Monday 9 December 2019

Rossies rising up to the final challenge

Roscommon senior manager John Evans
Roscommon senior manager John Evans
Roscommon manager Nigel Dineen
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

With two national finals in seven days, these are good times for Roscommon football.

Although ahead of Saturday's Division 3 decider with Cavan, resources are stretched.

Senior manager John Evans has confirmed that the six members of his squad that backbone Nigel Dineen's U-21 team will be excluded from this weekend's trip to Croke Park, to allow them to concentrate completely on the following weekend's All-Ireland final with Dublin.

The Kerry man also expects to be without at least another four players through injury.

"We're going up with 21 or maybe 22 players," Evans revealed. "The six U-21s will be given a free hand to prepare for their All-Ireland final and they won't be with us this weekend. We have another few injuries so we're down a few bodies. But we're not bringing anyone in, we're going with what we have."

Regardless of the result on Saturday night, promotion is already guaranteed and has been since round five of the league. After leading Tipperary from Division 4 to Division 2, this is the third time Evans has steered a team to league promotion.

It's part of the general upsurge in Roscommon football. When the U-21s left Castlebar with an 11-point win earlier this year, it was the fourth year in a row they had beaten their neighbours at the grade.

And Saturday's last-gasp win over Cork sees them back in the All-Ireland final for the second time in three years.

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Last year's minors reached the All-Ireland semi-final, while a few months earlier, St Brigid's claimed All-Ireland club championship honours. Pound for pound, Roscommon are delivering despite the obvious challenges concerning population and finances.

"That's something that surprised me when I came up," Evans admitted. "It's not the most populated county and you have just 12 senior clubs. But they really love their football.

"If one brother in a house is playing, you can be sure the rest of the brothers play too, so while the pick might be quite small, the quality of player is certainly there.

"What we have worked quite a lot on is making that transition from underage to senior. We have a fantastic new gym where the minors, U-21s and seniors train and it's a great facility. That helps us develop the players. Not all U-21s make senior football but we are trying to bring through as much as we can."

Promotion from Division 3 might have come 12 months ago but for a dropped point against Wicklow. While their championship season was brief, as they met a rampant Mayo before Tyrone dumped them out of the qualifiers.

"People say it was only your first year but I was a little disappointed not to get promoted," Evans said. "We got some bad decisions against Meath and we drew with Wicklow.

"Then the championship wasn't kind and I have always thought you need a run of championship games to really build a team."

First, two rising forces in the Gaelic football landscape clash in Croke Park this weekend, where the best attack in Division 3 takes on the best defence across the four divisions.

Cavan were the only side to beat Roscommon in the league but with both sides already assured of promotion, it's hard to see what can be taken from that.

"We might be down a few bodies but that's just the way it is," Evans said. "We'll probably have a fairly different team out this weekend but it's a final and it is where you want to be."

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