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Are Roscommon The Biggest Overachievers In Gaelic Football?

Are Roscommon The Biggest Overachievers In Gaelic Football?
By Conor Neville Updated

While working as an analyst on the HD-less TV3 five years back, Liam Hayes disputed the existence of a 'big two' in Connacht.

In Hayes's estimation, Mayo hadn't done enough to justify being elevated above the Rossies in so definitive a fashion. When he was growing up, he remembered it being Galway and Roscommon that occupied the top two spots in the Connacht hierarchy.

Even allowing for the fact that the comments were made before Mayo's recent burst of dominance in the province, the observation still seems odd. Only someone stuck in a 70s timewarp - of the type Welsh rugby fans used to live in - could agree with so bizarre a statement.

But it still caused one to ponder the Rossies' curious place in the hierarchy.

Going by population, Roscommon are big overachievers in Gaelic football. They've a population of just over 60,000, marginally less than Sligo.

And yet, their provincial haul dwarfs their neighbours. They've won 20 Connacht titles, rarely going a decade without snaffling at least one. Not since the '30s have they endured a barren decade on that front. They won back-to-back All-Irelands during the Second World War.

Sligo and Leitrim, by contrast, have won five Connacht finals between them.

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Roscommon have certain natural advantages. Unlike Sligo, they no real urban centre and thus have no popular soccer team to distract from Gaelic football. Leitrim, meanwhile, simply do not have the numbers, to compete even with middling sized counties like Roscommon and Sligo. The early 90s was the exception not the rule.

Perhaps, it's fairer to say there is a 'big two and a half' in Connacht rather than a 'big two'?

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Roscommon are the Liberal Democrats or the (pre-2011) Labour Party in Ireland. Galway and Mayo are the Tories and the Labour Party, the Fianna Fail and Fine Gael (Mayo are definitely Fine Gael) of Connacht football. To push the analogy to breaking point, Sligo and Leitrim are the PDs and the Worker's Party of the province, enjoying brief periods in the spotlight but generally mired in the shadows. It would be abusive to compare anyone to Renua.

They have a fevered set of supporters. In this department, the Rossies almost rival Mayo.

They also - and this might be news to non-Connacht people - appear to be peculiarly unpopular with their neighbours. We've no hard numbers to support this assertion, but there's a welter of anecdotal evidence suggesting that Mayo people have far less time for the Rossies than they have for their supposed traditional rivals to the south. Also, the glee with which Eamonn O'Hara taunted the Rossies following Sligo's victory in the Connacht semi-final last year was especially striking.

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Balls has made inquiries about this phenomenon and the answer has come back that Roscommon apparently exude an unearned arrogance and their supporters are astoundingly quick to fan the flames of hype around their own team.

The bookies have made Galway the slightest of favourites for this Sunday, influenced partly by home advantage.

But then Salthill has offered precious little advantage to Galway in the past decade. Neither, contrary to popular myth, did Tuam (at least not in the John O'Mahony era). Galway's last two victories over Mayo in the championship came in McHale Park and some of their worst defeats - Westmeath 2006, Wexford 2010, Sligo 2012, Mayo 2013 - arrived in their windy 'fortress'.

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The present Roscommon team have been gunning for a provincial title for longer than Galway. Their thirst for a provincial title is massive.

The Rossies also have huge faith vested in this current crop of players. Both counties have enjoyed regular underage success in recent years, but Galway people, as a general rule, tend to be far more blase about such things. Roscommon supporters shout far louder from the rooftops about their recent Connacht U21 titles (2012,2014, 2015) than Galway have about their All-Ireland U21 titles (2011, 2013). A few years at the top table in Division 1 will not be enough to satisfy Roscommon hopes for this team. They need silverware.

Sunday promises to be most exciting Connacht final since 2010, when a Roscommon team mired in Division 4 stunned Sligo in Castlebar.

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Read more: Remembering The Strangest Football Championship Of The 21st Century


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