Roscommon’s Connacht title win was never the surprise result that many people made it out to be.
They were up against a depleted Galway side devoid of their captain and travelled to Salthill brimming with Connacht final experience and full of confidence having turned over the Tribesmen at the same venue two seasons prior.
As it transpired, an inspirational second-half performance saw the Rossies battle back from five points down to overwhelm their Connacht rivals and capture their second provincial crown in three seasons, much to the delight of their vocal support who invaded the pitch not once but twice before the final whistle had been blown.
It was an exceptional win and much deserved. Roscommon had to win the hard way going to Castlebar and beating Mayo for the first time in 33 years before downing reigning champions Galway in the final.
However, despite the added joy that comes with beating both your main rivals to provincial glory, Roscommon’s season cannot be deemed a success unless they are able to navigate their way through the Super 8s and into a first All-Ireland semi-final since 1991.
2019 marked the fourth year in a row that Roscommon reached the Connacht final and while victory in two of those finals is a record not to be sniffed at, this team’s post-provincial record makes for grim reading.
After an upset loss to Sligo in the 2015 Connacht semi-final, the Rossies bounced back to qualify for the 2016 decider where they met Galway in the first of four consecutive finals.
A late Donie Smith free salvaged a 1-10 to 0-13 draw on the day, however, the Tribesmen rolled into Castlebar a week later and trounced Kevin McStay’s charges on a scoreline of 3-16 to 0-14.
The Rossies then had to endure the infamous six-day turnaround before being stunned by Clare in their Round 4 qualifier, losing by six points to the Munster men.
They returned in 2017 to great effect by toppling the Tribesmen on Connacht final day to collect their first J.J. Nestor Cup since 2010 with a six-point win in Salthill.
Roscommon progressed to the last eight of the All-Ireland series were another Connacht rival lay in wait. The first day will be remembered for the Rossies electric start which yielded two early goals but Mayo ultimately battled back to earn a draw.
While the first day may have been close, the second was a complete humiliation as Mayo trounced Roscommon by 22 points to end their dreams of reaching the final four.
Again, they returned in 2018 to face Galway in a provincial final only to lose by six points on what was a second-half to forget for the Rossies. They weren’t victims of the six-day turnaround this time, however, as they turned that six-point defeat into a six-point win over Armagh in what was arguably the game of the season.
The result saw them qualify for the inaugural Super 8 series where they faced into a group of death containing Tyrone, Dublin and Donegal.
It did not end well for the Rossies.
Their campaign started with an 18-point hammering in Croke Park to Tyrone and finished with a 14-point demolition by Dublin at the same venue. Sandwiched in between, Roscommon welcomed Donegal to Dr Hyde Park but were outclassed on the day and lost by seven points.
Roscommon finished the Supers 8s with a -39 scoring difference which made everyone question if they truly belonged at the top table.
The Rossies are back in the Super 8s once more and yet again they stare down the barrel at a group of death which has an eerily similar feeling to last year. Roscommon welcome Tyrone to Dr Hyde Park in Saturday’s opening round before turning their attention to another Croke Park meeting with Dublin a week later. They round off the three-game phase against Cork on the first week of August.
Despite the extremely difficult task in front of them, Anthony Cunningham’s side will fancy their chances of putting up a better showing than they did last year.
The re-introduction of the three Daly brothers has brought a steeliness to the Rossies defence while the decision to bring Conor Cox on board has proved a masterstroke so far. The Kerry native was in scintillating form throughout the provincial series and will no doubt relish the opportunity to showcase his talents against the nation’s top sides over the coming weeks.
Lest we forget that Enda Smith is one of the country’s most influential leaders as highlighted by his endless running in this year’s Connacht final.
They have it in them to make an All-Ireland semi-final and will be brimming with confidence when Tyrone travel to ‘The Hyde’. Mickey Harte’s men stole a point when the two sides met at the same venue in the Allianz Football League and given the atmosphere that surely awaits them it would surprise nobody to see Cunningham’s charges come away with a win.
An All-Ireland semi-final is within their reach and victory this weekend should set-up a mouthwatering final phase where they’ll fully expect Dublin to do them a favour in Omagh.
However, unless they can get over that hurdle and reach the final four, Roscommon’s season cannot be considered a success. That might sound harsh but after following three consecutive Connacht finals with three miserable failings, it’s time for the Rossies to step up.
Don’t be surprised if this weekend marks a turn in their quarter-final fortunes.