After Roscommon’s win over Mayo in Castlebar, manager Davy Burke was noticeably jubilant and quick to raise a mirror to those sceptical of the true extent of their recent progress. Having earned a reputation as a yo-yo league team in recent years, moving up and down the elevator between tier 1 and 2, there was a marked improvement and competitive edge to Roscommon this spring.
I’d say they were a bit disrespected during the week,” the Kildare man and country’s youngest inter-county manager said, taking a swipe at the non-believers. “We finished third in Division 1, and it didn’t matter by all accounts. Our defensive record didn’t matter, nothing mattered.”
Post-match vindication declarations are as old as the hills, of course, and we still await the manager of a beaten team who tributes the critics for writing them off. Generally, there is little chance of pre-match opinion emanating from the playing group or management being anything other than banal and drowned in heart-sapping cliche.
But slights can be found anywhere you choose to find them and serve as an excellent — if primitive — source of motivation. If it seems out-dated to be scanning newspapers or podcasts for offensive material, it remains a potential source of motivation. Tell a player or team they won’t win or aren’t good enough, or even imply it, and it is no surprise when it brings out the most primal of competitive instincts. Respect, as Burke referred to, remains important and valued.
That defensive record he spoke of showed Roscommon with the second-lowest concession total in Division 1, only one point inferior to the team with the best defensive record, Galway, who they meet in the Connacht semi-final today in Hyde Park.
The 10 points Mayo scored against Roscommon a fortnight ago was the county’s lowest championship total since they registered 0-9 when losing to Galway in Pearse Stadium in a Connacht quarter-final in May, 2007.
It is a notable feat for Roscommon’s defensive game even if there were some mitigating factors, coming just a week after Mayo won the Division 1 final.
Referring to their new defensive order, Burke noted the impact of former Donegal All-Ireland winner Mark McHugh. “Mark knows a lot about defending. He has helped us big time in that regard. Mark is going places as a coach, he’s infectious and has a top-class football mind. His brain combined with his energy is hard beaten.”
While fortunate not to concede a couple of goals to Mayo and with poor conditions making scoring difficult, Roscommon had an outstanding individual display from Enda Smith and also Diarmaid Murtagh, scorer of six points, including two critical ones from play. The starting Mayo forwards scored just three points from play, Cillian O’Connor adding another when he came on in the second half. Roscommon’s scoring spread was limited, however, to four players; Mayo shared it among eight.
With the counties with the best defensive records in the league in opposition today, having denied each other a goal in their earlier meeting in February, Roscommon edging it 0-9 to 0-8, this might not be a classic in the making.
In wind and rain a fortnight ago, Roscommon set out to frustrate Mayo and slow the game down, denying them an early footing. They will aim to do the same with Galway and turn a poor Hyde Park championship record on its head — they have lost the last six meetings at the venue, having last defeated Galway there in the 1990 Connacht final.