Jimmy Murray, Dermot Earley, the McManus' – names synonymous with Roscommon football.

Murray was captain when the Rossies claimed their two All-Irelands in the 1940s. The county also has 23 Connacht titles and a few league successes to its name. It would be a slight to say the Primrose and Blue are punching above their weight, given that they occupy the same province as Galway and Mayo. They love nothing more than to take down the 'Big Two’; they have done it so often in the past.

Roscommon followers don’t lack confidence. Colourful characters are aplenty, namely Paddy Joe Burke, the barber from Roscommon town. "Following the Rossies, there’s nothing like it," says Paddy Joe, in one of his many YouTube contributions

"Big match day, small match day, I just love to see the team coming out on to the field, love to see everything associated with the Rossies. Nobody beats the Rossies, we are the Rossies – simply the best".

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Well, nobody has so far beaten the Rossies in 2022. A successful league campaign has them back in the top flight for next year. The added bonus was beating Galway in the Division 2 final. On Saturday next, in the view Benbulben and Queen Maeve’s grave, they begin their championship campaign at Markievicz Park against Sligo.

Another great Roscommon fan is Séamus Duke, local journalist and broadcaster. A man steeped in the social, political and sporting whirl of his area. A knowledgeable character, with a distinctive voice to match.

Last December, Séamus published his autobiography: ‘Dukie.. The Game of Life’. Gaelic football features prominently. The opening chapter deals with Roscommon’s All-Ireland minor success against Kerry in 2006. The match went to a replay. All roads led to Cusack Park in Ennis.

Reflecting on that day, Duke told RTÉ Sport: "It was like a religious experience.

"We all got great satisfaction out of that one. It was a very special day alright. The chapter that I started the book with was that win in 2006. It's something that I can remember with great fondness.

Donie Shine in the middle of that minor success from 16 years ago

"At least 20,000 people tried to get to the match; 16,000 of them got to the match and the rest of them had to abandon their cars on the way down. They sought refuge in the nearest pub and watched it. It was one of those days."

That win did lead to success at senior level, with some on the team featuring on the side that defeated Sligo in a novel Connacht final in 2010.

On that day in Castlebar, Duke added: "It was very unusual for Roscommon to be outsiders in a Connacht final against Sligo, a Sligo team that had beaten Galway and Mayo that year. A number of players like Conor Devaney, Donie Shine and Fintan Cregg had come through.

"Fergie O'Donnell, who managed the minor team was actually the manager of the senior team then. An unexpected win, but that’s Roscommon for you. They often do the unexpected well."

Duke, who now writes for the Roscommon People and can be heard on MidWest Radio, also recalled that great Roscommon team from 1977-80 that won four Connacht titles on the trot and faced Kerry in an All-Ireland final.

"We had a brilliant team back then. Unfortunately Kerry and Dublin also had great senior teams then. In any other era that Roscommon side would have won a couple of All-Irelands. It was a desperately poor game in 1980 against Kerry. You had poor refereeing decisions, but the Roscommon forward line didn't play on the day. They scored 2-20 in the semi-final against Armagh.

Ger O'Driscoll of Kerry, in action against Roscommon's Pat Lindsay during the 1980 All-Ireland final

"It was our defence that played well. No shortage of regrets, as Kerry, great and all as they were, were there for the taking. The defeat marked the end of that Roscommon side."

A few days out from the start of another championship, and Duke is more than hopeful that Anthony Cunningham’s side can push on from a successful spring campaign.

"Roscommon have really improved this year," was his succinct summation.

"They have a different backroom team and are playing much better football than they did over the last couple of years.

"Midfield was a problem area; they hadn't a settled midfield. During the league the same pairing of Ultan Harney and Eddie Nolan played in all the matches. Harney is a very talented player, had desperate problems with injuries over the years.

Diarmuid Murtagh after goaling against Galway in the Division 2 league final

"The arrival of Cathal Heneghan has been a great boost. He was a Sigerson winner with NUIG, came on as a sub in the league final and was man of the match. Conor Cox is playing well, as are the two Smiths - Enda and Donie. The two Murtaghs - Diarmuid and Ciaran, who were tied up with their club (St Faithleach's earlier in the year) - have really come into their own in the last two matches.

"Roscommon have an excellent forward line. If they play to their strengths and get the ball into that line, they'll be a match for anybody."

Duke now believes the side are playing to their strengths, this after much groaning from supporters who felt they were too ponderous of late in their build-up. In the close-season Anthony Cunningham overhauled the rest of his management ticket, with Luke Bree, Noel Dunning, Derek Duggan, Peter Tormey and Leo Tierney all coming on board.

"They are kicking the ball into forwards far more than they were. They have good forwards, so you have to get the best out of them. Get fast ball in and the talent is there to make hay.

"Kerry, Tyrone and Dublin are leading the way at the moment but this current Roscommon team aren’t trotting too far behind them. I’d love to see them trot in that rarified setting of the All-Ireland series."

Duke speaking to the then New York manager Justin O'Halloran at Gaelic Park in 2016

Sunday last saw Galway knock Mayo out of the Connacht championship. A Galway-Roscommon final would now appear to be on the cards. No disrespect then to Leitrim or Sligo, even though Duke feels "Roscommon will have to be careful against Sligo after underestimating them in the past".

Offering a more realistic note, he added: "On all known form Roscommon should win. They won the league final and are back in Division 1, whereas Sligo didn't get out of Division 4. If Roscommon don't win they don't deserve to be talking about progression of any description."

"It would be like holding the Grand National on St Stephen's Day or playing the FA Cup final in November"

In daring to look ahead to a likely provincial decider against Galway in Pearse Stadium, an air of confidence could be detected. "Well, we did win the last two finals we played in Salthill".

That decider will take place at the end of June. The All-Ireland final is scheduled for 24 July. Like many, Duke would be a traditionalist when it comes to the championship calendar.

"I think it's absolutely ridiculous we are playing the All-Irelands in July. It's not the old argument that you're handing the sport headlines over to soccer and rugby. The GAA is strong enough to withstand that kind of thing.

"It would be like holding the Grand National on St Stephen's Day or playing the FA Cup final in November. It just doesn't fit; the All-Ireland hurling and football finals should be in September. They are shoehorning so many matches into the one space at the moment. Most counties will be out of the championship in June and there won't be any meaningful club action until September."

Whether it’s July or September, Duke knows that the Roscommon faithful will be out in force if there’s "any sign or inkling of success".

A county expects.

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