Shane Curran on the challenges facing Roscommon in 2017

Ex-Roscommon goalkeeper talks Allianz League and championship with Newstalk.com's Raf Diallo

BY Raf Diallo 14:02 Saturday 11 February 2017, 14:02 11 Feb 2017

Conor Devaney of Roscommon and Colm Cavanagh of Tyrone ©INPHO/Presseye/Andrew Paton

This time last year, Roscommon were embarking on what would become a positive start to life in Allianz Football League Division One.

Under the joint stewardship of Kevin McStay and Fergal O'Donnell, the Connacht county won four of their seven games which meant they qualified for the semi finals.

Although the 2016 league ended with a 3-15 to 0-14 loss to Kerry at Croke Park, there was still optimism that Roscommon could build on the spring with a memorable summer in the Connacht and All Ireland championships.

They might have reached a Connacht final but the road there wasn't easy. They scraped by New York by a single point and although they were able to see off Leitrim and Sligo in the quarters and semis, Galway proved a step too far in the provincial decider after a replay.

The qualifiers provided no solace as Roscommon endured defeat to a Clare side that would make a run to the All Ireland quarter finals.

Fast forward a year and McStay is sole manager and Roscommon have started their Allianz League campaign with a defeat to Tyrone.

But is there any of the optimism remaining from the early part of 2016?

Shane Curran ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

I spoke to former Roscommon goalkeeper Shane Curran as the 2017 inter-county season begins to rev up. He pointed out that drawing from a relatively small of pool players in 2016 meant maintaining good form became more difficult as the season wore on.

"The management put a lot of store into having a very good league in Division One and to see if they could also get into a Connacht final," he says.

"The problem was that they were using a very shallow pool of players to do that from the FBD League into the league and ultimately then into the championship.

"Unfortunately the nature of amateur sport - even professional sport - is that you must be changing your personnel around on a regular basis and have deep squads to be able to compete."

But heading into the 2017 campaign, Roscommon have lost key players as sometimes happens to the counties below the exalted tier occupied by the Dublins, Mayos and Kerrys.

"Regretfully, we've shed so many players over the last three or four months that it's going to be very difficult for them even to spread that pool that's got very, very narrow into the new time," Curran explains.

"Roscommon have lost 15 senior footballers from the county senior squad. Fourteen of those players are club senior players. One of them, David Keenan, is a junior player in the county with St Barry's but a notable senior player over the last few years with Roscommon. The problem is you're losing guys like that and replacing them with players who are trying to find their level at club level, never mind the inter-county senior level."

The loss of players like Keenan was something raised by Roscommon and St Brigid's half back Ronan Stack ahead of the defeat to Tyrone, saying: "We are going to miss the guys that we had around. Senan [Kilbride] would be a clubman of mine. He has given a huge amount to Roscommon over the last eight or 10 years. Other guys, Niall Carty, David Keenan, Donie Shine we are going to miss them all."

With retirements like Kilbride's, other departures and injuries, emerging players have to step in and it leaves a challenging landscape for Roscommon in the league.

"The challenge for Kevin [McStay] is to nurture those players through that period," says Curran.

Roscommon’s manager Kevin McStay ©INPHO/James Crombie

"It's going to be difficult. I admire the stance he's taking in that he's bringing in these young players. But we have to have a focus and stay confident and give them the support that they deserve, because this league is going to be very difficult for Roscommon. Very difficult. We're going to take some heavy beatings in the league, we're not going to be that competitive, notwithstanding that we did quite alright in Tyrone."

Surviving another year in Division One will then be the focus short term. But looking beyond the league, Roscommon have an opportunity to reach another Connacht final.

The draw for the Connacht championship has left McStay and his team with what looks like a relatively kind draw on paper as they get a bye to the semi final.

And they know that they will be facing either London or Leitrim.

But Curran sounds a note of caution given the nature of sport, taking the example of a fixture against a Leitrim side that have made a decent start to their Division Four campaign.

"Roscommon are just a completely different entity than they were in Carrick on Shannon last year," he said.

"If you've got a team like Roscommon, who no doubt would be struggling on the relegation side of things in Division One, against a team like Leitirm, who could possibly be going towards the promotion side in Division Three, you're talking about a side that's confident on the way up against a team that has little or no confidence on the way down and that brings an equilibrium and equalisation of the capacities of both sides."

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