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Dublin: 19 °C Sunday 21 July, 2019
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'My family were all here today. I saw them out there after - all delighted, all mad Rossies'

Conor Cox has scored 1-40 for Roscommon this season after transferring from Kerry.

FROM SPEAKING TO various Roscommon players in the immediate aftermath of yesterday’s Connacht success, what came across was their determination to give a better account of themselves in the Super 8s this season.

Enda Smith celebrates after the game Enda Smith played a key role in the victory. Source: Tommy Grealy/INPHO

Roscommon crashed out of the All-Ireland quarter-final phase last summer with a -39 scoring difference after heavy losses to Tyrone, Donegal and Dublin in an admittedly tough group, but they look better equipped to compete at that level this time around.

“We said it a few weeks ago, even after the league, that if we were going to the Super 8s I’d feel a lot more confident than last year,” said Enda Smith following the four-point defeat of Galway.

“I just think there’s a different edge about us. We were five points down there against Galway and we came back, in previous years that wouldn’t happen.

“I really think there’s confidence in the lads, belief in our training, and the system that we’re trying to implement.”

A major reason for their increased belief this time around is they have a forward of Conor Cox’s talents in their ranks. Any side aiming to reach the latter stages of the All-Ireland series need at least one elite scorer in attack.

All the signs so far in his Roscommon career indicate Anthony Cunningham has unearthed a forward that fits that bill.

After his three points from play helped them past Mayo in the Connacht semi-final last month, he was interviewed on the field by a Sky Sports reporter.

“Conor, since your move from Kerry could you ever have envisioned anything like this?” he was asked.

“To be honest, I suppose I could,” was Cox’s response, giving a little insight into his quietly confident personality.

Conor Cox Conor Cox transferred from his native Kerry to line out with Roscommon this season. Source: Evan Logan/INPHO

In his nine league and championship games in 2019, Cox has posted 1-40. He’s averaged five points per game during the summer and is playing with the sort of swagger that all elite forwards possess. 

One of the major differences between Galway and Roscommon was that the latter had better quality forwards and they were happy to kick the ball into them. The visitors played with Cox and Diarmuid Murtagh as their full-forward line and the pair contributed 1-8 of Roscommon’s 1-13 tally.

Murtagh is another accurate finisher, having now scored 1-76 in championship football.

The Rossies kicked 16 balls into Cox or Murtagh, finding their target on nine occasions and they were far more accurate with their deliveries in the second-half.

“We were forcing the kick-pass in that first half and it was bouncing away from us because of the conditions,” Smith continued.

“A lot of it was that we were over anxious in the first half. We were kicking balls into lads when it probably wasn’t on.

Eoghan Kerin with Diarmuid Murtagh Diarmuid Murtagh top-scored for the Rossies with 1-3. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“It was bouncing off lads knees in the conditions, so we just said we needed to run the ball a bit more and be a bit more careful on the ball, and we were. It was a matter of minding the ball and we did that very well.

“We went back to a running game, more of a patient running game, rather than trying to force it and it paid off.”

Because of the wet weather and Galway’s habit of dropping at least 13 bodies behind the ball, Roscommon’s inside pair had to be patient. They had just 23 possessions between them – 14 for Cox and nine for Murtagh – but were extremely efficient when the chances came their way. 

“I think we were more efficient in the second-half,” explained Cox.

In the first-half we lost a good few balls that we should have held on to. Galway play a good defensive arc when they’re set up and I suppose we were a bit more patient in the second half and that paid off.”

Murtagh hit 1-3 from five shots and Cox scored five of his seven strikes at the posts. (He hit one wide from play and dropped another ambitious effort from a sideline short).

Galway defenders looked to force the Listowel Emmetts club man onto his left side when he was in possession. All his looks at the posts came from the left flank, but his striking on his weaker foot was exceptional. 

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There may not be a better point scored all summer than Cox’s outside the boot effort off his left in the 10th minute. In total, he scored 0-2 off his left foot and 0-3 from his right, including two frees. 

In the pair, Roscommon have accurate free-takers off either side of the field which will count for a lot in the Super 8s and beyond.

Cox won a free that Murtagh converted and provided two hockey assists – or the pass before the assist – to round-off an impressive display.

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After appearing in seven league games for Kerry across three seasons, Cox is determined to make up for lost time on the inter-county scene. 

His father Martin, who hails from the Eire Og club, was in Salthill yesterday with plenty more family members to witness the stirring victory over rivals Galway.

“We’re absolutely delighted,” Cox said. “I can’t really put it into words yet to be honest. Five points down at half-time it was an uphill battle and we believed.

“Anthony Cunningham is a great manager, he was always positive with us and he just told us to work on the things that we had been working on and get them better.

I’m delighted. To be honest, it’s grand for the players, but when you see the supporters, young boys and girls delighted on the field afterwards, it really shows that they back us to the hilt and we’re delighted to give them something to shout about.

“My family were all here today so we’re delighted. I saw them out there after – all delighted, all mad Rossies.”

After reaching the last eight through the front door, skipper Enda Smith says an All-Ireland semi-final is now a realistic aim for this group of players.

“I think it has to be,” Smith says. “The Super 8s is a brand new competition for us.

“It’s in four weeks, that’s a lot of time, so we’re going to enjoy the next few days then give it a good crack and hopefully represent ourselves a lot better than we did last year.” 

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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