fairy-tale run | 

How everything is perfectly set up for the red carpet to be rolled out for Roscommon this year

They don't need any fairy tale to take top billing

Conor Cox of Roscommon tries to evade Galway's Matthew Tierney in league action last month

Roscommon boss Anthony Cunningham has assembled a fine squad

David Brady

Let's imagine this year's Connacht championship as a fairy tale based on the story of Cinderella. Who will fill the role of the Prince?

The cut and thrust of a highly-competitive Allianz League has separated the top three even further from Sligo and Leitrim.

London and New York lag even further off the pace. Sligo and Leitrim finished mid-table in Division 4 - it wasn't the fairy-tale ending they had wished for.

The appointment of Andy Moran as the new Leitrim boss generated a lot of expectations, but the momentum stalled during the league.

Likewise, after a very positive start to the season for Sligo and manager Tony McEntee, their campaign ran into the sand as well.

Promotion was paramount to boost confidence ahead of the championship in both camps. The reality for Leitrim and Sligo is that, unless they reach the Connacht final, they won't be involved in the qualifiers.

Instead, they will be looking for an extended run in the new Tailteann Cup to get an opportunity to develop.

Covid-19 hit weaker counties particularly badly, because the championship reverted to its traditional straight knock-out format.

So, the majority didn't get a meaningful run of competitive matches outside the league.

Back to the main storyline - and the question of who will end up as the ugly sisters in this year's Connacht series.

Last Sunday's league finals gave us an opportunity to see the three main contenders - Roscommon, Galway, and Mayo - on the big stage.

This was the final dress rehearsal before the curtains open on the main production. Roscommon grabbed most of the plaudits, whereas Mayo failed to perform.

There was a serious lack of intensity and no apparent strategy to curb David Clifford.

Traditionally, Mayo players and supporters never settle for losing. But in recent seasons I've detected a tendency to suggest that under-performing is acceptable.

A list of excuses are trotted out as the reason for another gut-wrenching defeat. This time it is injuries.

We have to accept that key players were missing against Kerry, and we won't have a full strength squad for the championship.

Indeed, I can't remember when James Horan last had a full deck to choose from.

Roscommon boss Anthony Cunningham has assembled a fine squad

Galway are in the same boat, with key players struggling to be match fit for the clash against Mayo.

Their conveyor belt of talent has never stopped, but it won't last forever. Mayo have won just two Connacht Under-20/21 titles since 2009, so the warning signs are there.

As well as Tommy Conroy, who is ruled out for the rest of the season, I doubt if Paddy Durcan or Cillian O'Connor will play major roles this summer.

Jordan Flynn picked up a serious ankle injury against Kerry, which will almost certainly rule him out of the Galway game.

Rob Hennelly was the star performer in the opening league games.

His deputy, Rory Byrne, has done exceptionally well. Nonetheless, the first-choice goalkeeper will be missed - not least for his long-range free-taking.

These are not good enough reasons to throw in the towel.

This is a big season for Galway boss Pádraic Joyce. There is pressure to deliver at least a Connacht title or an All-Ireland semi-final appearance.

Even before his magnificent performance in scoring six points from play against Roscommom, the Tribesmen's Paul Conroy had been in outstanding form.

Shane Walsh can light up the 2022 championship. Granted, this is not the first time I have predicted this. But he is so pleasing on the eye that he should be playing on the biggest stage.

There is more to Walsh than his swashbuckling runs. He has that innate ability, not just to destroy teams with his scoring capabilities, but with his ability to generate momentum.

Imagine what he could do in the closing minutes of an All-Ireland final. Once he gets that opportunity, I think he will be treasured by all GAA fans.

So, which team will be the Prince at the ball? My money is on the silent sibling of the West: newly-crowned Division 2 champions Roscommon.

Against all expectations, they were the only undefeated team in the league.

Counties like Galway, Derry and Cork were all tipped to overshadow them. It never happened.

After the introduction of Walsh last Sunday, Galway did ask questions of them.

But they did not falter - and showed great confidence in closing out the contest.

Do not underestimate their ability to return to HQ at the business end of the championship.

Anthony Cunningham has succeeded in gelling a team of youthful exuberance and steely maturity.

Enda Smith, Ciaráin Murtagh and Conor Cox are not given the recognition they deserve. They are priceless assets when it comes to consistency.

At least one of the three main Connacht contenders will end up in a horror show.

Certainly, the team that loses in Castlebar in two weeks' time will not have a happy summer.

Galway remind me of Manchester United. During Covid the momentum they had previously generated disappeared. The only difference is that United sacked their manager.

Everything is perfectly set up for the red carpet to be rolled out for Roscommon. As for Cinderella's glass slipper, I fear either the Galway or Mayo fans will smash it in frustration.

Prediction: Roscommon

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