Enda Smith preparing for defining game
By Cian O’Connell
On the eve of the All Ireland SFC Quarter-Final Group Phase, Enda Smith acknowledges how critical Saturday’s Dr Hyde Park encounter against Tyrone is for Anthony Cunningham’s outfit.
Valuable and important lessons were learned during the inaugural staging of the new format last year and Roscommon are ready to produce much improved displays.
Reaching the penultimate round of the competition is the ambition of every team remaining in the hunt for the Sam Maguire Cup, but Smith accepts that a critical encounter looms on home turf.
“As a player you always dream of getting to that stage of the competition all the time,” Smith admits. “Funny this year, we were just talking about it as players, getting back to the Super 8s, that was a massive goal for us, to see where it takes us.
“Don't be overthinking too long into the season because you will get embarrassed, look at what happened to us last year.
“I think this year the focus on the first game is huge, it is going to define the season. It is probably our biggest game of the season, it is going to define where we go.
“If we can get something out of that it will be huge, to kick on for the Super 8s and hopefully kick on a bit more to deliver more consistent performances.”
Two defeats to Tyrone and Donegal in 2018 meant Roscommon’s last group game carried little relevance against Dublin. So avoiding that particular scenario is Roscommon’s mission.
“That was a disaster, we knew we were knocked out,” Smith reflects. “We had two weeks to get ready for Dublin, who were obviously through at that stage. We were going to Croke Park playing Dublin.
“Probably for us as players them two weeks in between it was hard to get yourself as motivated as you would like. We went out played anyway, got through it, but it isn't a good place to be with nothing to play for after two games.
“The season fizzles out for you because you are just playing a game with nothing you can gain from it, a box ticker really. It just has to be done.”
Following two Connacht Championship wins in three years did Smith, who was part of accomplished underage teams alongside brother Donie, always feel these type of successes were attainable?
“We knew growing up we had a good bunch of lads, the big thing about us is we all loved playing football, hanging out with each other, we all liked the enjoyment it brought us and obviously winning helps it,” Smith replies.
“I think it is more the craic we have and there are so many of us born in 1993, which would be Donie's age group, to 1995, which would be the year after me, with Diarmuid Murtagh, Sean Mullolly.
“So from lads born in 1993, 1994, and 1995 you have a good few together. That would be our Under 21 team in 2014 mainly, so we have a huge amount there together.
“Just good mates, I think in the back of our minds when we were growing up talking to each other we felt we could win a senior medal at Connacht level. We are delighted we did.
“We really like the whole concept of trying to kick on, so it is great to have all these lads together. You know what they are like so it is good from that sense.”
Roscommon are now beginning to deliver on the promise which provides encouragement for the future according to Smith.
“You have a lot of people in Roscommon with one Connacht medal, so to have that second Connacht medal is nice,” Smith admits. “It wasn't just a flash in the pan, that this team has a core of us there now for a number of years.
“We have lost a few obviously, but there is a core there that now has the experience of a few Division One campaigns, a couple of quarter finals, the Super 8s obviously last year, another Super 8s series this year, it is brilliant.
“To get that bit of consistency and big match experience is massive for the group of players, who had a quite a bit of success at underage level. To bring it to senior is important because it was taking a while, people were wondering were we ever going to come at all. Thankfully it has come to get a few provincial medals.”
Returning to the western summit mattered for so many reasons, but the fact that Roscommon remain relevant in Connacht carries meaning.
“We are very cyclical, it was a case of nearly every 10 years Roscommon were winning Connacht titles - 1991, 2001, 2010, 2017, it was nearly every 10 years so to cut that short doing it a year or two later,” Smith states.
“So to get two medals is good. As players we are just playing for ourselves, teams make their own assumptions of the team. It is up to us to get that respect from the Tyrones, Dublins, and the Mayos, all them big teams.
“We have to be consistently performing like that. It is tough because of us being a small county with player turnover, if we can hang around with the same lads we have, to get that continuity we might keep that consistently.”
The way in which the Nestor Cup was secured with victories over Leitrim, Mayo, and Galway brought an extra layer of satisfaction.
“It was brilliant, to be honest coming from Roscommon any sort of Connacht Championship is brilliant,” Smith comments.
“We are starved of them quite a bit, but to do it in the manner we did it, beating Leitrim first of all, who were on a high after the League.
“Then to beat Galway and Mayo, I suppose the big two in Connacht, and two very consistent Division One teams. They are two teams who have been there or thereabouts in the All Ireland series in the last number of years meant it was very special.”
Now Smith and Roscommon want to shine on the national stage.