herald

Wednesday 18 October 2017

McStay seeks a way to stifle Dublin

Former pundit parks his admiration of All-Ireland aces as Roscommon bid to show they can live with the elite

Roscommon selector Liam McHale (left) and joint-manager Kevin McStay.
Roscommon selector Liam McHale (left) and joint-manager Kevin McStay.

Kevin McStay loves watching Dublin. They are "a beautiful team", one that you cannot help but admire.

But McStay is no longer a pundit; he is now joint-manager of Roscommon. And that means, as the days count down to Sunday's Allianz Football League clash with Dublin at Dr Hyde Park (weather gods permitting), he must park his admiration and plot a way to stop the champions.

Easier said than done: the Dubs come to town boasting a six-from-six record in Division 1. They've already long since qualified for the semi-finals; Roscommon will join them in the last-four, barring a sequence of results that would defy Pythagoras.

"I imagine that they'll present us with a completely different challenge," McStay told The Herald. "We wouldn't be noted as a defensive-minded team, and yet we may have to look into that because, you know, we can't have a riot on our hands either.

"But we know, even if we're playing the Dublin second team or third team, we're up against it. They've a huge pick, and good luck to them - they have nurtured that pick and developed it over the years.

Realities

"We're only at the start of that. Again, I hate being defeatist, excuses mean nothing, but I don't mind quoting realities - the reality is, we're four or five months into what hopefully will be a four-year programme for us, in terms of having a cohesive group, good morale, serious conditioning, and then all the experience of Division 1.

"And that's why we were so keen to stay in Division 1," he stressed. "It's all part of growing up in the big boys' school ... you have to learn how to deal with the Dublins and Mayos and Kerrys."

So far, so positive for McStay and his co-manager Fergal O'Donnell. Even last Sunday's reality check - against a physically dominant Mayo - seemed less deflating once 24-hour perspective kicked in.

"We're holding our own - nobody has swamped us yet," he pointed out. "Despite threatening to do it, nobody has. We were unlucky against Monaghan. We were well beaten by Mayo - we'd be very aware that we could have been beaten by 10-12 points.

"At the same time, we'd take a lot of encouragement from how we finished the match. And I'd like to think that we'll progress now and learn a bit against Dublin; to a league semi-final and learn a certain bit more; and then get really into our championship run.

"I've no doubt or no hesitancy in saying we will be competitive this summer. You'll have to play a bit of foo tball to beat us."

The Ballina native tuned into Dublin's latest victory, against Donegal, on TV. He'll have spied the massed ranks of yellow jerseys inside the Donegal '45' - it begs the question, is this the only way to set up against the Dubs?

"It has been proven in the past that it is the way to beat them - certainly in the Jim McGuinness/Donegal era, when they defended en masse. The bit they added was they broke en masse," he recounted.

"Now, I didn't see evidence of that last weekend because it's incredibly hard to sustain - whereas that emerging Donegal team were able to do it and took out big teams, took out Dublin, doing it.

"But Dublin have learned a lot from it as well. I think that they've tightened up as regards their own methodologies," McStay continued.

Toe-to-toe

"Is that the only way to play them? Well, if you had a team of footballers as good as them, as athletic as them, you could have a go, toe-to-toe, for sure. But very few … only Kerry, I would suggest, are equipped in terms of football talent to have a cut like that.

"So I think it behoves you to be a little bit conservative when you're planning (to face) Dublin because if they get a run on you, they can put up big scores very quickly.

"But remember, that tends to be the case in Croke Park. It doesn't tend to be the case in the away grounds, because the surface isn't as good, the atmosphere isn't the same - and of course they're playing away from home."

A big part of his job-spec will be building a defensive system to curtail the top teams. He ranks Tyrone's as currently the best around, one that blends excellent defenders with fluid transition on the counter. Roscommon's system is "slightly different" but they aren't "even close" to that level yet - and it could take two years of practice.

"We'll be very careful playing Dublin, that we won't leave ourselves wide open," he concludes.

"Whether we play a sweeper, whether we play a double sweeper … there's loads of options. But you have to be very careful about the balance. You can defend with 13 or 14 and give it a good auld shot - but we mightn't score seven points, and that ain't going to win any match."

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