Evans banking on true grit for Roscommon's upward thrust
Roscommon will have to "scratch, scrape, crawl and claw" for every point in this year's Allianz Football League, but are ready for the challenge after a dramatic turnaround in fortunes last Sunday.
Manager John Evans has painted a graphic description of the effort that will be required from Roscommon in Division 2, which begins with a home game against Cavan on Sunday week.
Roscommon host Galway in the FBD Connacht League final in Kiltoom next Sunday, hoping to close the January campaign with a title. That looked most unlikely when Roscommon lost to NUIG last Sunday week, but a much improved performance against Mayo last Sunday has changed the mood.
Roscommon won by five points in what was their first success over Mayo in Castlebar since 1986. They looked a completely different outfit from the side which played so poorly against NUIG, an advance which pleased Evans.
"There wasn't a whole lot to be said after that game. The lads knew well that they didn't come close to doing themselves justice. Training had gone very well but they didn't perform at all that day. They knew what they had to do last Sunday and they produced a much better performance. It was really, really good and deserved to be rewarded," he said.
Now Roscommon are preparing to face Galway, whom they will meet again in Round 6 of the league on March 29.
"There's a lot of football to be played between now and then. Next Sunday's game is a good chance for both counties to get a final work-out before what I'm convinced will be a fiercely competitive league group. It was very tight last year too, with most things hinging on the last round of games. People are saying that Kildare are certain to top the table, but I'm not so sure. A lot of the teams are capable of beating each other on a given day," he said.
Roscommon were promoted from Division 3 with Cavan last April and, having come so close to Mayo in last year's Connacht semi-final, are seen as a squad that are capable of doing well in Division 2.
However, they will be away from home in four of seven games, always a disadvantage, especially for a team which has moved up a division.
"We'll certainly need to win our home games, but it won't be easy. We have Cavan first and after what happened last year (Roscommon beat them by 11 points in the All-Ireland qualifiers) they will come with five kitchen sinks to throw at us. It's vital that we win that first game," said Evans.
Roscommon will also be at home to Meath and Galway and away to Down, Laois, Kildare and Westmeath, the latter two having come down from Division 1 this season.
He believes that his panel is stronger overall than last year and that if they avoid too many injuries and are able to field close to full strength, they will do well. "They are working incredibly hard and have a great attitude. We'd be hoping there's a lot to look forward to this year," he said.
Beating Mayo and Galway on successive Sundays and picking up some early-season silverware would be a huge boost for Roscommon ahead of the league.
"It would be nice alright but we have a real test coming up on Sunday. I have huge respect for Kevin Walsh. He did a great job with Sligo and will bring new ideas to Galway. We'll need to be well-prepared for them and we are," said Evans.