FOLLOWING a lengthy break, the 2012 Roscommon SFC finally returns to the fore this weekend, when reigning champions St Brigid's and neighbours Padraig Pearses bid to build on opening day wins (achieved back in late May).
Clann na nGael drew their opening Group D fixture (against St Croan's), so it's important they produce the goods against Elphin on Sunday (at Elphin, 7pm).
St Brigid's have claimed an impressive six county titles since 1997 and are highly fancied to make it three Fahy Cups in a row this year. Former Mayo star Kevin McStay - based in Custume Barracks, Athlone, and former county title winner as manager of Roscommon Gaels - is now at the Brigid's helm and the Kiltoom/Cam outfit have cruised through the season so far. They have qualified with ease for the final of this year's Division 1 League (O'Rourke Cup), and comfortably brushed aside Kilbride in the championship opener in May, when Senan Kilbride's return of 1-5 helped them to a 3-14 to 0-9 win.
Next up in their defence of the Fahy Cup is St Faithleach's (Sunday, Ballyleague, 2.30pm), and another victory for the Kiltoom side would guarantee qualification to the knockout stages (with Kilbride having home advantage against Roscommon Gaels in the weekend's other Group B match).
Faithleach's should prove more resilient opposition than Kilbride and although Brigid's are red-hot favourites to dismiss all-comers in this year's championship, selector Benny O'Brien is reluctant to get carried away.
"St Faithleach's are the only team to beat us in the league this year, and it's always fairly close between the teams," said O'Brien.
"It's difficult to get carried away with one win in the championship and there's a long way to go yet, and tougher tests ahead. I think the biggest thing with St Brigid's this year is to see if the desire and hunger is still there, after defeats in the 2011 All-Ireland club final and semi-final earlier this year (against Garrycastle), and I don't think we can properly judge that until genuine championship challenges are put in front of the players. I think Sunday's game is a test, and hopefully the lads can respond to it," added O'Brien.
Cathal McHugh (currently playing in Boston) and the injured Johnny Murray are expected to miss the St Faithleach's game, while Ger Aherne (on the way back from injury) is unlikely to feature too. Frankie Dolan has only had limited playing time since the opening championship game in May, due to a hip problem, but according to Benny, is "being eased back into it" in recent weeks.
"I'm sure Frankie will play some part against St Faithleach's," O'Brien told the Westmeath Independent.
Injury blow for Pearses
In Group A, Padraig Pearses made a commendable return to the senior ranks in May, when winning their first match at this level (0-12 to 0-11 against Kilmore) since promotion last year.
Manager John Donoghue, though, received bad news of late, when key forward Sean Fahy was ruled out of action with a shoulder injury. Fahy needed surgery to the injury and it comes as a significant blow to Pearses ahead of Saturday's match against Strokestown (Kiltoom, 7pm).
Donoghue said: "A player of Sean's deadly finishing ability is always missed, but for now we have to drive on without him. We have a lot of fast and tricky forwards, and need to concentrate, for now, on the ones we have available. It's unfortunate for Sean and also unfortunate for us, but we need to focus on Strokestown, because they're hard to overcome in the championship. They have a couple of very dangerous forwards, so we can't afford to rest easy."
Apart from Fahy's injury, Pearses have also lost a lot of players who moved away from the area for work reasons. Both Vinny Costello and Michael Duignan went to Australia, while John Connell (last year's captain) and goalkeeper Thomas Dolan relocated within the country (all before the start of the championship).
Paul Duke and Pat Connell are also unavailable for selection at present, but Pearses supporters will be pleased by the recent return to action of Enda Barrett.
"I wasn't overly happy with the performance against Kilmore," said Donoghue.
"We dominated the first half but didn't put our chances away, and almost paid the price when Kilmore came back at us late on," he added.
The other Group A fixture this weekend sees Western Gaels face Kilmore (Sunday, Elphin, 5.30pm).
Clann na nGael, meanwhile, have become draw experts in the groups over recent years, but manager Eamonn Harney will be desperate for his men to rediscover that winning feeling when they take on Elphin on Sunday (Elphin, 7pm).
The Johnstown men drew their opening Group C fixture, 3-9 to 2-12 against St Croan's, with Matt Scally grabbing 2-2 that day. County forward Donie Shine added 1-4, including a penalty, while Johnny Dunning chipped-in with two points. County minors Ultan Harney and Stephen Flynn featured against St Croan's, with the former proving crucial to winning a late free (converted by Donie Shine) to claim a share of the spoils.
Clann lost by a point to St Croan's last Wednesday evening in their final League Division 1 match, and thus missed out on a league final appearance against St Brigid's, but their main focus will be on getting two points on the championship board against Elphin. However, such a task will be hugely difficult, given four-time county champions Elphin have reached the last two editions of the county final (losing on both occasions to St Brigid's).
Clann must also perform without the suspended duo of David Flynn and Emmett Kenny, but Cathal Duignan, who has missed over five weeks through injury, hopes to return. The other Group C fixture pits St Kevin's Castlerea against St Croan's on Sunday (O'Rourke Park, 4pm).