Sligo ready to face up to challenge of Cork
Manager Pat Flanagan knows side are up against it but side have a sense of purpose
Sligo manager Pat Flanagan: well aware Cork are the overwhelming favourites in Saturday’s All-Ireland SFC Qualifier, but ready to meet the challenge. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
The lamentations for the state of the game in Connacht have been loud and constant but as the football championship boils down to the last 12, the fact is three counties from the lonely west are still involved.
Sligo’s progression to this weekend’s action has been so low-key as to be almost invisible, which has suited Pat Flanagan and company just fine.
Flanagan has always been a straight talker and doesn’t pretend his team aren’t facing a daunting challenge this Saturday. But he has brought to Sligo a renewed sense of purpose.
Momentum“We have tried to work on our game; we try to be better in each game and just because we are playing Cork doesn’t mean we have to change the whole momentum of what we are doing. We have to believe in what we are doing as well.
“Our positional play has improved since the Galway match and we seem to be a lot more solid; we have conceded just 0-10 in the last two games and although we haven’t scored big, we did create some serious chances that we didn’t convert.”
But maintaining that momentum against Cork is, he concedes, a different matter.
“People look at the Cork-Kerry game. In my opinion, they are still potential All-Ireland winners so it is going to be very difficult for us.
“We are going to have to play a lot better and try and put pressure on them in the first 20 minutes and then hopefully sow a few seeds of doubt in Cork minds.
Touching distance“Look, as we saw early against Dublin in the league match, they are capable of putting up very big scores. We would hope to stay in touching distance and be in there in the second half and hopefully cause them some problems.”
All other counties were knee-deep in November training patterns when Flanagan took a call from the Sligo county board offering him the position.
The Yeats county had struggled to find a successor to Kevin Walsh and Flanagan was at home feeling understandably confused by the cold way in which his services were terminated by Westmeath. He accepted the offer and immediately had to make up lost ground.
“So we didn’t have the greatest of league campaigns. I got the job at the end of November and then spent December trying to get a backroom team and get sheets for gym work and that sort of thing sorted for players and try and take what kind of training we were going to do which would compensate for the lack of pre-season training.
“It was a difficult scenario and even getting a strength and conditioning coach proved difficult.
“But the boys bought into what we decided to do in the end and it is paying off now. Had we had the three months prior to that I feel we would be in a better position physically now. That said, it has been a shorter season for us so we are very fresh.”
It would be only human for Flanagan to feel a degree of quiet satisfaction about the fact his team are one game from the All-Ireland quarter-finals while others – Westmeath, for instance – are done and dusted for the season. But he has moved on, saying only of his last position: “What happened in Westmeath, I didn’t expect that and I am delighted for this opportunity.”
If his team can manufacture a result against Cork, it will be the biggest day for Sligo football since Eamon O’Hara beat future All-Ireland champions Tyrone with a virtuoso hour in Croke Park.
Awkward customersSligo are awkward customers in the qualifiers, giving Kerry the mother of all frights in Tralee five years ago. They last met Cork in the All-Ireland quarter-final of 2007 after Sligo won a famous Connacht championship.
Flanagan is straightforward about the fact Mayo have pulled clear from other Connacht counties in recent years.
“It is up to each team to try and claw their way back but that is not going to be easy.”
His work has begun with Sligo in what has been a truncated season. Nobody was tipping Sligo for a last eight place but they have a crack at that now.
“It is very enjoyable and the commitment of these players is something I can’t stress enough. There is a group of players too who were part of the winning set-up in 2007 and they want to achieve things.
“About 12 of the panel are in Dublin and are getting back from Dublin for training and they are putting in a real effort to do Sligo football justice on Saturday.”