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GAA.ie columnist Rory Kavanagh.
GAA.ie columnist Rory Kavanagh.

Column: Rory Kavanagh on Football


By Rory Kavanagh

Whatever happens on Sunday Roscommon people will arrive at GAA headquarters with a spring in their step, immensely proud of what their team has achieved this year. The hardships endured during the League have long since been forgotten.

The problem for Roscommon is they have lost the element of surprise and now come up against a team that has been battle hardened over many seasons.

‘There’s an old saying in Tennesse.

I know it’s in Texas, it’s probably in Tennessee, that says

Fool me once...shame on...shame on you

Fool me...you can’t get fooled again!’

President George W. Bush

Poor old Georgie sometimes found it difficult to get his point across to the media.

Kevin Mc Stay on the other hand has had no such difficulty getting his point across to his players. I was really impressed with the way they approached the Connacht Final.

Their kick outs were very accurate and had tremendous variation. When they needed possession and the short was on, the goalkeeper was alert and quick to get it away.

Enda Smith was another option with his high fielding ability. He produced a wonderful performance in a big game and really came of age.

When Galway eventually shut down the short kickout and Roscommon needed to go long there was no sense of panic, just wing backs and forwards doing their job and swarming the breakdown to win possession. It meant that at no stage over the course of the game you had serious pressure building on the Roscommon players because they were able to get their hands on the ball, to get at Galway.

Roscommon really attacked the Galway kick out and they made hay in the first half when they had the wind at their backs. The Galway defenders were slow and ponderous and often found themselves getting turned over, but you have to give credit to the Roscommon inside forwards who were all over them like a rash.

Roscommon flooded the middle third with bodies, in this way they could stretch the opposition across the pitch. They looked comfortable on the ball and they kept great width to their play.  For the most part – aside a 10 minute spell in the first half- they played a very composed game, they didn’t kick away possession. Instead they always looked to find the right moment to play low measured ball into their inside men of Cian Connolly and Diarmuid Murtagh

Roscommon manager Kevin McStay.
Roscommon manager Kevin McStay.

The worry for Roscommon is that you can guarantee Mayo won’t be as generous as Galway were. They won’t allow Roscommon an easy passage into the game by letting them get short kick outs away. They will contest the long kick outs in a way that Galway didn’t and you can be certain they will look to hammer Enda Smith, who was so influential in the Connacht Final.

They now meet a more physical and experienced team in Mayo. One that’s playing in a seventh quarter final on the spin.

Mayo have been grinding out victories without being hugely impressive. You have got to hand it to them because they are tough. And even though they have gone to extra-time twice in July I expect them to come through this one.

Their big players are showing huge leadership once again. Cillian O’ Connor and Andy Moran have an ability to find each other, while also delivering scores for their team. Aidan O’ Shea is doing what he does best - that’s rampaging at opposition defences.

Stephen Rochford will know that he needs a strong bench if he and his team is to make it all the way and he will have been pleased with the impacts made by Paddy Durcan and Conor Loftus the last time out against Cork. Loftus, in particular, could yet be the crucial for them as they look to land an All Ireland.

When I think back to the All Ireland series of games between 2011 and 2014, our bench played a crucial role in our success. I think of the impact that the likes of Christy Toye, Martin McElhinney and David Walsh made for us. They were absolutely crucial in getting us over the line on more than one occasion during those years.

I was at the Donegal versus Galway game last Saturday night in Sligo. Myself and Eamon McGee travelled up together in the car. We were reasonably optimistic before the game, but in truth we didn’t know what Donegal team we would see. We hoped to see a resolute and determined Donegal, but what unfolded left us all a bit speechless at the end.

Halfway through the second half Eamon turned to me and said that’s two games now I’ve travelled with you, Tyrone and this one. We’ve been hammered in both. Maybe we should avoid travelling together next year!

It was hard to force a smile because we both felt so bad for the men out on the pitch. We’ve had similar days ourselves in the Donegal jersey and we knew exactly what they were going through.

The one thing that I couldn’t stomach afterwards was the flak towards the manager on social media. I accept there will always be criticism when the team loses heavily like we did, but when I was shown some of the stuff that had been posted online I felt disgusted.

It was personal and totally unacceptable. There are a lot of cowardly people about who are quick to hide behind a computer screen and they don’t realise the harm and distress this causes to Rory’s family and friends.

Sean Armstrong impressed for Galway against Donegal.
Sean Armstrong impressed for Galway against Donegal.

Galway to their credit eliminated many of the faults that cost them a Connacht title. They changed their goalkeeper and decided to go long from most of their kickouts where Conroy and Flynn won their battles.

Gareth Bradshaw was like a wrecking ball hitting everything that came his way with an authority that had Donegal players crumple on the canvass before him.  Damien Comer and Shane Walsh moved Neil McGee and Paddy McGrath out the field to allow Sean Armstrong and Ian Burke run riot inside.

Donegal did briefly show up the lack of height in the Galway full back line when they sent long ball into Michael Langan and Paddy Mc Brearty early in the second half. But it was never sustained as they were losing the midfield battle.

I counted three long balls in the whole game. It wasn’t a true test for Galways full back line. Donegal lacked belief and energy to really ask a question of this Galway side.

It will be interesting to see if Galway can cope with the high ball against the likes of Kieran Donaghy and Paul Geaney. Kerry are the masters of the long diagonal ball into the edge of the square with James O’Donoghue poaching off the scraps.

The top teams have players using their head, heart and guts simultaneously all the time. In Croke Park, teams that make the right decisions all the time when the pressure comes on are the ones that win.

When you look at the Kerry players very few of them take the wrong option. They don’t give away possession cheaply. The ball is precious and you can see that principal very clearly in their build up play, especially coming out of defence. Very seldom do they get isolated and turned over.

At the other end, how often do you see their forwards shooting from ridiculous angles or balls dropping short into the goalkeepers hands?

They play the game with a high degree of football intelligence. And as we found out in the 2014 All Ireland Final they have plenty of heart and guts to go along with it. When you have all three working together you have a potent mix.

Galway are a young team and are still developing. The big win over Donegal will certainly boost their confidence, but on Sunday they will swim with the sharks.

I feel it’s too early for them yet to pull off a shock. Watching Dublin collect another All Ireland will stick in the craw of every Kerry player and supporter. Of all the teams left, they are best placed to do something about it.

Time will tell.

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