Roscommon have a talented and well-synced forward line who can cause the Galway defenders trouble. If they get enough ball into them, then they’ll have a great chance of dethroning the reigning Connacht champions.
That’s been the gist of the pre-match discusison ahead of Sunday’s Connacht final.
The reality is, however, that a free-flowing Roscommon is exactly the sort of team that Kevin Walsh has been preparing his side to face over the past three seasons.
Not only are Galway set up to contain and stifle, but of greater concern to Roscommon, they will counter attack in numbers and at pace.
Their defensive shape sets up this counter. They scored 3-16 in last year’s final replay.
Roscommon need to get their defensive game plan on point this time, against an improved Galway. Then they can build from there.
Against Mayo, who were meticulous in possession for long periods of the Connacht semi-final, 40 per cent of Galway’s scores stemmed from the ball being turned over.
Galway had eight different scorers.
In Eamonn Brannigan, Shane Walsh, Michael Daly, Johnny Heaney, Tom Flynn, and Gary Sice, they have rangy forwards who can work back, carry at pace, and score.
Liam Silke is likely to pick Enda Smith, while Gareth Bradshaw, Gary O’Donnell and Cathal Sweeney are all regular scorers from defence. They are a team built to filter back and bunch the centre back zone, and then attack in numbers.
Roscommon scored an impressive 2-23 against Leitrim in their semi-final; but conceded 1-8 from play. Before that they delivered some big-score wins in challenge matches against Sligo and Wexford, but again they conceded heavily.
They are without a number of their more experienced players this year, but the likes of Diarmuid and Ciaran Murtagh are still players who can win their match-ups against a sometimes shaky Galway fullback line.
Roscommon’s average concession in the league was 1-18 per game.
In the last round of the league Roscommon registered their first win of the campaign, against Cavan. Kevin McStay deployed a sweeper, with Niall Kilroy dropping back from 11, which gave the defence some badly needed protection. They conceded a much improved 1-10. Kilroy has been playing that role ever since.
The introduction of Brian Stack to the forward line has added to that defensive awareness. The talented St Brigids youngster can cover a lot of ground and will get back along with Fintan Cregg to help his defence.
The Roscommon team selection would suggest that Enda Smith will go out and play as an extra midfielder, particularly to help in the kick out department.
Against Leitrim, Roscommon had just three marks. One of which was a kick out to a defender’s chest. Leitrim dominated the aerial battle with nine marks, even after losing Damien Moran (black card) and Dean McGovern (injury).
Fiontán Ó Curraoin, Paul Conroy and Tom Flynn will be different animals.
This plan, or any of the defensive plans used by them so far this year, will not be enough for the Rossies.
When Galway lose possession almost all of them are back behind the ball. Forcing the play out wide or sucking it into a trap down the centre. The midfielders have their hole to fill, the half back line drops and the forwards fill in.
Against Leitrim, the Roscommon defensive game plan was reactive rather than proactive. And that will have to change if they are to compete with Galway this Sunday.
Roscommon’s defensive plan is focused on their “sweeper”, but his attacking responsibilities are stopping him from carrying out that role fully.
Kilroy, who as a natural forward is clever in possession coming out of defence (he was involved in the build-up for both goals in the semi-final), retreats from the forward line and screens his defence when he senses the danger.
Stack and Cregg chase back also. The problem is however, they are not all back every time, or sometimes not back quickly enough. And so, there is often a gaping space left in front of their fullback line.
Galway’s go-to man of course is Damien Comer, and they will look to target him with long, quick balls. Against Mayo, 27 per cent of their scores were the result of direct ball.
Roscommon need their forwards filtering back, every time. Their sweeper needs to, as Jim McGuinness explained in these pages last month, “set up in front of the opposition marksman and anticipate”. Not to be sprinting back.
Against Leitrim, the Roscommon sweeper made just one interception, cutting out a handpass.
Twelve of Kilroy’s 17 possessions came in the half forward line, and he had three shots.
Expect the Murtagh brothers to be left inside for Roscommon, with the rest of the attackers expected to work. But unless Roscommon want to follow the same path as Westmeath did against Dublin, this can’t be off the cuff, “getting back”.
This is a young Roscommon team with a new management, but they still need to have their game plan nailed on.
Roscommon need a sweeper, at least one, to remain as one. They need to get back and defend, as a unit.
They’ve done it before.
Against Mayo in 2014 Roscommon held a team in the midst of five Connachts in a row to 0-5 from play in a one point defeat. They allowed only 15 shots from play over the 70 plus minutes.
They had the chances to win that game. A similar approach is needed.
This Roscommon team are light a number of the key men from that day, but this Galway team are not at the same stage of their development as Mayo were.
If Roscommon can keep things tight then their forwards will do damage. Not the other way around.