Roscommon face a ‘must win’ game on Sunday next when Wicklow are the visitors to Dr. Hyde Park for a crucial Division Three League encounter. Following the defeat to Fermanagh and upcoming games against Meath, Antrim and Monaghan looming, victory on Sunday is necessary to stave off a relegation dogfight.
By Ian Cooney
Wicklow haven’t impressed in their opening two games, losing heavily to Fermanagh and Meath in Aughrim. But the three-week break will have given manager Harry Murphy time to lift his troops ahead of Sunday’s trip to Roscommon town. John Evans is in the same boat. Following a merited success against Sligo on the opening day, his side were brought back down to earth with a bang when a powerful Fermanagh display left his side floored on the Brewster Park canvass.
Following the game, Evans felt that Roscommon couldn’t afford to be without so many players for such big league encounters. He has re-iterated that point again ahead of Sunday’s contest but insisted that his side were in a positive frame of mind ahead of the game. “The players on the panel are working hard and want to play for Roscommon. There’s no ‘pity old me’ in the camp. We’re full of positivity and looking forward to the Wicklow game. “We just have to deal with the hand we’re dealt with. Some people are telling me we’re missing up to ten first-choice players. I’m conservatively saying the number is somewhere around nine. It makes life very difficult but we’re not going to start whinging about it,” he explained.
Reflecting on the performance against Fermanagh, Evans admitted that his side lacked scoring power against the Ernesiders. “Not only were we missing first-choice players but we were missing very experienced players. I have no option but to give other players experience. My job is to build the team and make Roscommon a more potent force again. “We lacked a bit of forward power against Fermanagh but we had seven U-21 players on the team at one stage. The lads are working very hard. Whatever players I have available for the next day, I’ll put them out on the field. If it ends up being a team of U-21s, so be it,” he continued.
Despite the absentees, Roscommon supporters travelling to Dr. Hyde Park on Sunday will be expecting a victory for Evans’ side. But the former Tipperary boss is expecting a different Wicklow outfit to the one that surrendered weakly to Fermanagh and Wicklow. “I get the sense that some people outside the camp may be taking Wicklow for granted but I’d be very naïve to underestimate any team trained by Harry Murphy. Like ourselves, they were missing a couple of key players in their opening two games. But I’ve heard that the likes of Seánie Furlong and Leighton Glynn are back training with them, so I expect them to be much stronger on Sunday,” he opined.
Evans confirmed that Cathal Cregg and Conor Devaney may be back on the starting 15 on Sunday but there are still injury doubts surrounding Donal and Cathal Shine, Donal Ward and Seán Purcell. Asked whether St. Brigid’s success against Crossmaglen had given the Roscommon camp a lift, Evans said that his players were delighted with the way the Connacht champions had dealt with Crossmaglen’s challenge.
“The first thing you have to say is that club and county are totally different. We watched the game together and we were thrilled with the way St. Brigid’s went about winning the game. It’s great to see a Roscommon team doing so well and reaching an All-Ireland final but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will translate to the county set-up,” he insisted.
The upcoming run of games will test the strength-in-depth of Evans’ panel even further. He can ill-afford to pick up any further injuries but the Killorglan native isn’t losing sleep over what may or may not happen in the coming weeks.
“It’s the same for every county at this time of year. Naturally I hope that the U-21s progress. St. Brigid’s are where they are. The players I have available are positive and are looking forward to tackling Wicklow on Sunday.
“We’re playing in Hyde Park and we’ve got to treat it as our home ground, a fortress. We must use every inch of benefit we can get from playing there and see where it takes us,” he concluded.
Whether Wicklow will be able to call on their returning stars remains to be seen, but they still have experience in the form of James Stafford and Paul Earls. But the message is simple. Roscommon cannot afford to lose this game. They must make it four points from six by Sunday evening.
HERALD VERDICT: Roscommon (by four points).