Anthony Cunningham was a very happy man at the final whistle last Saturday in Elvery’s MacHale Park. He praised his Roscommon team’s courage as they held off Mayo to end a 33-year championship losing streak in Castlebar.
“Coming down here to Mayo we knew what to expect and it was always going to be a tough, tight match. I was just delighted with the performance. We kept to the script. We got a great start but Mayo showed all their experience and they chipped away at us but we held our nerve and that counted there at the end.
“When you are down here (in MacHale Park) and Mayo are chasing you with the home crowd behind them, it’s an ever harder task. The rain and the mist in the second half made things even tougher. There was a lot of hard challenges out there and nothing was spared out there but our players showed great resilience and they stuck to the task well and that’s something we want to build on.
“For us we had to play every ball; there was no grand plan. When we have the ball we want to score, when we don’t have the ball we want to defend better than Roscommon have done over the past few years and we have worked hard on that. But this is just one match for us. We will re-set again and get ready for Galway. But we will take the positives out of it and what we need are repeat performances,” he said.
The Roscommon manager also highlighted the impact his substitutes had in the closing stages.
“Our bench is very strong and they brought a bit of freshness to it in the last 20 minutes and that was vital. Conor Devaney made a few vital interceptions, Fintan (Cregg) scored the winning point in the finish. We want a strong panel and these days you need a strong panel because hopefully we still have a lot of football to play this summer but it’s one day at a time,” he added.
Cunningham also had high praise for his forwards and in particular, man of the match Conor Cox.
“Conor Cox has been a huge find for us this year and he is bringing a bit of genius to it (in terms of attacking play) because Mayo have top class defenders, probably the best in the game.
“For us today is very satisfying but we just have to kick on now. We were very disappointed after we played Mayo here in the league and after that match we knew we could match them. We used Mayo’s success as an inspiration for us. The players know each other well so we feel why can’t we aspire to be as good as they are?”
“You could see how much this win meant to Roscommon GAA people out there on the pitch after the match. That’s what the GAA is all about. That’s what a good performance brings, but for us it’s on to the next day and we have to get a result in the next game too,” he said.
Strength and conditioning played a vital role in Saturday’s win and while Anthony Cunningham was pleased with that aspect of Roscommon’s performance, he admitted that there are tweaks needed ahead of June’s Connacht final againg Galway.
“There is huge improvement needed from us, let’s be very clear about that. Mayo did outfox us on the kick-outs and that comes with experience. We will have to get better at that aspect of our game.
“Modern-day players are very fit and they work on their strength and conditioning every day of the week. The gym work hasn’t been as strong in Roscommon over the last few years but it has to be strong. We are working away at that all the time, the same as every other team,” he said.
The Roscommon manager concluded by laying down a challenge to his players.
“I’m in this job because I love coaching. Iain Daly and Mark Dowd are tremendous coaches too. It is so satisfying when the players produce what they are capable of. These players can perform and they can go a step or two more as well but they must decide that themselves.
“The big trick now is to repeat that performance the next day. Roscommon have not been good at doing that over the years but we have to re-set now and go again in the Connacht final”.