Smith and Roscommon driven by harsh memories of Super-8s
Connacht champions eager to improve on chastening experience they suffered last year
Enda Smith of Roscommon with The Sam Maguire cup during the launch of the All-Ireland senior football championship Super 8s at Concra Wood Golf and Country Club in Castleblayney, Co Monaghan. Photograph: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Embarrassed is a strong word for any player to use to describe their performance only Enda Smith doesn’t shy away from it. The same word if readdressed correctly can just as easily spell motivation.
Smith is reflecting on Roscommon’s experience in last year’s Super-8s, when despite a re-energising qualifier win over Armagh, they lost to Tyrone, Donegal and Dublin by a combined 29 points.
This time, after beating Leitrim, Mayo, and then Galway, they’ll go in as Connacht champions, beginning with the winners of Tyrone and Cavan at Dr Hyde Park on Saturday week, July 13th.
“I’ve said it before, it was just real frustration and we were embarrassed by how it went,” says Smith, the Roscommon captain, still only 24.
“As players we really had to reflect on ourselves. You can talk about management or whatever, but a lot of the same players are there this year, and we’re just looking to really represent ourselves a lot better than we did last year.
“I know embarrassment is a strong word but it definitely felt like that. We played Armagh a week earlier and it was a free-flowing game, everyone talking about it. I suppose we were very naive to think Tyrone would give us the chances Armagh did, the amount of opportunities, and Tyrone punished us.
“Like, you see they are a good team. They made it to the final. You can’t afford to do that against the top teams. That just shows you, when you make a small bit of a mistake against these lads, they counter you, and that was kind of the waterworks opened after that goal and we never got back into it.
“It kind of set the tone for the rest of our Super 8s campaign that year. Donegal beat us seven, but it was a comfortable seven, and obviously Dublin gave us a bit of trimming as well. It was a steep learning curve.”
Things should be different for a few reasons: that experience, coupled with a new manager Anthony Cunningham, means Roscommon are a little more street-wise, but winning Connacht has given them extra confidence too.
“Definitely yeah. People might have thought that 2017 was maybe a flash in the pan and that maybe we’d be gone now for a few years and they wouldn’t have to worry about them. But to do it again and back it up in the manner in which we did it, being down by four or five at half-time against Galway and to come back definitely breeds confidence into the players and it’s good for the fans as well.
“I think it’s slowly getting there, I don’t think it’s there yet and it’s probably down to ourselves because our consistency hasn’t been there. You think you are getting it after 2017 and the Connacht final then last year we flopped a bit in the second half.
“You back it up then with a decent performance against Armagh, but then in the Super 8’s you are going back to flopping again. I think it is slowly but surely getting there, but we need to gather a bit more consistency if we think we can be regarded in the same bracket as Mayo, Kerry, Tyrone and those teams. It needs a couple of more years of consistency before we can gather that respect.”
Ultimately time was the healer after 2018.
“If you are in Croke Park and you are playing – it’s where you want to be playing your football, but it’s the worst place to be when you are getting a bad beating like we were getting.
“It’s a serious time. You are thinking, ‘I don’t want to be put in this position again – are we are going to be here’. Time is the big thing there. A few of us went away after the Dublin game, enjoyed ourselves for a while, went back into the club, and I think it’s only time that really gets you over it.”
“Player-wise we can’t wait to get back there now. Playing in Croke Park, our second game is obviously against Dublin so pitting yourself against them, who have been the benchmark for the last four or five years, will be brilliant.
“Obviously there is a lot of talk about Dublin on the outside, externally, but I’d always say they have an exceptional bunch of players and they don’t get enough reward that they should. To pitch yourself against them, the best players in the country and seeing where we are really at, in Croke Park, in the bearpit.”