Roscommon keeping one eye on the Big Apple
IT'S a bizarre schedule for an inter-county GAA team. Roscommon visit Croke Park tonight for the Allianz Football League Division 4 final (throw-in 5.0) and the Gaelic Grounds in New York a week later before a gap of six weeks until their next outing.
They go to New York as Connacht champions, and getting out of there with their reign intact is the priority, even if tonight's clash with Longford represents a real opportunity to gather more silverware.
"Last year we went into the championship with no expectation after being relegated," said Rossies manager Fergal O'Donnell. "This year we're going to New York as Connacht champions and they'd fancy their chances of beating us more than they would of beating Galway, which they came quite close to doing last year."
O'Donnell has split the focus of his preparation between the league final and the unique conditions the Gaelic Grounds' surface will offer. Longford have no such worries and won't see action after tonight until May 22.
"We drew with them in the league," said O'Donnell. "And they had a good run last year, pushing Down close and beating Mayo, which is something we haven't managed in a few years."
Sligo seemed to be making a beeline for the Connacht title last year, leaving Mayo and Galway trailing in their wake before Roscommon picked their pockets in the provincial final.
Roscommon's championship was ended by Cork at the quarter-final stage, but they were widely lauded for their performance that day, leading as late as the 41st minute against the eventual All-Ireland champions.
On reflection, however, O'Donnell's view of that match has altered.
"We were in the last eight last year but in reality we're still a bit off that, we probably need another couple of years," he said.
"They were toying with us really and could even afford to take a point from a penalty at the end. We have a young enough panel -- we need more time to get to that level of experience and physicality that Cork had.
"Ourselves and Longford will be very evenly matched. They might feel that if they were in Connacht they'd win more at provincial level. They are similar to ourselves and were also beaten in a (provincial) U-21 final this year"
The Roscommon U-21s failed in their bid to put back-to-back Connacht titles together for the first time in the county's history earlier this year but Roscommon football has been ticking along nicely.
St Brigid's run to the All-Ireland club final, allied with Roscommon CBS national Colleges 'B' title, means confidence is high going into a league decider against a Longford side who have precious little experience of HQ.
The return of St Brigid's forward Senan Kilbride (left) has been a big boost this season but David Casey, Cathal Shine, Fintan Cregg and David O'Gara all have long-term injuries while Jack Dunning and Senan O'Grady also miss out.
Roscommon board their flight to New York next Thursday and O'Donnell's main concern is hoping the injured list doesn't get any lengthier: "It's all about championship, that's where you'll be judged."