Turbulent off-season leaves Rossies facing stern challenges with new-look squad
It'svery easy to put your finger on where it all started to unravel for Roscommon in 2016.
Despite carrying the favourites' tag for relegation from the top tier, the Rossies were on a roll in Division 1 with four straight wins including defeats of Kerry, Cork and Donegal on the road before Mayo came to the 'Hyde'.
After a game played in atrocious conditions, four points was the difference between the two sides, but the gulf in class was obvious and that bruising loss set off a chain of events which saw the Roscommon train gradually screech to a halt.
A one-point reversal to an understrength Dublin side looked decent on paper and secured them a semi-final spot, but the Kingdom would exact revenge, hitting a first-half hat-trick and coasting to victory to end the Rossies' promising league campaign with the main aim of more top-flight status secured.
Big things were expected in Connacht but they nearly suffered the biggest shock in GAA history when their fairytale of New York turned into a nightmare as they just about escaped with their championship life, and a one-point win.
Victories over Leitrim and Sligo followed but their provincial final replay against Galway turned into a massacre and they were soon out the door as Clare dumped them out of the Qualifiers comprehensively.
What had started off as a breakthrough season ended in a damp squib and controversy soon followed as a split between joint managers Kevin McStay and Fergal O'Donnell left McStay in charge while selectors of David Casey and Stephen Bohan resigned.
Rumours of a split in the panel over McStay's reign circulated throughout the winter and with Senan Kilbride, Geoffrey Claffey and ex-captain Niall Carty all retired, and Cathal Cregg and Neil Collins not yet back in training, it's a challenging time for the former Mayo All-Star.
A crack at his native county tomorrow could be exactly what the doctor ordered, however, with the Kiltoom contest acting as an accurate indicator of where the new-look Rossies stand as they set their eyes on maintaining Division 1 status.
"The fact that I'm from Mayo, I'm sure that adds a touch to it so personally it really gets us ready," McStay (left) said this week. "We want to play them at this stage and have a cut at them and I'm sure vice versa but no doubt their eyes are on bigger prizes than our eyes just now."
A win would secure an FBD League final place against Galway and another game before their league opener against Tyrone appeals to McStay, who admits he is unsure whether the influential duo of Cregg and Collins will be rejoining his squad.
"They're still making up their minds but we're getting to an important part of the season now," he stressed. "They have to want to play for Roscommon. They need to have the passion, the energy and the hunger for it. I can't drive that into any of them."
McStay's counterpart Stephen Rochford has also had a somewhat stormy winter, but for very different reasons. Mayo fell short of Sam Maguire by the narrowest of margins to the Dubs in a replay with his decision to drop subsequent All-Star goalkeeper David Clarke raising eyebrows.
Then came Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes' exclusive with the Irish Independent with the former joint-managers calling the character and egos of some of his leading players into question. There has been little comment from the Mayo camp about that bombshell and their real test awaits come summer but both counties certainly have questions to answer.