Newton laying solid foundations for Rossies' bigger battles ahead
THE Glory Game won't be on show at Ballinlough tomorrow despite the Roscommon versus Mayo FBD Connacht League fixture representing a re-run of the 2011 Connacht SFC final.
On that horrible day in July, Roscommon had only a four-point lead at half-time after playing with the gale at their backs for the opening 35 minutes, and it wasn't enough.
Mayo ground their way back into the game and outscored their opponents by five points to two in that second half, giving them a 0-13 to 0-11 victory.
The green and red went on to oust 2010 All-Ireland champions Cork before coming a cropper to Kerry in the semi-final, while Roscommon made their exit in round four of the qualifiers to Tyrone.
There is little to play for in tomorrow's game except pride. Mayo are already qualified for the final against NUI Galway, while the Rossies -- with a draw against GMIT and a defeat to Leitrim behind them -- can only hope to put on a decent performance.
For new Roscommon manager, the ex-county footballer Des Newton, it's the same early-season syndrome that afflicts all team bosses at this stage of the year.
Younger players are involved with college teams, others have injuries and for four counties, including Roscommon, the All-Ireland club semi-finals strips them of a number of quality players.
Newton came in brimming with enthusiasm and looking forward to the challenge of succeeding Fergal O'Donnell -- who masterminded Connacht final success for the Rossies in 2010.
Ideally he would have all his players together at this pivotal time of year and be putting them through their paces to begin the team-building process, but real life in the GAA isn't like that.
Tomorrow's game will be useful exercise but by the start of the National League -- in which Roscommon play Tipperary in their opening Division 3 fixture of the campaign -- Newton estimates he could be without seven of the players who featured in the Rossies' last championship outing in July.
"It's very early in the season to be talking about anything much. I'm the same as any other county manager with players' availability at this time of year, and we also have St Brigid's in the All-Ireland club semi-final," Newton said.
"We've been doing a lot of strength work, trying to catch up a bit because of the timing of the appointment.
"We got a fair bit out of the first match against GMIT because it came on the back of a challenge against Donegal on the Friday night beforehand.
"Last Sunday we looked a bit sluggish against Leitrim, but we'll hope to improve the performance against Mayo and then get down to preparing over the next two weeks for Tipperary.
"It's important we make good use of those two weeks, particularly the weekend, to do what we can to be ready for the start of the league."
The job at Roscommon is Newton's first inter-county post, but he has many years' coaching experience and the wanderlust which brought him to play with Donegal -- in between two stints at senior level with his native county -- has helped mould his ideas on team management.
GAA president Christy Cooney would be very pleased with Newton's appointment -- being a manager working with his own county, albeit that his home is in Dublin, where he is principal of Adamstown Community School.
His career path encompassed living in Donegal, Boston and Dublin. A member of the Roscommon U-21 All-Ireland-winning squad of 1978, injury disrupted the Shannon Gaels man over the next two seasons, although he was a substitute in the 1980 Connacht final win over Galway.
A brother of county player John, Newton played five seasons for Donegal during his time as a teacher there between 1983 and 1987 before returning to play with Roscommon.
The highlights of his playing career were winning three provincial medals with Roscommon (1980, '90 and '91) and one with Donegal (1983), along with a Railway Cup medal in 1984 with Ulster.
Off the field, Newton's most recent involvement prior to his appointment as Roscommon manager was as a selector for the formidable Kilmacud Crokes side managed by Paddy Carr.
Now he faces the challenge of taking charge of Roscommon, where he will require all his experience and knowledge to help his native county through a competitive Division 3 in the Allianz League.
Their first championship outing is June 9, playing the winners of New York and Sligo. By then, January 22 in the FBD League will be a footnote in history. The bigger battles lie ahead.