Win over Kerry another step forward for Roscommon

Good coaching of good teams has been allied to careful resource management

In the rush to contextualise Roscommon’s historic victory over Kerry on Sunday much was made over it being just the beginning of February and there being plenty of water yet to flow under the bridge before the year gets going.

But it should not be forgotten the win wasn’t a flash in the pan but another milestone for the county, which has been gradually developing over the past 10 years.

Sunday was the first time the county had ever won competitively in Kerry and the first time in 16 years that they had defeated the same opponents in any location.

It’s a decade since the county won a famous minor All-Ireland, defeating Kerry – who surprisingly at the weekend fielded more players from those matches – after a replay.


But since then Roscommon have continued to produce competitive under-age teams, reaching two under-21 All-Ireland finals and in the past couple of years progressing from Division Three to the top flight of the football league.

Three years ago the county had the added morale boost of seeing champions St Brigid’s win Roscommon’s first All-Ireland club title.

The new management team of Fergal O’Donnell and Kevin McStay were both involved with those successes: the former as coach of the 2006 minors and the latter as manager of St Brigid’s.

Sunday’s team that secured the county’s first points on returning to Division One features players from all of those various teams.

Provincial title

John Tobin, the Connacht Provincial Games Manager, has been an interested observer of Roscommon’s development and he managed the county to a provincial title in 2001.

“Two things they’ve been fortunate with: one, they’ve had very good people over their development squads and over their minor teams. Fergal did a very good job. They’re also fortunate that a significant number of their players are coming through:

“Young (David) Murray, Enda Smith, the Murtaghs (Diarmuid and Ciarán), Cian Connolly. A lot of those lads have come through but in a bigger county they could have got lost. Unfortunately there have been injuries, for example Fintan Kelly and Thomas Corcoran and if they can get everyone back, the panel is really strong.”

“Their under-21s were in All-Irelands against Dublin and Nigel Dineen did great work with those teams as well. Ultan Harney is another serious talent and he’s very young.

“It can be an advantage in smaller counties that they don’t get lost and someone has to nurture them . . . and they’re doing that well – managing the players well.”

Tobin believes the Connacht championship will be extremely competitive this summer.

“My own county Galway I think are going in the right direction and can challenge strongly for promotion to Division One. Roscommon have the potential to be formidable. This will benefit Mayo as well and makes the championship something to look forward to.”

Recent evidence indicates that counties with ambition need to be playing their football in Division One. Under former manager John Evans, Roscommon reached that level but the championship form was disappointing. As a team in development the county would benefit enormously from playing at the top and getting players acclimatised.

The first match of the season was an object lesson, as they led Monaghan only to lose to a late goal from Conor McManus. Having missed out on that it was unexpectedly gratifying to pick up a win on the road in Killarney.

“The result was huge for them at the weekend because I’d say they targeted the Monaghan game and were very unlucky to lose it,” said Tobin.

“Yesterday was so important because if they can hold their status in Division One with the age and profile of the team that would a huge achievement for them in a development sense.”

The last time Roscommon defeated Kerry in the league, Tobin led them to the Connacht title in 2001. “Funnily enough the one league match I really remember from then wasn’t so much the Kerry win but when we went to Parnell Park and defeated Dublin. But for young players all wins are significant.”

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times