Dunning says Rossies have left Connacht joy behind

Story by Kevin O'Neill

Wednesday, 28th July, 2010 5:00pm

CLANN na nGael's Johnny Dunning is one of the very few Roscommon players remaining that featured on the last occasion the county won a Connacht title before going onto the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

In 2001, Roscommon beat Mayo in the provincial decider (2-10 to 1-12), as then-manager John Tobin's men clinched a first Connacht senior title since 1991.

Athlone native Dunning played an unforgettable part in that particular Connacht success, setting up (along with Denis Gavin) the winning goal for Gerry Lohan, who buried the ball past Mayo goalkeeper Peter Burke in stoppage time, to give Roscommon a most dramatic victory.

And Athlone native Dunning, now 28, has this year battled back from severe injury problems to again be part of another long-overdue journey for Roscommon into the latter stages of the All-Ireland SFC.

Their recent Connacht final triumph over Sligo was as sweet and savoured as was unexpected, while it's been a long wait for Roscommon supporters since that quarter-final appearance in 2001, when Roscommon failed to perform and were comfortably beaten by eventual All-Ireland champions Galway at Croke Park.

Ironically, the Rossies had defeated Galway earlier in the 2001 Connacht championship, and Dunning is desperate for his team to avoid a similar fate (as against Galway in 2001) in this year's All-Ireland quarter-final against Cork on Sunday (2pm).

The pacy attacker said this week: "In 2001 we didn't do well at all in the All-Ireland quarter-final against Galway, and were really disappointing. I don't know what it was but we just didn't perform on the day. I remember there was a five-week break for us between the Connacht final and All-Ireland quarter-final, and I don't think that helped to keep our focus and stay sharp. This time there's only been a two-week break since the Connacht final over Sligo, and we've knuckled down well since that game and expect to push Cork all the way on Sunday."

Cork are certainly formidable opposition for a largely unfancied Roscommon, who many people believe have already exceeded expectations for the year by winning the Connacht title.

Despite losing by a point in the Munster SFC semi-final (after a replay) to old foes Kerry, many observers are still tipping Conor Counihane's Rebels to recover well and possibly win this year's All-Ireland.

However, Cork were not overly impressive when put to the test by Limerick in last weekend's keenly contested qualifier at the Gaelic Grounds, eventually coming through to the All-Ireland quarter-finals on a 0-16 to 1-11 scoreline.

Dunning holds Cork in the highest regard - but says Roscommon have nothing to fear.

"A lot of people are of the opinion that Cork was the hardest draw we could've got, but our players don't see it that way," Dunning said.

"No matter who you draw, you're going to get a hard game in the quarter-finals of the All-Ireland championship. We set our target to win the Connacht title this year, and while nobody gave us a chance of doing that, we managed to achieve it. We find ourselves in an All-Ireland quarter-final now, and plan to take this opportunity. Cork obviously have a lot of very good players, but they found it hard-going against Limerick last weekend.

We played Limerick in a few challenge matches over the past year and did very well against them, and while I know they're only challenges, it certainly gives us plenty of heart before playing Cork. Who knows what will happen on Sunday, but we're fully focused on Cork and on putting in a performance to be proud of," Dunning added.

There was wild celebrations among Roscommon supporters following the recent win over Sligo - but not by the players.

Dunning said: "The management got us totally refocused immediately and we were in training the following day (after the Connacht final). The manager (Fergal O'Donnell) brought us back down to earth straight away and told us we've got bigger fish to fry. We've got back to working hard in training and we won't have a fear factor at Croke Park on Sunday."

Dunning also believes that O'Donnell, who also guided the county to Connacht and All-Ireland minor glory in 2006, has instilled hard work and belief into Roscommon's previously much-maligned players.

"The players came under a bit of criticism over the past few years, and rightly so at times, for poor results and below-par performances. But Fergal knew there was enough talent in the county to make an impression, and that's proved the case. Fergal and his management team have given the players plenty of belief and he never panics in certain situations. He never looks for excuses and is pure honest and hard-working. That rubs off on the players too, and it's been a joy to work with Fergal and his management team," said Dunning.

"I had a disappointing time earlier in the year with injury, having broken my leg, but the Roscommon boys stood by me and I'm delighted to be part of this run. Hopefully I can force my way into the starting line-up on Sunday, but Gaelic football is a 20-man game these days, and I know I'll more than likely play some role at some point," Dunning added.

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