Tuesday 28 January 2020

McStay believes Rossies are at 'fork in the road'

Roscommon manager Kevin McStay. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Roscommon manager Kevin McStay. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

He could have brushed it off as 'just another game' and dressed it down in the hope that some stealth would ease pressure. But that wouldn't be Kevin McStay's style. Nor would it have been even plausible.

Three years down the road with this team, Roscommon's manager knows the time has come to whip the L plates, or even the N plates, off the back window and start steering a more aggressive course. No longer can the development card be played, no longer can they consider the next step a bonus. It's one they simply have to take.

"This is a moment," he acknowledges, looking ahead to Saturday's fourth round qualifier with Armagh in Portlaoise.

"The players know this, we all know this. This is a fork in the road. We have to drive this on. We need to be in the 'Super 8s', we want to be there, we plan to be there.

"It's time to move for all of us. 'Get off the pot' time. They can't be young stars forever. Yes, they're good players but there is more required to get into Super 8s. There has to be a bit more than just an array of talent," he says.


"There are other ingredients required. I know we have it but we haven't shown it often enough. This is boiling point in terms of championship. We're putting that pressure on ourselves and we don't mind putting it on ourselves. We know the prize is big for everyone."

McStay (right) knows that every other manager in his position is saying the exact same thing this week, maybe not publicly but his willingness to challenge his players in this way supports just how much is at stake.

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Being on the outside looking in at the next three weekends of championship football after this is not where anyone wants to be.

"The simple analysis is, if we get three All-Ireland quarter-finals and Armagh don't get them, or if we get three and one of our rivals for that top-eight slot or whatever the ranking, eight, nine, 10 or whatever it is, don't get them, a gulf develops in the space of five weeks in terms of experience, exposure, fitness, staying together as a squad into August, that develops us tremendously well for next year.

"And that's the way we are looking at it so we can be ultra-competitive over the next three or four weeks."

"It's huge experience and huge exposure. If you are developing a team and where we're coming from it takes a minimum of three and anything up to five years, you have to go through these experiences. We need them, whether they are good bad or indifferent. We're at that moment."

Roscommon have had more time to prepare than any of the other fourth round qualifiers this weekend as it'll be three weeks since the Connacht final and that, says McStay, is a critical element, especially as provincial final losers.

"I have had the experience of the six-day turnaround when we lost to Clare in 2016 and that proved impossible for us to manage, just the sheer disappointment of losing a replayed Connacht final, the effort, physically and mentally, that you put into it, the chaos of losing and trying to reconfigure your team and injuries and suspensions," he recalls.

"The critical element in recovery and preparation is time so thankfully we've had a week longer than any other provincial final loser because we played the Connacht final a week before the other three. That has been extremely helpful for us.

"We've also come to terms with what happened us in the Connacht final. We have to put it to bed now and move on."

Roscommon hope to have Cathal Compton back after he left that Connacht final early with hamstring injury but Fergal (back) and Ciarán (thumb) Lennon have been ruled out with Fergal likely gone for the season.

In any review of the Galway game since, McStay (left) knows that they left a lot behind them that day.

"If we had got the scores that we absolutely should have got. We had some horrendous wides when you look at the tape, particularly the second half because we had the wind. So you would imagine shooting should have been easier.

"And I know the one thing we have is very accurate forwards. So I know we let ourselves down very badly. If we got those points we would have asked a lot of pressurising questions of Galway.

"When you look at the tape it's very clear-cut that we had lads inside free and we just lost our composure. It wasn't selfishness. Under pressure lads just didn't see this and made bad decisions. That's one thing we can improve on and will improve on.


"We've had an extra few weeks for the lads who were injured earlier on, the likes of Ultan Harney, Niall Daly. They are in better condition going in. That was an issue for us with five or 10 minutes to go, some of our lads were blowing hard."

But recovery has been good and they'll come into the game in "good fettle, unless I am completely misreading this," he adds.

"It's a game we have to win. It has a feel of an absolute, old-style knockout. It was never about Armagh, who I have great respect for, or who we got.

"And I mean that sincerely. There is always a pecking order as to who we would like.

"Whoever we'd play, Tyrone, Armagh, Monaghan, Kildare, it didn't matter. It was about how we reacted. That is my experience. We had Clare two years ago, we might have been favourites to win it, we couldn't get a spark out of ourselves. That's the challenge, we are focused on ourselves."

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