Conor Devaney wants Roscommon to make further progress
By Cian O’Connell
For much of the past decade hope and expectation has been attached to the Roscommon footballers so Conor Devaney remains optimistic.
The 2017 Connacht Championship triumph provided an injection of belief with Devaney hopeful that Kevin McStay’s charges can finish their Allianz Football League campaign strongly.
Between 2008 and 2016 Roscommon contested eight Connacht Under 21 deciders, winning four, illustrating their ability to produce good teams.
A busy stint looms, but Devaney, such an respected figure in the Roscommon set-up, believes that the depth in the county is strong.
“There absolutely is,” Devaney answers about the talent in Roscommon. “A lot of players from those Under 21 teams especially are really coming good, the likes of Diarmuid Murtagh, who is having a particularly good year so far.
It is very tight and I think it is very hard to call who is going to be the top two and even who is going to be in the bottom three or four.
“Cathal Compton and Ultan Harney are coming back from injury, Donie Smith and Enda Smith, all those players. They are at an age now where you would hope that they would have a consistent level of performance at senior level.
“I think that is what we are at now and I think it is something to look forward to over the next two or three years seeing those players as they come into the age of 24, 25, 26, and 27. Watching how they perform is exciting for Roscommon.”
Sunday’s tussle at Cusack Park, Ennis can be classed in the crucial category in a clustered Division Two.
“It is very tight and I think it is very hard to call who is going to be the top two and even who is going to be in the bottom three or four,” Devaney remarks.
“It is very hard to predict, everyone seems to be beating everyone else and we have been poor, very poor at times, especially against Down obviously. For a large portion of the game against Tipperary as well, we were lucky to pull off a win there.
“I suppose we had the better of Meath and then let it slip, and again we were lucky to get the draw with Donie Smith's penalty in the end. We are fortunate to be in the position we are in if you look at those couple of games.”
Devaney acknowledges the importance of maintaining the momentum generated in 2017 and that has been boosted by the return to the inter-county fold of several good footballers.
“I think with a county like Roscommon it is great to have all those players back and playing and playing well,” Devaney says.
“Conor, Niall, and Ronan Daly all featured and Cathal Cregg against Louth and they all played well. It is great to have so many options and our panel is still big at the moment.
“I don't know how we are going to reduce it because there is so much competition. That is a huge help, especially in training to have those guys back. I know people like Sean Mullolly have decided to go travelling, but from year to year you will have that. The addition of the players are a welcome addition, definitely.”
Mayo are still the standout team in the province, absolutely.
As an interesting Connacht Championship edges closer Devaney wants Roscommon to deliver further titles out west.
“It was obviously great for us to win last year, the first time since 2010, but unfortunately for us it seems to be a thing that we win one about every 10 years,” Devaney states.
“So I would like to think that we can break that cycle, that we could start winning a little bit more often, at least. With Galway and Mayo the thing is Mayo are that bit ahead of all of us in Connacht. They have been getting to All Ireland semi-finals and finals consistently.
“Whether they win a Connacht title or not, it doesn't seem to matter to them or bother them. So the rest of us in Connacht need to get to their level by consistently being in quarter-finals and hopefully at some stage competing in a semi-final.
“There is a long way to go before we get there yet, but Mayo are still the standout team in the province, absolutely.”
Not alone was the JJ Nestor Cup raised in 2017, but Roscommon also accumulated considerable experience playing two high profile All Ireland Quarter-Final fixtures against Mayo at Croke Park.
“Yeah, going back to the Under 21 days too, they had big days out,” Devaney adds. “I know they had some losses against the likes of Dublin, but I think that experience in Croke Park will definitely help us going forward.
“The first day against Mayo we could have won that game and a lot of people would have said that it would've been a massive surprise. When you look back at the two games as a whole you can really see how Mayo were that far ahead of us. They learned a lot more from the first game compared to what we did, unfortunately.
Galway are absolutely flying at the moment. We aren't getting too many secrets from them unfortunately, but they are flying and are clearly going to be a force to be reckoned with come the summer.
“That is ultimately the difference as to where Mayo are at and a lot of other counties, the way they could learn in a week and we weren't anywhere near them the second day.
“There is a lot of positives from the first day, but also a lot of things we really need to improve on to compete at Super 8 stage this year or any other year.”
A teacher in Roscommon Community College, Devaney and inter-county colleague Shane Killoran fly the primrose and blue flag, while Galway’s Tom Flynn and Paul Conroy also work in the school.
“I try to avoid it at all costs, I try to talk anything, but football,” Devaney laughs. “After the FBD Final there was a bit of craic, they are grand.
“Us coming back in September after beating Galway and they came back the previous September after beating us. There is a bit of craic in the staffroom.
“Galway are absolutely flying at the moment. We aren't getting too many secrets from them unfortunately, but they are flying and are clearly going to be a force to be reckoned with come the summer.”
Standards are certainly being raised in the west; Devaney has occupied a central role in the quiet, but notable progression.