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'Roscommon need to be more consistent in beating the top two' - Fighting for position in Connacht

Cathal Cregg recently retired after a 15-year career with the Rossies.

AFTER 15 YEARS of service for the Roscommon footballers, Cathal Cregg expected that he might feel a slight sting while attending his first game as a supporter.

enda-smith-celebrates-after-the-game Celebrations after Roscommon won the 2019 Connacht SFC final. Source: Tommy Grealy/INPHO

A long time to be on one side of the fence, just to make such a sudden switch. He made it to two of their league games — against Down and Cork — and watched another on television, while also heading up to Dublin for their Division 2 final against Galway.

Cregg cut the inter-county cord last November, with three Division 2 titles of his own. But he wasn’t envious of the group moving on and winning this one without him.

“I was happy enough, especially with the pace of the game,” he tells The42 about his view from the stand during Roscommon’s impressive win.

Cregg’s county is unbeaten so far in 2022 with a place in the Connacht SFC final up for grabs when they face Sligo on Saturday. The expectation is that Division 2 champions shouldn’t have too much trouble against a Division 4 outfit who failed to earn promotion to the third tier this year.

They also struggled to squeeze past New York in the previous round of the Connacht championship.

But the province could be set to receive another challenger in the coming years, as Sligo continues to enjoy underage success including their first Connacht U20 crown earlier this month.

“Yeah I definitely think they’re coming,” says Cregg. “They’ve had success at U20 this year, and minor last year. They’ve had quite a number of good underage teams there the last few years. I definitely think we’ll see them riding through the divisions in the next couple of years.

“They were unlucky not to come out of Division 4, they only lost to Cavan and Tipp and they were strong teams for Division 4 after winning their provinces in the last couple of years. They’ll probably be disappointed with their game against New York. Their biggest concern from that game would be midfield; Johnny Glynn and Cathal Ellis really had the upper hand for New York, so they’ll need to get a grip on that.

“But they gave away an awful lot of simple ball, turnovers and that type of thing, which I think they’ll improve on going into the Roscommon game.

“I suppose I know myself from going over to New York that it’s not a straightforward game to play over there, for lots of reasons. And they have a few players to come back in, like Luke Towey and Pat Hughes. So I expect them to be a lot stronger in the Roscommon game.”

Roscommon are already a more than competitive county in the Connacht football championship. They’ve contested four of the last six finals, emerging from two of those deciders as champions in 2017 and 2019.

For Cregg’s part, he also has a Connacht medal from when Roscommon prevailed in 2010. And while he opted to take a year out for the 2017 triumph, he was also Roscommon’s centre-forward for the 2019 success.

But despite their strong showing year-on-year, Roscommon continue to be considered a third-placed horse in this competition. The tradition of calling Galway and Mayo the Connacht heavyweights continues to endure, even after Roscommon’s win over the Tribesmen in the league final.

Perhaps league form shouldn’t be overstated in normal circumstances, but given that his year’s championship has been condensed to finish with All-Ireland finals in July, an impressive performance that happened so recently should not be disregarded. 

Cregg has played with that underdog tag throughout his entire career. He never took much offence at the lack of appreciation for Roscommon’s threat as Connacht contenders, and believes that it may even have served them well on occasion.

cathal-cregg-celebrates-after-the-game-with-fans Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“In 2019, we weren’t expected to beat Mayo [in the semi-final], and we probably weren’t expected to beat Galway in the final either.

“In 2010, we weren’t expected to beat Sligo because Sligo were doing really well so being seen as the third is probably is a tag that has sometimes helped us.

“When you’re playing, you probably take a lot of heed of that type of stuff. I suppose when I was playing, we were in Division 3 and ended up in Division 4 and the whole way up to Division 1. So, as we went along that journey, we became more competitive as we went along.”

Maneuvering past Sligo is the first task ahead for Anthony Cunningham’s side this weekend to claim a place in the decider. Galway and Leitrim will compete for the other spot. Cregg says that racking up more wins against the Big Two will eventually alter perceptions and put Roscommon firmly in with the elite class.

“Over the last few years, since 2015 or 2016, I think Roscommon have become more competitive in the Connacht championship. In saying that, Roscommon need to become more consistent in terms of beating the top two. They lost to Galway last year and lost to Mayo in the championship the year before, although it was straight knockout.

“And in 2019, we beat both of them. So, I think it’s there but probably just need to become more consistent to be really seen as along the two of them.

“Galway are a very good side, that was proven last weekend. The league final could have gone either way. I suppose Roscommon had a few bursts in the first half and in the second half when they were five or six points up, and Galway pegged it back.

“They were a point up until Diarmuid Murtagh got that goal, which was the game winner. But if he hadn’t got that goal, Galway probably would have won the game.

“There’s very little between the teams, and even over the last few years, it’s nearly been 50/50 the whole way. If that final does come to pass, it’ll be very tight again.”

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