Nicky Rackard Cup Final: Armagh v Roscommon on Saturday in Croke Park at 1.30 pm
Roscommon hurlers play their most important match in a number of years when they face red-hot favourites Armagh in the 2015 Nicky Rackard Cup Final on Saturday in Croke Park.
Following a couple of years of under-achievement by the Rossies, this final will afford Justin Campbell’s men a chance to revive their fortunes. However it will not be easy against an Armagh team who have improved out of all recognition in recent years and who won this competition just two years ago.
Indeed Roscommon defeated Armagh in the final of this competition in 2007, but a lot has changed since. Roscommon have slipped back in the intervening period but there have been positive signs this season. Under Justin Campbell there has been a noticeable rise in commitment levels by all the players to both training and general preparation.
While the league showed up some inconsistent performances, the championship displays have been excellent thus far.
Good wins against Fingal and Monaghan gave the side confidence and to beat Monaghan easily was a great boost to the squad as the Ulster side had beaten Roscommon twice in vital league games in recent years. Then in the semi-final against Tyrone Roscommon played some splendid hurling in Carrickmore to secure their place in the final.
Armagh are a very good side who have gained Christy Ring Cup experience in recent years. They defeated a strong Donegal side in the semi-final, by 1-19 to 1-12. Ciaran Clifford is a strong and forceful full-back while Nathan Curry and Conor Devlin are impressive in the half-back line. John Corvan is Armagh’s inspirational captain and his influence at midfield is vital. Ryan Gaffney is an excellent free-taker and will punish any Roscommon defensive indiscretions, while Eoin McGuinness and Conor Corvan are very dangerous attackers in the Armagh full-forward line.
Roscommon know that they will have to improve again on their semi-final display if they are to win on Saturday but they will feel that there is plenty more improvement in the tank.
Noel Fallon improves with every game and he now looks a top class goalkeeper. Roscommon have been resolute in defence and Ian Delaney, Liam Kilcline and Peter Kellehan have been rock-solid in the full-back line. Micheal Kelly is the Roscommon inspiration at centre half-back and his performances this year have been top class. Tom Seale and Declan Leonard have been very consistent in the half-back line.
At midfield, Cathal Dolan and Keith Kilkenny will have a huge task ahead of them as Armagh are very strong in that department. Up front Jerry Fallon will shoulder the free-taking duties and he is one of the best in the business in that role. John Moran and Ronan O’Meara will have vital roles to link the play and get scores. In the full-forward line, Cillian Egan, Adrian Murphy and possibly Johnny Coyne will have the job of getting the match-winning scores with Cathal Kenny, Jason Kilkenny and Naos Connaughton chomping at the bit to get some action.
Armagh deserve to start this final as favourites as they have been operating at a consistently higher level than Roscommon in recent years, in both league and championship. But Roscommon will always feel that they can beat Armagh in the championship and the confidence is growing within the Rossies’ squad. Armagh have a lightning-fast attack with some really good finishers. The Roscommon defence, which has been excellent in the championship so far, will have to play out of their skins if they are to provide a platform for victory.
So, is a shock result on the cards? I have a feeling that there is enough confidence coursing through the veins of a Roscommon side that is determined to take this title on Saturday. If they can improve on their semi-final display and get the breaks on the day, they can win it. Prediction: Roscommon.