are two of An Spailpín Fánach’s favourite GAA counties. They lack the population of Dublin, Cork, Galway or Mayo but what pride and heart they bring to the occasion. You may win against them but you will never defeat them. For them, the road goes ever on.

Mayo supporters are spoiled with success. Certainly the summers of 1996, 1997, 2004 and 2006 did not end as the Mayo support would have hoped, but until the throw in on those fateful September Sundays, didn’t we have days? Didn’t we? Rich memories to call back in emptier times – the first Mayo supporters to walk up the hill as winners in Tuam since 1951. Defeating Kerry in 1996. Beating Galway after conceding 1-3 in the first ten minutes. Beating Tyrone. Beating Dublin.

Roscommon have existed on the other side of the football world in the past twenty years, as the magical era of Earley, O'Connor, Keegan and Lindsay fades to sepia. Living on scraps. Suffering a cruel and hideous fate in the first year of the qualifier system. Going through managers the way the HSE goes through money – that is to say, like a devouring flame, leaving a scorched and barren earth behind them.

That may change on Sunday. It may not. Hard to say without seeing a team, of course. But from what we can read from the runes of the year so far, many things will have to go wrong for Mayo and right for Roscommon for the Ross to claim their first win in McHale Park since – can it be? – 1986.

Mayo’s boy-king Aidan O’Shea is the cornerstone. He will almost certainly start at full-forward and if he goes well in there the Rossies might be heading for the gates by half-time. If, however, John Nolan or David Casey can keep him under control, then it gets interesting.

If Barry Moran starts beside O’Shea he can give the Rossies more of the same and something, surely, has to give. If it’s Andy Moran, however, shutting down Aidan O’Shea and stopping Conor from hitting the deck for those soft frees may reduce the Mayo scoring rate entirely. Dillon will cut away from distance and Pat Harte always threatens a goal-rampage, but Mayo are reliant on the Shea-on-the-square strategy for 2009. If it’s not happening for O’Shea, Mayo will have cause for concern.

But even then it’s still an uphill task for Roscommon. Michael Finneran in midfield is a Rossie of the old school but Mayo have a choice from McGarrity, Parsons and Harte to take him on and the Roscommon midfield may be living on scraps. The forwards have to maximise those scraps then against a Mayo rearguard that are certainly improved from last year, and the Rosserini have to do it without Cathal Cregg and for whom Senan Kilbride may not be functioning at one hundred per cent either.

Ladbrokes have made Mayo five point favourites for the game on Saturday, with Roscommon 4/1 longshots for the upset on the outright. Antrim were 9/2 last week against Donegal, and John O’Mahony will be able to use that to cut out any complacency from creeping in. It looks like another bleak day at the office for the constant hearts but, in the light of all they have suffered and their inviolate pride and immense appetite for the fray, it will be hard begrudge Roscommon should they have a famous night in Castlebar.

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