By Kevin Egan for gaa.ie
No single moment summed up the self-belief that Roscommon displayed in their Connacht final victory over Galway more than Cian Connolly’s goal after nearly 14 minutes of play.
A stunning diagonal pass from Diarmuid Murtagh found the Roscommon Gaels’ attacker, and with an 0-6 to 0-2 lead already accumulated, the option to try to simply maintain momentum with a close-range point would have appealed to a lot of players.
Defying all expectation, however, the corner forward smelled blood and went for the kill. His inch-perfect low shot crept inside the post, and between the brilliance of the pass and precision of the finish, Roscommon had made a proclamation that this group are ready and able to compete with the best teams in the country.
Off the field, Connolly’s confidence is equally apparent. “It was great to get the goal but, as a team, it doesn’t matter who gets the scores as long as the team is successful,” Connolly says.
“Kevin (McStay) and the backroom team have really embedded that into the team’s mindset. You can have all the success and personal achievements, but what you want is to be winning as a team.
“You want to win the Nestor Cup, you want to win an All-Ireland.
“It was a great feeling coming home on the Sunday night. We stopped in four clubs on the way home: Pearses, Clann, Brigid’s and Knockcroghery. To see everyone coming out to support us, it puts into perspective what we have achieved. It was seven years since we’d won the Connacht final and that’s a pretty long time.
“Outside of our set-up a lot of people looked at us as underdogs before the Connacht final but we knew what our ambitions and our goals were for the year.
“Outside of our group our football capabilities were underestimated so it was nice to put in a big performance and change a lot of people’s minds. A few people may still think the Connacht final was an ambush but, most importantly, in the group we know what our capabilities are and where we want to go. Once you are confident in the group and have self-belief I think that’s all that counts.”
More often than not, Roscommon have struggled to build on success in their own province. Four times they’ve lifted the Nestor Cup since their last All-Ireland final appearance in 1980, four times they went on to lose their next game. Connolly is determined to change history in that regard.
“By the following Wednesday we had a good, hard training session,” Connolly states. “It brought us back down to earth, if anyone had got a bit out of place.
“It was straight on to the All-Ireland quarter-final and what we can bring to it. It wasn’t hard to re-fix our goals. Once you have success you always want more.
“You always want that bit extra, you always want to be that bit more successful. If you win a Connacht title this year, you want to win it next year and win the All-Ireland; if you win an All-Ireland title this year you want to progress, to win more”.
“I think everyone is looking forward to an All-Ireland quarter-final, an All-Ireland semi-final, and see where we can go from there. Definitely, nobody is happy with just a Connacht title, it was one of our main goals for the year but it wasn’t our ultimate goal”.
Neither has the prospect of playing Mayo bothered the young attacker, regardless of the huge gulf in experience between the two teams.
“The League matches against Mayo this year and last year have a small bit of relevance, but not on a major level. There’s always that rivalry between the counties.
“Maybe we are being written off already against Mayo, anybody can have their opinions outside our group and that’s for them. We have confidence in our own football ability and the management have backed the team.
“They empower us with that belief, and the players have great self-belief and self-confidence. That comes down to the long evenings and the hard training. We don’t necessarily want to do that slogging, but on days like next Sunday we know we have the hard work put in so now it’s down to getting a performance on the day.”