Thursday 26 April 2018

Family ties keep Rossies' hope alive

Kildare U21 footballer Niall Kelly with his EirGrid Player of the Month Award for March, awarded for his outstanding performances during the month in the EirGrid GAA U21 Football Leinster Championship (Piaras O Midheach / SPORTSFILE)
Kildare U21 footballer Niall Kelly with his EirGrid Player of the Month Award for March, awarded for his outstanding performances during the month in the EirGrid GAA U21 Football Leinster Championship (Piaras O Midheach / SPORTSFILE)
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

The Dalys will be turning the car towards Sligo for another huge game today, just like the Smiths and the Comptons.

It's a wonder they all don't just stick 'EirGrid All-Ireland semi-final' in the GPS and let them navigate it themselves.

When Roscommon lost to Dublin in the 2012 All-Ireland U-21 final, the team contained two Daly brothers (Niall and Cathal), had Cathal Compton at full-forward and young Donie Smith beside him.

When the county lost another U-21 final to the Dubs last year the Dalys still had two in the starters - Cathal and Ronan this time - and Enda Smith had joined his brother in the forwards.

It's deja vu this season.

Roscommon have just won their fourth Connacht U-21 in six years and the team that still contains a Daly (Ronan), a Smith (Enda) and a Compton (Colin) faces Tyrone today, chasing a place in their third final in five years.

Their families will be among the fanatical Rossies who will travel in the hope that this current glut of talented youngsters will continue to bloom.


Half of Mark Dowd's team survive from last year and much store is put on the fact that it was Galway they beat in this year's cracking provincial final.

Only Galway had beaten them (twice) in the previous five provincial U-21 finals and not only did they get past them this time but in Tuam too.

"On another day Roscommon wouldn't have won that," says Niall Daly, now the county's established centre-back.

"In 2013, it was there for the taking for Roscommon and Galway won it after extra-time and went on to win the All-Ireland. Roscommon kicked it away in the second half that day.

"This team are probably more battle-hardened this year. So many of them were involved in last year's (one-sided) final against Dublin and are probably hoping to redeem themselves."

It was noticeable that the county seniors went out next day and beat Westmeath in the final round of Division 2.

After losing to Galway in the penultimate round, their promotion hope was endangered by their U-21 commitments and opponents who were desperately battling to avoid the drop.

That hard-fought win not only clinched Roscommon's promotion for the second year in a row but also secured their place in the upcoming Division 2 final.

Three of their rising stars - Diarmuid Murtagh, Ultan Harvey and Enda Smith - came off the bench the day after their latest U-21 victory to play key roles. Yet the eldest of the Dalys still cautions upon the amount of hope that is being invested in the county's underage talent, as if it will just automatically yield senior success.

For a start, they still haven't won an All-Ireland at underage level since that minor in 2006 and many of today's team lost a minor semi-final in 2013 to a lot of the same Tyrone players.

Daly well remembers what a great game his U-21 team gave those star-studded Dubs in Tullamore in 2012.

"My memory is that we really played to our potential, we couldn't have done any more for ourselves on the day but the last 10 minutes killed us," he recalls.

"They probably had a 20-man panel that were all good enough to be starting. We were just lacking a small bit in depth which kind of helped them across the line.

"With a bit of luck we might have won it. It wasn't to be but we always felt we played to our potential that day and the better team won."

That was a Dublin team managed by Jim Gavin and contained Jack McCaffrey, Paul Mannion, Ciaran Kilkenny, Emmet O Conghaile, Davy Byrne and (hurler) Mark Schutte, most of whom have since experienced senior championship glory with Dublin.

"But most of us still have won nothing at senior level and that's really where it counts," stresses Daly, discounting the significance of last year's Division 3 title.

"It doesn't necessarily follow that underage success will lead to senior success and we really need to push on at senior level now.

"There are more lads coming through again this year and there's great competition on the (senior) panel which is really driving other lads on too but we still need to win something at senior championship level, a Connacht or whatever."

A second consecutive league final (against Down) is fast approaching and victory today would put them into their third U-21 final in five years but Daly is right.

Roscommon are rightly proud of their recent underage success but they must start getting over the finish line and all the youth talent in the world doesn't matter if it doesn't eventually convert to senior silverware.

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