Sunday 26 May 2019

Colm O'Rourke: Rossies' team spirit can make all the difference

Niall Kilroy will likely fall back for Roscommon, who conceded ten goals in the league. Photo: Sportsfile
Niall Kilroy will likely fall back for Roscommon, who conceded ten goals in the league. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

Today the Connacht final takes place in Hyde Park in Roscommon. Proper order too. Any town that has been designated to hold a provincial final should host it, even if the crowd has to be slightly restricted. Local business deserves a big day too, as they support the GAA when things are very quiet.

It is a sell-out, even if Galway footballers have not enjoyed nearly as much support as their hurlers. If some have to stay away and watch the game live on TV with a copy of the Sunday Independent in one hand and a nice cup of tea in the other, then it does not amount to a complete sacrifice. Well, I would say that.

Health and safety is the buzz term in many organisations now. It is an excuse to do nothing. Life is a risk, and you could get a much worse injury slipping on a concrete terrace than a grass bank, yet all around the country supporters are not being allowed to watch from grass banks in case they slip and pull a hamstring. Last Saturday in Navan when Tyrone and Meath played, the bank behind the goals was left open for families, and there is no nicer sight than parents and children sitting watching a match in the evening sun.

There is a certain irony in Roscommon fighting so hard to retain the match in their much-loved Hyde Park. The same Dr Douglas Hyde, who was from Roscommon, was suspended by the GAA in 1938 for attending a soccer match between Ireland and Poland when he was the country's President. To make it worse, Dr Hyde was a great promoter of Irish culture and our language - a similar ethos to the GAA.

The famous ban was only removed in 1971, but the GAA accepted in 1945 that it was appropriate for the President to attend any sporting event he wished in his role as head of state. The ban had its uses in the early years of the GAA as it prevented infiltration, but like a lot of things in our sacred organisation, it was left far too long on the statute books. So Roscommon and Galway go to war in the field of the outcast. I am not sure if the GAA ever issued an apology to Dr Hyde. He deserved one.

Anyway, history will have little impact today. When the sides met in the Connacht final last year, Roscommon gave Galway a thrashing on a wet, windy day in Salthill. It was looked on as a bit of a fluke at the time, but the subsequent quarter-final performances - Galway's dismal display against Kerry and Roscommon's draw with Mayo - shone a different light on the game.

Things are only slightly different this year. Roscommon, who had been relegated from the first division of the league, bounced back up this year and were quite impressive in the Division 2 final against Cavan in Croke Park - even though Cavan scored four goals and the Roscommon backs seemed to be on a work to rule.

In the Division 1 final on the same card, Galway lost to Dublin despite having an extra man for the last quarter. They were not impressive. Neither were they against Mayo in the championship in Castlebar. I thought Mayo were the better team, and again Galway had an extra man for quite a time. In the end, a Johnny Heaney goal rescued Galway in a dreadful match, something which has become a common occurrence when the Tribesmen take the field.

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Perhaps I judge Galway too harshly. Maybe I expect that they should become something they are not. Maybe I look at their team and see a lot of individual flair and talent, especially up front, and expect them to go out and destroy teams. They did it against Sligo. Damien Comer stayed like a fox close to the pen and scattered the Sligo chickens at every opportunity. With Eamonn Brannigan and Shane Walsh, Galway have enough pace to cause havoc, especially as Roscommon are a bit back to front too - most of their best players are in the front line.

Some of the Galway tactics in defence surprise me and I feel they are often counter-productive. If you flood the defence with extra men there is a real danger that nobody marks any of the forwards as tightly as they should because there is an in-built safety mechanism at play. Backs can lose focus if they feel that there is someone else to cover for them. When it is man on man it sharpens the mind as you know one mistake can be fatal. Also, that tactic invites teams on and eventually a good side will bore holes.

With all the blanket defences it is amazing that there are more goal chances than ever.

One extra back is often desirable and, with some teams, entirely necessary. So Niall Kilroy will likely fall back for Roscommon, who conceded ten goals in the league.

Galway let in one in a higher division so there does seem to be a problem for Roscommon, although Peter Domican, John McManus and Fintan Cregg will do their jobs as defenders and leave the scoring to the posh boys up front.

Every good team needs a group who are willing to sacrifice their own game to ensure those with flair and scoring ability can flourish. There is not much glory in close marking, breaking the ball away, covering runs off the ball or giving the ball quickly to a player who has more skill. Yet without about 10 of those there is no team, only individuals wearing the same colour jerseys.

It is hard to rate one of these sides over the other in that department. Both have had their share of setbacks from inside and outside the camp and are stronger as a result. In fact, both could be said to be in rude health, with the Super 8 now the big prize.

Paul Conroy's return is a boost for Galway and the result of the game could be determined by the attitude of the Tribesmen. During the week I was reading that Kevin Walsh has A, B and C plans, all of which seemed to have been ditched in favour of an attacking blitz against Sligo in the semi-final which finished the match as a contest in the first half.

They are capable of that, but also seem content to sit back most of the time and jam up the defence with most of their forwards. It looks ugly but Galway have been to the league final and are now in the Connacht final so the end could be said to justify the means. Yet every time I see Galway I expect them to play the beautiful game in the great tradition of their former stars. Like Rip Van Winkle I need to wake up and smell the manure which is modern football, but I live in hope.

Roscommon are outsiders in this contest; they could not care one way or the other as there is a growing maturity in this team. They have weathered the storms of last year, stuck tight with Kevin McStay when it would have been easier to panic and are more together and tougher mentally as a result.

Perhaps Galway have more class and better individual players, but Roscommon are a proper team and they will work with limitless passion for each other. That might be enough in a tight game.

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