It has been a challenging start to the league for Kevin McStay and his young Roscommon team. Pointless after four games and seemingly certain to be relegated to Division Two for 2018, Roscommon Herald Sports Editor Ian Cooney looks at five things we’ve learned ahead of this Sunday’s trip to Inniskeen to face Monaghan…
MIDFIELD AND DEFENSIVE FRAILITIES EXPOSED
Many of Roscommon’s problems in their first four games have stemmed from defence and midfield. It’s also worrying that establishing a central spine has been beyond troublesome for Kevin McStay, Liam McHale and Ger Dowd.
Thomas Featherston and Seán Mullooly were the chosen ones at full-back and centre-back respectively for the first two matches against Tyrone and Donegal. Then when Featherston picked up an injury, Mullooly was redeployed to the number 3 jersey, with Seán McDermott being pushed out to centre-back.
While Mullooly has held his own, although huge gaps tend to appear in central areas when he ventures forward, McDermott struggled against Mayo and Kerry. The Western Gaels player is in the twilight of his career, but he isn’t a centre-back. His best days have always been policing the last line of defence in the full-back line.
In four games, Roscommon have conceded 0-18 (against Tyrone), 0-16 (against Donegal), 1-19 (against Mayo) and 1-19 (against Kerry). The defence has been taking on water at an alarming rate. The concession of soft frees has also been a problem. No matter how good Roscommon’s forwards are perceived to be, they won’t win many games conceding such high tallies.
Of course, part of the malaise has emanated from midfield where Roscommon simply haven’t enjoyed any traction. Tadhg O’Rourke is the only player to have played all four games around the middle. The Tulsk player seemed to flourish best when Enda Smith was beside him against Kerry, so maybe McStay might be tempted to stick with this partnership for the foreseeable future.
With Kevin Higgins out injured, uncertainty surrounding Cathal Compton’s fitness and Tom Corcoran seeing little game time in the engine room, Roscommon’s problems here show no signs of abating anytime soon.
Both goalkeepers — Darren O’Malley and Colm Lavin — have been given a fair crack of the whip by management. Lavin has made some good saves, but his kickouts have been erratic. O’Malley isn’t the tallest goalkeeper in the world, and that remains a concern.
LACK OF STRENGTH-IN-DEPTH STIFLING PROGRESS
Apart from the Mayo game when the team simply weren’t at the races, it is generally agreed that Roscommon have held their own in terms of being competitive. But such is the toll that games in Division One take, substitutes have a critical role to play. From Roscommon’s perspective, there simply isn’t enough quality on the bench to turn games in their favour.
Apart from Fintan Cregg’s cameo against Tyrone and Diarmuid Murtagh making a huge impact when introduced at half time against Kerry, no one else has put their hands up to suggest that they should be included from the start the next day.
Kerry were able to call on Stephen O’Brien, Anthony Maher, Darren O’Sullivan and Jonathan Lyne the last day. Roscommon have never had such an embarrassment of riches on their bench at any stage.
NO SUBSTITUTE FOR EXPERIENCE
Kevin McStay made a judgement call in terms of experienced players when he was ratified last October. He later confirmed that he had talked to every member of the panel that was involved in the qualifier defeat against Clare.
Part of the smokescreen here is that players like Conor and Ronan Daly were involved earlier in the season, but opted to spend the summer in America. There are plenty of rumours doing the rounds in terms of how this news was broken to management at the time.
The upshot is that Roscommon have been left with what is surely one of the youngest panels at intercounty level in Ireland. Apart from Seán McDermott, no other player comes close to hitting the 30-mark.
The irony is that Roscommon’s experienced players have been correctly criticised for not displaying leadership during games that matter in the championship. During last year’s qualifier defeat against Clare, it was left to young players like Seán Mullooly to carry the fight to the Banner County as the house of cards folded around them.
Now there’s an outcry that players like Cathal Cregg, Neil Collins, the Daly brothers, Donie Shine, Seán Purcell and David Keenan aren’t involved for various reasons. Part of the problem is that no one really knows the truth why they’re in absentia. It has to be acknowledged that a large tranche of experience has been removed from the team through retirements.
Regardless of what has happened in the past, the reality is that Roscommon can’t afford to be without some of these players. The difference between Donegal and Roscommon was Michael Murphy, a brilliant player laden with experienced who simply controlled the match.
The management must see that the bench is sorely lacking quality and that the team are generally lacking a physical presence. Surely it’s no too late to try and entice some of these players to return to the fold, given that there will be 11 weeks between Roscommon’s last league match against Cavan and the Roscommon’s Connacht semi-final against Leitrim.
It’s unfair to ask young players to do a man’s job in Division One, irrespective of how fast they’re picking up the tricks of the trade.
MANAGEMENT SHOULD BE LEFT ALONE
Supporters are fickle by their nature. In Roscommon, there’s plenty of back-slapping when we win and an endless amount of criticism when we lose.
Regardless of where expectations are perched, it’s amazing that supporters affiliated to clubs have been calling for a change of management only a few months after these same clubs unanimously ratified Kevin McStay to become manager.
The fallout from Fergal O’Donnell’s departure inevitably resulted in a deep division of opinion. Still, the general consensus was that McStay should be given a chance to steer the ship on his own.
What happens when Roscommon lose a few games? — the toys are thrown out of the pram. It defies logic that some people want a change of management. Why weren’t they so vocal last autumn?
Kevin McStay has gone on the record, stating two main aims — to reach a Connacht final and to end up in an All-Ireland quarter-final. He has been consistent in his comments regarding Roscommon prioritising championship over the league this season.
While those who disagree that tossing away Division One football is a mistake, given how hard Roscommon worked to get there, have a very valid point, the pain from relegation will be eased if Roscommon go on and enjoy a good championship.
If championship targets aren’t met, a review with the county board at the end of the year will leave McStay with some tough questions to answer.
REMAINING MATCHES MUST MATTER
Roscommon are heading for Division Two — there’s no argument about that. Yet the need to remain competitive and pick up a few points along the way remains as important as ever. To end the league with seven losses wouldn’t be good for morale.
Forget about the meeting with Dublin in Croke Park, the reigning All-Ireland champions’ margin of victory will depend on what mood Jim Gavin’s charges are in.
The minimum requirement from the Monaghan and Cavan games is to give as good as they get against the former and win the latter by hook or by crook.
Bringing Roscommon to Inniskeen shows that Monaghan mean business. Presumably a tight pitch will allow the home side’s physicality pave the way for another victory to keep the Farney County in contention for a shot at a place in the league final.
But Roscommon must step up to the plate. Hopefully Cathal Compton and Ultan Harney will see some game time, and Diarmuid Murtagh will continue where he left off against Mayo.
A win may be beyond them, but Kevin McStay needs another good performance to keep the circling vultures a