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Saturday 21 April 2018

Mayo soap opera could equal reality bites for Rossies

All-Ireland SFC quarter-final: Roscommon v Mayo (Croke Park, Tomorrow 4.0, Live RTÉ 2)

No player has extricated Mayo from dark corners and tight places more often than the rejuvenated Aidan O’Shea. Pic: Sportsfile
No player has extricated Mayo from dark corners and tight places more often than the rejuvenated Aidan O’Shea. Pic: Sportsfile

Roscommon should be the story, front and centre, dominating the build-up to this most familiar and yet unusual of Croke Park pairings, writes Frank Roche.

Kevin McStay's crew are the Lazarus of the west - a team supposedly sinking without trace in March, reborn as Connacht champions.

And no fluke either: their display against Galway came with a swashbuckling flourish and plenty of substance too.

But instead of jumping on the Rossie bandwagon, most of the talk this week is about Mayo. And you can see why.

They are the soap opera that keeps on giving; football's answer to reality TV, leaving Big Brother and The X Factor strictly in the ha'penny place. Only the Mayo version should be dubbed I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Back To Here. The here being Croke Park.

Enda Smith’s bombing runs from the Roscommon midfield could hurt Mayo. Pic: Sportsfile
Enda Smith’s bombing runs from the Roscommon midfield could hurt Mayo. Pic: Sportsfile

However, now that Stephen Rochford's men have circumnavigated the qualifiers via a succession of almighty scares, is it safe to assume they will find a greater level of consistency in their second home?

We remain to be convinced.

Mayo's famed resilience has been taken to heroic levels over this roller-coaster last month. At different stages in different qualifiers, David Clarke, Lee Keegan, Tom Parsons, Andy Moran and Cillian O'Connor have extricated them from tight corners and dark places. No player has done it more often than the rejuvenated Aidan O'Shea.

At other times, though, the team has been blighted by individual blunders (even by some of the above, including Keegan for his heedless black card against Cork) and a collective vulnerability.

That weakness has been at its most pronounced through the soft centre of their defence. Opponents know that if you run hard and in numbers through the central corridor, goal chances will appear.

If Cork had taken all of theirs in the second half last Saturday, we'd be penning a very different preview.

The Connacht final showed how Roscommon could hurt Mayo with their running game (Enda Smith bombing on from midfield, or Brian Stack driving straight through from an errant kickout for a goal).

But, if given the latitude, they can unravel a defence in other ways too. Check out Diarmuid Murtagh's sublime crossfield pass to create the goal chance so clinically dispatched by Cian Connolly. Or even the point-scoring audacity of Conor Devaney, a converted wing-back betraying his forward roots.

Yet we can't help but rewind to Mayo's last two games against the Rossies - on a Hyde Park bog last year and in Castlebar last February. Different games but the same conclusion: the Rossies couldn't live with Mayo's physicality and power.

Roscommon are a better team now, and maybe fatigue might finally catch Mayo out. Our hunch, though, is that they'll battle through it.

ODDS: Ros 11/4 Draw 9/1 Mayo 2/5

VERDICT: Mayo

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