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Dublin: 4 °C Monday 21 January, 2019

'It’s in the DNA of Roscommon people never to be too hung up on the Galway challenge'

Kevin McStay is hoping to lead the county to a first Connacht two-in-a-row since 1991.

KEVIN MCSTAY IS in no mood to play down the importance of Sunday’s Connacht final.

Kevin McStay Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Reigning provincial champions Roscommon host Galway, Kevin Walsh’s rapidly improving side who are currently ranked as third favourites to lift the All-Ireland behind Dublin and Kerry.

The Rossies stunned the same opponents in last year’s final at Salthill, but the Tribesmen have taken another leap forward in 2018 and ran Dublin close in April’s Division 1 final.

They dumped Mayo out of Connacht for a third straight year and ran up a huge score against Sligo in the last four.

But Roscommon have been making steady progress too, highlighted by their immediate return to the top flight of the league and the Division 2 title secured with a high-scoring win over Cavan.

Connacht football is on the rise once again with three teams set to occupy Division 1 status in 2018. McStay believes Sunday’s game will be a seminal day for the province.

“It’s big moment in Connacht, that nexus is being reached,” he said. “We think we’re a coming team, Galway think they’re a coming team and Mayo aren’t sure where they are just right now. So there’s a big prize.

“Whoever comes away with the title this year is likely to have a big say in what’s going on around the place for the next few years.

Donal Smith celebrates a point Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“We have the age profile and the ability to be part of that conversation. I think last year we got a little step on Galway, but we never kicked on, like Galway have kicked on.

“We had a great chance to move on but we never got going against Mayo, the league never sparkled too hard for us, and Galway in Division 1 were driving it on week on week. So they got a step on us, but as the championship comes, the gap closes again, so there’s a lot up for grabs in this final.

“This year to me is about moving on, building on what we did (last year). That said, some people undervalue Connacht medals but we certainly don’t, so for us to get a pair of them in a row would be unreal and it would launch us brilliantly into the rest of the campaign.

“We will respect them, but I don’t think any of us will fear them. It’s in the DNA of Roscommon people never to be too hung up on the Galway challenge. That’s not to say that Roscommon beat Galway very regularly, but they’ll have their moments against Galway.”

Roscommon ran Mayo to a replay in the All-Ireland quarter-final stage last year and McStay feels making the Super 8s this summer is “vitally important” for the squad.

“Not to be in the Super 8s would hurt this group. If it’s not us, it’ll be Galway, Mayo, Tyrone, or some team that we’d like to think that we could compete with in the future are going to get three All Irelands that we won’t get, if we don’t come through.

He continued: “From that point of view it’s vitally important, but if you throw yourselves back to this time last year, as a management team and as a group of players, we were fighting for our sheer reputations as footballers and people involved with football teams.

“So therefore winning Connacht was a monstrous prize for us.”

Roscommon celebrates as Niall Kilroy lifts the trophy Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Galway’s defensive record has improved immeasurably this season but the pace and power of their front six means Roscommon will have to be on top of their game at the back.

They typically drop Niall Kilroy back as a spare defender and although McStay says they’ll spring a surprise or two on Sunday, he’ll resist the temptation to go overly defensive.

“Myself and the lads could be the whole night talking about whether we should bring in a second sweeper, whether we stop the wing backs going forward and just hold it, should we stop the other backs coming forward, and we know they can kick a point too.

“We haven’t the power or the size to pull off a defensive game of attrition, I don’t think that’s our strength or our style. We prefer to use our foot passing, move the ball at speed, but we won’t be taking our eye off the defensive requirement in the final either.

“It’s all in the mix, but I’m happy with where we’re going. We’re scoring well, and Leitrim scored two points in the first half. Barring we locked Leitrim in the dressing room, you can’t reduce them much more than just to two points in a half.

John McManus with Paddy Maguire and Ryan O Rourke Source: Tommy Grealy/INPHO

“Of course Galway might throw something different at it, we’ll certainly be planning to do something different, what we did in last year’s Connacht final won’t win this one. In terms of personnel, in terms of formation, in terms of how we tactically go about the game, we’ll definitely come up with something different to see how they react.

“The Roscommon crowd are beginning to take on this team. I feel that after matches and when I meet people on the street. They’re a young, up and coming team, people are beginning to nail their colours to the mast and follow them unconditionally, but then it’s never unconditional with a supporter, he loves you more if you’re winning.”

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