MATCH PREVIEW: Rossies no rollover

By Niall Gartland

EASY peasy lemon squeezy? Well, it certainly isn’t a nightmare draw for Tyrone, but it’s a knock-out championship match so they can’t afford to take Roscommon for granted in this Saturday’s All-Ireland preliminary quarter-final clash at O’Neill’s Healy Park.

The Red Hands are by no means a runaway train but they have accrued a little bit of momentum heading into their last-12 match, clinching back-to-back victories for the first time in over a year with last Saturday’s win over Cork.

Roscommon’s formline has been nothing if not consistent though, and not in a good way. Up until last weekend, they hadn’t mustered so much as a single victory since back in February when they came up trumps in the league against Monaghan.

Apart from that it’s been near enough one defeat after another, but this is 2024 and it’s nearly harder to get knocked out of the Championship than to stay in it, and they prolonged their campaign for at least another week with a deserved victory over Cavan on Saturday.

A mere stay of execution, arguably, but the Rossies aren’t an untalented bunch by any manner of means.

2023, the first year of Davy Burke’s tenure, was a productive one even if it petered out by the summer months. They also won two Connacht titles in three years not so long ago (2017 and 2019) and quite a number of that team are still involved, including Diarmuid Murtagh and Enda Smith who were central to their final-round victory over Cavan.

For whatever reason – and a few theories have done the rounds – 2024 hasn’t been an especially good one.

Some cite the pre-season exit of Burke’s sideline lieutenants Mark McHugh and Gerry McGowan, while they haven’t been particularly blessed on the injury front either.

And while they emerged victorious in a shoot-out against Cavan, the final scoreline reading 3-20 to 1-20 in their favour, their porousness at the back spells trouble for their chances of upsetting the odds against a Tyrone team that could be coming to the boil at the right time.

The Red Hands may have missed out on top spot in the group stages but they’ll be content enough with how it all panned out, springing back after an opening day defeat to Donegal with victories over Cork and Clare.

Their scoring efficiency against Cork on Saturday couldn’t have been much better, they haven’t conceded a goal in four games now, and the general vibe from the outside looking in is of a content, happy camp rowing in the one direction.

The only disappointment emanating from their day out in Tullamore was the second-half sending off of Conn Kilpatrick for an off-the-ball incident.

The feeling among those in the know is it was an extremely harsh decision so the hope is that Kilpatrick is exonerated by the powers-that-be and lines out this weekend.

Elsewhere, though, it’s all good in the hood. Kieran McGeary was withdrawn at the last minute on Saturday having pulled up with an injury in the warm up, but he should be available for selection.

It also emerged last Friday night that a certain Conor Meyler, who has been recuperating from a long-standing knee injury, had lined out for the Omagh reserves against Edendork, which bodes well for his chances of a possible return before the season is out.

These two teams met in the first round in the league on the last weekend of January, Tyrone carving out a 0-17 to 1-11 victory in a game that set the tone for the remainder of Roscommon’s Division One campaign.

Starring that day for Tyrone was Darragh Canavan, who scored eight points – six from play – and won the man of the match award into the bargain. Tasked with curtailing the Tyrone dangerman on this occasion was Niall Higgins, but expect the experienced Brian Stack to pick up the unenviable role this weekend.

Down the other end of the pitch, the Tyrone defence will be kept busy by Murtagh, Smith and Kerry native Conor Cox, who transferred to Roscommon, his father’s home county, in 2019.

Padraig Hampsey, Michael McKernan and Aidan Clarke, who had possibly his best game for Tyrone yet last weekend, are more than capable of doing so, and it would be a considerable shock if they don’t muster enough scores down the other end to progress to a last-eight clash against Dublin, Kerry or Armagh.

That’s for another day; Tyrone have a job to do against the Rossies and there’s nothing in the respective formbooks to suggest they won’t do it.

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