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Sunday 22 September 2019

Hardened Ros' better built for 'Super 8' fight

ULTIMATE PRIZE: Enda Smith of Roscommon with the Sam Maguire Cup during the GAA Football All Ireland Senior Championship Series National Launch in Castleblayney. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
ULTIMATE PRIZE: Enda Smith of Roscommon with the Sam Maguire Cup during the GAA Football All Ireland Senior Championship Series National Launch in Castleblayney. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

A year on, Enda Smith's enthusiasm for the 'Super 8s' and Croke Park is undiminished.

Roscommon share a group this year with Dublin and either Tyrone or Cavan and Cork or Laois.

If it transpires to be Tyrone, Roscommon will play two of the teams they met in the inaugural quarter-final group stage last year, losing to the eventual All-Ireland finalists by a combined 32 points.

This year's situation features a significant variation.

Firstly, Roscommon begin the phase as Connacht champions with a newly-reinforced defence that didn't concede a goal in a provincial campaign that featured victories in Castlebar and Salthill.

Secondly, they will begin the group stage with a home fixture against whichever team wins in Clones on Saturday.

Which, given the near certainty of Dublin making it out of the group, feels almost like a play-off to see who joins them.

"Player-wise we can't wait," Smith confirms.

Externally

"Playing in Croke Park, our second game is obviously against Dublin so pitting yourself against them, who have been the benchmark for the last four or five years will be brilliant.

"Obviously there is a lot of talk about Dublin on the outside, externally, but I'd always say that they have an exceptional bunch of players and that they don't get the credit that they should.

"To pitch yourself against them, the best players in the country and see where we are really at, in Croke Park, in the bear pit."

You could, of course, class it as tragically unlucky that Roscommon have been forced to play Dublin in Croke Park in consecutive years.

Last year, they met there in Dublin's designated home game. Now, they meet in the Croke Park/provincial champions fixture.

"As a player I don't think it really bugs me," Smith shrugs. "A pitch is a pitch and Croke Park is a great place to play Dublin. It doesn't bother me."

Tactically they seem better equipped for the attacking might of football's biggest teams.

The lessons learned last year were harsh. But most importantly, they were learned.

"We played Armagh a week earlier and it was a free-flowing game, everyone talking about it," Smith recalls.

"You are confident going in. As it goes on in the series, games get harder and you just don't get that open space.

"Like, the first 35/40 minutes of games in the latter stages are like a game of chess.

"I suppose we were very naive to think Tyrone would give us the chances Armagh did, the amount of opportunities, and I suppose Tyrone punished us.

"Like, you see they are a good team. They made it to the final."

"You can't afford to do that against the top teams."

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