Liam McNeill was already a Roscommon Gaels legend before he took on the job of managing the senior team. In each of his five years he has watched his side miss out at the latter stages of the championship. Two years ago they were pipped in the final by St. Brigid’s and last year they lost to Clann by a single point in the semi-final.
His charges have been impressive this year, remaining unbeaten on their way to Sunday’s final. However, the former midfielder knows that Pádraig Pearses will pose a significant challenge for the town side as they attempt to bridge a 15-year gap since they last won the Fahey Cup in 2004.
“We’ve played a lot of hard games and you need a few breaks along the way. We had a lot of injuries in our first game against Strokestown but as the weeks have gone by, the injuries seemed to have cleared up. A few lads were away through their careers and college, but we have them back now and hopefully we can get them to a level of fitness that will suffice,” he said.
Liam doesn’t agree that losses in the recent past will affect this Gaels team.
“I don’t buy into the theory that losing a final is a bad experience. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Brigid’s won an All-Ireland title and Clann na nGael have won a few county championships but those teams endured knocks along the way.
“From my own experience, when I won my first county title as a player I had had four or five tough years before that. Winning finals doesn’t come easy. You’re handed a medal for a reason, it’s because you earned it over a period of time.
“When we started off this project, the first aim was to get competitive again. Mike Ryan and Mike McHale had done great work to get us out of the intermediate league. They took the baton when we were at a very low ebb. They got us back playing senior league. David Kelly stepped in and brought us back to being competitive in the senior championship. The baton was passed on to me then, and we’ve stayed competitive. We’ve probably upped it a little bit every year, and hopefully we might up it a bit more this year”.
The Gaels committed to bringing home Scott Oates and Cian Connolly from Dubai for their championship games this year. Liam says that the players concerned are giving massive commitment to the cause.
“It’s unbelievable what the lads have committed to. Once the game is over, they’re back in a car and on to a plane, 11 or 12 hours travelling and straight into school to do a full day’s work. They might get to bed on a Sunday or Monday evening after 35-40 hours on the go. They’ve been brilliant,” he said.
McNeill also has huge respect for Sunday’s opponents from Taughmaconnell and Moore.
“They are a phenomenal team. They’re just so far ahead of where they were 12 months ago. They’ve a super manager, they’re very well coached and have huge experience. Five of their team were on the Roscommon team that won a Connacht final against Galway. That experience is invaluable. They’re very strong and physical, but they can also play football. They’ve racked up huge scores this year,” he said.
Liam added that he believes that all the experiences over the past few years have stood to him personally.
“I think every experience makes you better. We were fierce disappointed to lose to Clann last year, but that stands to players and management. Maybe you’ll deal with situations differently than you did twelve months previously. I’m very lucky to have a very good management team behind me but once the lads cross the white line, the baton is passed to them and they take over.
“Having said that, if we don’t improve by 30 or 40 per cent this Sunday, we won’t win. Pearses have beaten Brigid’s in a tough quarter-final, they beat Boyle in a tough semi-final, and they’ll be a better team again on Sunday. If we don’t improve, we’ll be found wanting and we’ll come up short,” he concluded.