Ben O’Carroll of Roscommon in action against Galway’s Jack Glynn during the Connacht SFC semi-final last month. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Rossies bid to end long wait for Croker win as Dubs await

By Eamon A. Donoghue

Can Roscommon be genuinely competitive in the All-Ireland senior football championship for the first time in the modern era?

Roscommon have not won a senior championship game in Croke Park since 1980. That’s 43 years and for a county that has won six Connacht titles since then, it’s disappointing that have failed to win in the hallowed turf over that period.

The Rossies haven’t reached the All-Ireland semi-final stage since 1991. Back then, teams directly qualified for the All-Ireland semi-finals by winning their province; there were no qualifiers, group stages or quarter-finals.

This squad of players are the best chance of ending Roscommon’s wait to reach the last four for some time, and this team are at their peak.

The Dublin team which won six All-Ireland titles in a row from 2015 to 2020 was arguably the greatest team of all time. But how does the current Dublin side measure up to those standards? We will find out in the coming weeks.

Sunday’s match at Croke Park (4pm) could be a major turning point for this Roscommon team. A win in Croke Park, and beating Dublin to boot, would almost make the wait since 1980 seem worthwhile.

It could be argued that this will be Roscommon’s third ‘free hit’ in this year’s championship.

Roscommon qualified for the group stages of the championship by way of finishing third in Division 1 of the Allianz Football League. They then had a free hit at Mayo in the Connacht championship and Davy Burke and his backroom team had their homework done on their old rivals, and it resulted in an outstanding win, despite a spectacle that neutral fans certainly did not enjoy.

But was the Roscommon management naive in their second game against Galway? They appeared to play into Galway’s hands and came a cropper in Hyde Park.

This now is their third free hit as, if Roscommon lose, they can still qualify for the All-Ireland knockout stages. But if the Rossies win, they can challenge for the All-Ireland race with confidence.

As Roscommon attempt to win their first championship game in Croke Park in 43 years, we’ll take a look at some of the key factors which could decide the outcome.

Kickouts vital as usual

Roscommon need to find a short kickout solution and they have to win a decent share of breaking ball. Firstly, they need to learn from what Louth did wrong against Dublin when suffering a hammering in the Leinster final. Dublin have one of the best zonal presses on opponents’ kickouts in the country. Conor Carroll’s kickouts will need to be fast and precise.

If Roscommon have to go long, they can’t kick the ball in the vicinity of Brian Fenton. They also need to keep Enda Smith away from Fenton for their own kickouts in the hope of finding their key man. Keith Doyle will need to be an option also away from Fenton.

Dublin will press up on Roscommon kickouts like they haven’t experienced before. They will have three across midfield in Fenton, Brian Howard and James McCarthy and if Roscommon go long, they need to keep players back and not isolate defenders, or they could be in for a long evening at GAA headquarters.

They can’t be as naive as Louth. They were not sharp enough to go short, and when they went long, they gambled with numbers around the middle to win possession and were cut to pieces in defence once Dublin won Louth’s kickouts.

Preventing Dublin goals

Roscommon should learn from Kildare’s game against Dublin in this year’s Leinster semi-final. Kildare made themselves competitive against Dublin, primarily because they didn’t concede any goals. They played with numbers deep and they doubled up on Dublin’s marquee forward Con O’Callaghan.

Burke and his management will have to get their match-ups right. They didn’t against Galway. If Roscommon can keep a clean sheet, the Connacht side do have the forwards who can get enough scores to make this competitive. They have to stay in the game, and hope they can pull off what would be one of the best Roscommon wins in this era.

Roscommon have played Westmeath, Cork and Cavan in challenge matches since losing to Galway. It looks like they will have a clean bill of health.

The team probably won’t change much from the lineout against Mayo and Galway. Brian Stack will have a crucial man marking job to do, likely to be on O’Callaghan. Where will Dave Burke play Enda Smith? Dublin are likely to give James McCarthy the role of tracking Smith, so it may not matter in this game where the Boyle man will play, because McCarthy will probably follow him wherever he goes.

What six forwards start and come on could be vital. Ben O’Carroll is different to the rest of the Roscommon attackers. He does a lot of unseen work off the ball and can cause mayhem in possession with his direct fleet-footed style. Will management start him or bring him on when the game opens up? Can Roscommon afford to not start him?

The Murtagh brothers (Diarmuid and Ciaráin), Donie Smith and Conor Cox will need to take every scoring chance they get.

Roscommon will need to play better than they have in any game this year, including the Mayo game in Castlebar. They will need to get so many things spot on - like kickouts, both short and long. They need to stop Dublin scoring goals and if they could do all that, then they have the scoring power to challenge Dublin.