Mayo are still the Connacht kings - Dineen
Published 24/03/2016 | 02:30
It was expected to be the other way around.
By round six of the league, Roscommon were to be the ones fighting for their top-flight status while Mayo, it was expected, would be gearing up for a league semi-final as they looked to bridge the long gap between the end of the league and the start of their championship.
However, Mayo come to Dr Hyde Park on Sunday knowing that remaining in Division 1 is out of their hands. Roscommon have one foot in semi-final and are third in the market to win the league outright.
Sunday's result could have little influence on either team's league as a whole but it could perhaps mark a turn in the road in Connacht's pecking order.
Mayo are going for an unprecedented sixth Connacht title in a row but Roscommon look best placed to challenge that dominance given their promising spring.
No one can argue that it hasn't been coming. The two counties contest the upcoming Connacht U-21 final and their record at that grade points to the rise of Roscommon.
It'll be Mayo's first appearance on that stage in seven years. In the same period, Roscommon have featured in every final, winning four of them. This year will see them try to win their third title on the bounce.
In various guises for the last decade and more, Nigel Dineen (below) has been at the coalface of Roscommon football.
He's in charge of his home club Castlerea and steered the county to two All-Ireland U-21 final appearances in recent years.
And while the excitement has steadily built in the county, he believes this game is the most significant test yet of Roscommon's credentials.
"This is the psychological test," Dineen says.
"You have a Mayo team coming looking for points and down through the years they would have had the better of Roscommon so this will be a real test for the lads to see if they can do it here."
The former forward has been surprised by Roscommon's league form but insists the players involved would expect to be able to compete with some of the best in the country.
"These lads have played in All-Ireland finals and came up against the likes of Jack McCaffrey and Paul Mannion and these lads who have won All-Irelands.
"So that's who they'd be matching themselves up against - against players of that calibre. Of course it's a big step up to senior but they'd feel they can do it.
"If you were getting a trouncing from those teams at underage you might think differently but that is not in their mindset."
Huge numbers that travelled to Cork and Donegal from Roscommon in recent weeks to watch their side take out some of the game's big guns. But Dineen sees that excitement is tempered by last year's championship form which saw them lose out to Sligo and Fermanagh.
"There's no doubt it's a big game. Roscommon gave up home advantage in the FBD and had a good win and that will stand to them.
"But teams aren't judged on a two-month window, it's championship where they are judged and on that form Mayo are the undisputed kings of Connacht having won the last five."
Roscommon will have similar ambitions but the two sides can't meet until a potential Connacht final in July.
And while there has been some big talk about the potential of this Roscommon side, Dineen believes their ambitions must start in the province.
"You would think they could go and win a Connacht title but whether that will be this year only time will tell.
"You'd think they have a three- to five-year window this team because if you have five years where you are losing it can break a team.
"But I think they are very level-headed lads and very ambitious. And they have good men involved too. At the start of the year you might have been looking at the Monaghan and Down games for points but they have surprised everyone. But I know these lads will keep their feet on the ground."
Roscommon joint-managers Kevin McStay and Fergal O'Donnell have made one change from the side that beat Donegal with Enda Smith coming into midfield in place of Ronan Stack.
(NFL v Mayo) - G Claffey; S McDermott, N Collins, N McInerney; C Daly, S Purcell, D Murray; E Smith, N Daly; F Cregg, C Murtagh, C Devaney; C Connolly, S Kilbride, C Cregg.