Roscommon Gaels on the comeback trail
By Cian O’Connell
The past decade has been tough, but Roscommon Gaels make a welcome return to County Final action at Dr Hyde Park on Sunday.
It is 13 years since the Gaels were involved in a Roscommon showpiece and in that spell St Brigid’s have accumulated nine titles.
That brilliant Brigid’s burst has edged them into second place in the roll of honour behind the aristocratic Clann na Gael, but Roscommon Gaels’ considerable investment in the underage ranks is now reflected on the senior stage.
Liam McNeill has served the club in a variety of roles, a key playing influence in the 90s, he continues to forge a successful coaching career. “Lots of lads in the club, over the years, have done the hard work with this,” McNeill says about Roscommon Gaels’ rejuvenation.
“It is nice for this group of guys to get to a County Final. It is one step at a time, they are back in a final, we have been trying hard for a number of years, it just hasn't happened. This year we have made the breakthrough into a final, it is a new experience for these guys and we will see how we get on.”
McNeill is encouraged by the progress that has been made, especially considering 2004 was the last time the club sampled glory. “It is a long time, the club, ourselves, probably took our eye off the ball for a spell and we ended up playing Intermediate League for a while,” McNeill admits.
“For a club of Roscommon Gaels size, that just isn't right. Then maybe four or five years ago a couple of ex players moved in, they put a great foundation in place.
“They got them out of the Intermediate League, they got them competitive in the Senior Championship. That was the start of what these lads are doing now.”
McNeill has blended emerging talent with established footballers, who have served the Gaels and Roscommon causes well. “Yeah, it is fair to say that, absolutely,” McNeill responds about the cocktail of youth and experience.
“We have a few lads in their late 20s, one or two maybe around 30 and then we have two lads, Kevin Kilcline and John Nolan, who were both involved in 2004.
“Their experience and knowledge around the place is vital. Maybe they mightn't have had as much game time this year as they had other years, but their knowledge at training and on matchdays is invaluable to us.”
Brigid’s are a seasoned team, but McNeill feels Roscommon Gaels’ approach throughout 2017 is serving them well. “To be honest, this year the approach we have taken is to just try our best in each game and training session.
“We just want to improve, we have tried our best not to talk about the County Final, it is just another game for these lads.
“When we won the Semi-Final people would have felt the monkey was off our back, we had won a knockout game, but if you saw the expressions of the lads after the game, it was just another game, nothing had been won.
“There was no celebrations or lads talking about winning a knockout game, they all went home, back to college or about their business.
“We have a few lads out of the country, who had to get flights within a few hours of the match being over. I'd be hoping they'd approach the County Final in the same way, to hopefully put in a good performance, to see where it takes us.”
McNeill has been centrally involved in previous Roscommon Gaels triumphs on and off the field. He knows the wonder and value associated with these type of occasions. “When I finished playing, I was a selector for one year and manager for the following year, we won a County Final in '01 when I was there so I have been there before ,” McNeill recalls.
“I don't let it get to me too much. I've been involved in teams with Fergal O'Donnell, Ross Shannon, and Gareth Carroll over the years when we had great days in Croke Park for Roscommon and in Connacht Finals. You just have to treat it as another game, you only hope on the day that lads put in a performance.
“Some lads will, other lads will maybe struggle, that is the way it goes, so you are just hoping that it doesn't affect them, that they put in a performance and if that comes through and it is good enough that's great.
“If it is not, you'd be hoping that the lads just leave their heart on the pitch, you can't ask for any more than that.”
McNeill has guided a fresh Roscommon Gaels crop into what promises to be an interesting decider at the Hyde.