All-Ireland SFC Super 8s (Round One): Roscommon - v - Tyrone on Saturday in Dr. Hyde Park at 5 pm
I always loved the quote from the late Seamus Brennan in 2007 when he told the Green Party, who wanted to get into Government, “Ye are playing senior hurling now lads”. That maxim can apply to the Roscommon footballers when they welcome Tyrone to Dr. Hyde Park to open the Super 8s campaign on Saturday evening.
Despite having beaten Leitrim, Mayo and Galway already, the intensity is about to step up several notches this Saturday. The value of a win in the opening game of this competition cannot be stressed highly enough. To garner two points from this match would take the pressure off for the trip to Croke Park the following week and would leave the mouth-watering prospect of a trip to Cork to fight for a place in the All-Ireland semi-final.
There are several interesting sub-plots to this match on Saturday. When the sides met in 2018 in Croke Park, Tyrone handed Roscommon a thrashing that they were not expecting and it started what was a pretty forgettable campaign for the Rossies.
However, Roscommon are back this year a completely different outfit. The confidence gained from the spectacular wins away from home against Mayo and Galway is invaluable and to have their first game in the Super 8s at home is a serious boost.
Roscommon’s added steel in their play this year has been the key to their success thus far. Not to have conceded a goal in the championship yet is a considerable achievement. Roscommon have been tigerish in defence, brought about by a huge work ethic that exists throughout the team.
Midfield has been a problem for Roscommon in the past, but against Galway I was impressed with Tadhg O’Rourke and Shane Killoran. They will need to be at their very best on Saturday. Primary possession is where it’s at in these big games.
Conor Cox has been a revelation for Roscommon in attack but make no mistake, Tyrone will target the Kerry native from the opening whistle and I am sure Anthony Cunningham knows that too. It means that additional responsibility will fall on the likes of Enda Smith, Diarmuid Murtagh, Cathal Cregg and Niall Kilroy. Roscommon have plenty of talented attackers and I reckon they will need to score about 1-15 to win this match on Saturday. They are well capable to getting to that total.
In the modern game the goalkeeper is now probably the single most important player on the field. Darren O’Malley has not put a foot wrong so far this year and on Saturday the kick-out strategy will have to be spot-on. Will Tyrone push up? If that happens the long-range stuff has to be accurate.
One of the journalists that I regularly work with has an obsession with ensuring that whatever way the teams start is the way he will line out the team in his report but with this Tyrone outfit the only certainty on Saturday is that Niall Morgan will start in goals and Cathal McShane will start at full-forward. You could name all the rest of the Tyrone team one after another for all the heed that is passed about positions on the field.
You could name Conor Meyler at any position from 2 to 15. He was everywhere last Saturday against Cavan and he seems to be the ultimate utility player. Colm Cavanagh will sit in front of the Tyrone full-back line on the ‘D’ as their sweeper. He is very effective.
Mattie Donnelly, Peter Harte (who I expect will be playing), Brian Kennedy, Frank Burns and Niall Sludden will do most of their work between the two 45 metre lines as required. Their fast-running counter-attacking game is hard to defend against. This year Tyrone are leaving McShane and Darren McCurry inside to do the scoring damage. McShane is improving all the time. McCurry is a player that I rate very highly and he will require some minding on Saturday. He is superbly accurate.
Sean Mullooly will have the task of shadowing McShane and that will be a vital clash. I presume that Davy Murray will be detailed to follow McCurry. The three Daly brothers and Conor Hussey will have to be at their very best to stop Tyrone in their forays upfield. I suspect that we will see Niall Kilroy and one or two more of the Roscommon attackers dropping back when Tyrone are in possession.
Anthony Cunningham will have a definite game plan to deal with Tyrone’s threat and if the Roscommon players are ‘at it’ from the word go they can make life uncomfortable for Mickey Harte’s men. What Roscommon must not do is allow Tyrone to dictate the terms of the game. If they do they will choke the life out of them just as they did to Cavan last Saturday. By hook or by crook Roscommon must be in the game at half-time. They need to sow seeds of doubt in the minds of the Tyrone players.
I am predicting a game that could be very dour – it will require massive patience to wait for the openings to score. But I am so impressed with the passion and intensity that Anthony Cunningham, Iain Daly and Mark Dowd have brought to this Roscommon team and the way the players have bought into their style. Anthony Cunningham will be relishing the chance to pit his wits against Mickey Harte, and especially at home in Hyde Park.
If Roscommon can tear into Tyrone with intensity from the first ball then it could be a very interesting game. I think there will be a cracking atmosphere in Dr. Hyde Park. The supporters will have a big part to play on Saturday. There is something special going on with the Roscommon panel this year and I have a feeling that the campaign is not over yet by a long way!
Having hammered Roscommon at this stage last year and having reached the All-Ireland final it is easy to see why Tyrone are the hot favourites to win this match. However, I have a feeling that it will be a lot closer than the so-called experts think. I like the way Roscommon have been going about their business this year so far.
There will be no singing on the Tyrone bus in the way home on Saturday night!
Prediction: Roscommon by two points.