Thursday 14 December 2017

'If there was disunity we couldn't have won' - Murtagh

Enda Smith celebrates with Roscommon supporters. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
Enda Smith celebrates with Roscommon supporters. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Roscommon could not have won a first Connacht football title in seven years if there was as much disharmony in their camp as was being speculated on, their captain Ciarain Murtagh has insisted.

Murtagh and his brother Diarmuid led the Roscommon line impressively on Sunday, pulling their markers out of position repeatedly to land some heavy blows.

An emotional Kevin McStay. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
An emotional Kevin McStay. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile

Murtagh, made captain last year at the age of 23, acknowledged the luck of the draw that shortened their campaign considerably compared to 2016.

Twelve months ago, they were straight into a challenging game in New York just weeks after taking a league semi-final pummelling from Kerry, and then had further games in the province against Leitrim and Sligo before being brought to a Connacht final replay by Galway, which they lost heavily.

This time they had Leitrim in a Connacht semi-final and the schedule clearly worked in their favour, allowing them to plot the ambush carefully.

"The way that the draw worked out, because we had to go to New York last year, we had no time to relax after the league," Murtagh recalled.

"This year we had a couple of rounds of the club championship and we got to train hard for 10 or 11 weeks before Leitrim and then we had a few weeks to build for the final, which was a very nice build-up," he said.

The effort to retain Division One status in 2017 took its toll and this season, whether consciously or not, they did not chase league position with such intent, allowing them to taper their championship preparations better.

The backdrop of upheaval caused by the departure of so many players through retirement, disengagement, travel and those just let go was not something they could possibly have let get to them if they were going to take out a team like Galway, Murtagh insisted.

Cathal Cregg did not return after last year, Niall Daly left the squad during the league, Neil Collins has left the country to travel, Senan Kilbride, Niall Carty and Geoffrey Claffey retired while Donie Shine, Sean Purcell, James McDermott and David Keenan, who featured in championship games in 2016, were either let go or elected not to come back.

It was quite a transformation in personnel and, allied to the split between joint-managers and the acrimony of the succession, it brought significant pressure to bear on the management especially.

But decision of Kevin McStay to continue in sole control has been rewarded now despite the obvious risks involved in ties being cut with such a well-respected local figure like Fergie O'Donnell, the previous Connacht title-winning manager in 2010.

"The whole management team took slack during the winter and the spring.No one sees the work that goes on behind the scenes, what lads do and how much their heart is in it," said Murtagh.

"We would not have been playing like that if the management team was not behind us and we were behind the management team. So that is why we won.

"We don't listen to that sort of stuff. You block all that out. Everyone can throw around rumours but no one knows what actually is going on inside the camp.

"I don't think you win finals if the lads are not happy, if the management are not doing the right things."

Key to it was getting something out of their last game against Cavan when, despite being relegated, they beat a team that was playing to avoid relegation by three points.

"We were after shipping some heavy defeats during the league so to get that last win before going into championship was definitely crucial because last year we got that bit of a hammering going in against Kerry," said Murtagh.

"That is never nice coming into championship football so to get a win like that definitely gives you a bit of confidence."

The big target for Roscommon, said Murtagh, was always playing an All-Ireland quarter-final in Croke Park and that has now been achieved by the shortest route possible.

They've won only a third Connacht title in 26 years with a starting team with an average age of 24 and an extended 36-man squad that has 27 players aged 24 or under.

Their physical dimensions are also worth noting. According to the programme statistics, one third of their team are listed as 5'9" in height, small by modern standards, with just five 6'0" and above.

But their hearts were bigger when it mattered. Galway were struck by the virus of complacency against a side they were expected to beat for the second successive year, and a united Roscommon outfit were not found wanting.



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