Wednesday 28 September 2016

'Remarkable' Leitrim won't roll over - McHale

Published 20/05/2016 | 02:30

Liam McHale, Roscommon coach Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Liam McHale, Roscommon coach Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Maybe they are growing pains. How else would you explain a side lighting up the top flight of the league and then almost succumbing to the biggest shock in the history of the championship?

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That has been the lot of Roscommon so far this year. And their graph is set for another turn - one way or the other - this weekend.

They head to Carrick-on-Shannon to take on Leitrim on Sunday afternoon. There's no earthly reason why league semi-finalists who have claimed the scalp of Kerry in the Kingdom or put 4-25 on Cork by the Lee should be fearing a side that won two games in Division 4.

But publicly at least, all sides seem to agree - there is at least a whiff of blood in the water.

Liam McHale recalls vividly the kind of dastardly things Leitrim can concoct in Carrick. Mayo went all the way to the 2006 All-Ireland final but only after they got past Leitrim by the minimum after failing to score for the last 30 minutes.

"We got out of it by the skin of our teeth," recalls the now Roscommon coach.

And McHale is full of admiration for how the least populated county in the country continue to punch well above their weight.

"It certainly won't be easy," McHale said of the weekend's clash. "They are a remarkable county, an amazing county, because they have a very limited pick but they keep turning out very competitive county teams - particularly at home in Carrick.

Expecting

"We are expecting a very tough game and we're expecting that this game will go down to the wire. It's good for our fellas to feel that way because I don't know if we felt that way going in against New York.

"The two big advantages Leitrim have is that they are at home and we really struggled with New York. They'll be thinking, 'If we can really get stuck into these guys now and bring it to the last quarter the game is up for grabs.' And they are dead right to feel that way."

If Roscommon's recent form, which has seen them lose three on the bounce - albeit to top-class opposition - before scraping past New York isn't convincing, their injury list adds to the sense they might be vulnerable.

Ian Kilbride, Enda Smith, Cathal Compton and Cian Connolly (all injured) miss out while Conor Daly has opted to spend the summer in the US.

Still they remain unbackable in the game, even if their near miss in the Bronx has tempered expectations amongst their giddy following.

The wobble in New York was inexplicable but Fergal O'Donnell and Kevin McStay's young team had enough credit in the bank with supporters to make sure the brickbats didn't rain down.

"The fans were brilliant during the league and the boys were getting standing ovations against Kerry and Cork and Donegal," McHale recalls.

"People were getting excited because you are beating the biggest teams in the country and that's understandable.

"I went into a pub after the game on the Sunday night in New York. It was full of Roscommon fans and I was expecting to get kind of a little bit of flak but it didn't come. They were very nice, knew we hadn't played well but got out with a win.

Performance

"When you have a performance like that, for the fans to feel the same way as the players, was good. It's brought a sense of realism to it and that while we did very well in the league we are still very much a work in progress.

"A lot of the key players are only young fellas, so it is going to take time."

McHale may want time but many feel they are best placed to halt Mayo's unprecedented surge for a sixth consecutive Connacht title. In football, their dominance is bettered only by Dublin's haul of 10 in 11 years in Leinster. And McHale believes it's up to the other teams in the province to challenge the status quo.

"I'd be very disappointed with the likes of Meath and Kildare in Leinster to allow Dublin, no matter how good they are, to win ten out of 11.

"I don't think that should be happening. Dublin probably should have won seven or eight and then Meath and Kildare taking an odd one off them.

"And I'd be very disappointed watching Roscommon and Galway over the years, they should have been able to jump in there in the middle of that five and take one.

"This current Mayo team have a lot of mileage on the clock, I don't think they are going to do what Dublin did and win ten out of 11 in Connacht.

"But at the same time the likes of Galway and Roscommon in particular would need to stand up and be counted, Sligo as well I suppose."

Talk of Connacht titles is for another day. Roscommon know there'll be no forgiveness in Carrick.

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