Back in the game

New faces in squad as Cunningham prepares for National League

Roscommon senior football manager Anthony Cunningham has welcomed the announcement made by the Government on Tuesday confirming that inter-county training can resume on April 19th.

It is now likely that the National Football League will start in the middle of May and be followed by the All-Ireland Championship over June, July and August, with the club season to run later in the year.

The GAA will announce its revised fixture list for 2021 within the next week.

Meanwhile, the Roscommon manager is thrilled that there is a date for the return to action.

He said: “Everyone is anxious to get back out in the fresh air and inter-county players are no exception. We welcome the announcement. We thought it might be a bit earlier, but we have the date now and we can plan ahead.

“We really are collectively looking forward to getting back. We will have three or four weeks, and then it’s into the National League. I would imagine that the GAA will stick with the smaller groups that they planned for, and if that’s the case, we will be playing Dublin at home, Galway away and then Kerry at home in Division One, with promotion and relegation play-offs after that”.

Anthony expects that the GAA will go ahead with the inter-county championship straight after the league campaign.

“There may be a break of one Sunday, but I expect that the championship will come up very quickly after the league”.

It looks like the championship may well be played on a knockout basis this year, however Anthony can see merit in giving first round losers a second chance: “Maybe it might be worth looking at first round losers getting another chance with the result on the day; extra-time and penalties if needed. It would mean every county would have at least two championship games. I think most counties would welcome that”.

The Roscommon players have been training away on their own over the past number of months, and their manager says that everyone who was on the panel last year is still included. There are also three new faces.

“Paul McGrath (St. Brigid’s), Peter Gillooly (Roscommon Gaels), and Niall Higgins (Elphin) have come in from the development squad. Because it’s such a short season, we will need numbers (on the panel) because once the season starts, it will be every Sunday, and injuries will take their toll.

“The lads have done great work. It’s very difficult to have to train on your own, having been used to training with a group. I can definitely say that all the players are really looking forward to getting back on the pitch. I’d say every young girl and boy are the same all around the country”.

Stephen Poacher has been a high profile appointment to assist Anthony in the backroom team, and he will be a new voice in the dressing room this year.

Anthony Cunningham: “We are looking forward to working with Stephen. He brings a huge depth of experience and coaching talent, and along with Iain Daly and Mark Dowd (selectors), our goalkeeping coach Dara Bruen and our new strength and conditioning coach Gary Flannery, we have a strong backroom team. Gary has done great work giving the players training programmes over the past couple of months. He has been a great find for us”.

The Roscommon manager says that there is palpable excitement among everyone involved ahead of the return to training and matches.

“We know how much the players want to get back, and the work they want to do. We know the enjoyment that people get from watching matches, and we will be especially looking forward to the games when they come around”, he concluded.