Sligo show steel with superb second half


CONNACHT SFC SEMI-FINAL: Sligo 2-14 Galway 0-15:SLIGO PRODUCED a superb second-half display to secure their first championship win on Galway soil when Kevin Walsh successfully plotted the downfall of his native county in this Connacht SFC semi-final at Pearse Stadium on Saturday evening.

It was a bitterly disappointing outcome for Galway but they can have few complaints as Sligo produced their best display in two years to set up a final date on July 15th against Mayo or Leitrim.

This was a huge win for a Sligo side in decline since losing to Roscommon in the Connacht final two years ago. Last year they bowed out of the provincial championship when they were defeated at Markievicz Park by Leitrim, before exciting the qualifiers to Wicklow.

But on Saturday they put all that behind them to produce a stunning display which was fashioned by good tactics and astute use of the ball. And yet Galway will rightly feel that had they managed to tack on another score in the firsthalf during periods of dominance, they might have built an unassailable lead.

Galway won the toss and took wind advantage but Sligo brought out their half-forward line and crowded the middle sector and just did not allow Galway space.

Galway only managed two points from play in the opening half, with Seán Armstrong getting the first of them to open up a lead of 0-5 to 0-1 after 16 minutes and another score or two at that stage could have seen them pull away.

But Sligo closed them down and were content to concede frees and while Mark Hehir and Gary Sice punished them, Galway were not allowed build any momentum.

And then at the other end the Sligo full-forward line revelled in the extra space with David Kelly, a late call-up for his first action since February, Adrian Marren and Mark Breheny making their mark and efforts from Breheny, Marren and Alan Costello left it 0-5 to 0-4 after 22 minutes. Sice added another free and Hehir kicked three points, two of them frees, but significantly Sligo had the final say of the half when Marren landed their fifth point of play to leave it 0-9 to 0-5 at the interval.

Sligo enjoyed a great start to the second half and they hit four points in succession to draw level by the 45th minute, with Marren hitting a brace and the impressive midfielder Shane McManus and Kelly also landing points.

Galway full-forward Paul Conroy, who got three second-half points, exchanged scores with Costello but then the game turned when wing-back Paul McGovern was hauled down by Finian Hanley and Marren slotted the penalty into the bottom right corner.

Marren produced a man-of-the-match display with Kelly and Alan Costello also outstanding in attack, using ball intelligently and not shooting from awkward angles.

Centre-forward Pat Hughes had a very good opening half and midfielder McManus took control in the second half in a sector where Galway again foundered.

Galway, who lost skipper Hanley to a shoulder injury, introduced Michael Meehan and Pádraic Joyce to their attack but couldn’t get ball into them and while they got the margin back to a point, Hughes doubled Sligo’s lead in the 65th minute.

There was still hope for Galway but that disappeared as Sligo sealed the deal with a quality goal.

Costello floated in a ball which sailed over the head of replacement Galway full-back Colin Forde and Marren gained possession before guiding the ball past Adrian Faherty to secure their place in their second Connacht final in three years but only their fifth appearance in the provincial decider in the past 31 years.

Galway, the first side to win the All-Ireland football title coming through the back door, go into the qualifiers searching for their first win against a side outside of the Connacht championship since they defeated Louth in 2004.

They had hoped to host the Connacht final in Salthill on July 15th, but instead will play in the second round of the qualifiers the previous evening.

SLIGO: P Greene; N Ewing, J Martyn, R Donovan; C Harrison, M Quinn, P McGovern; S McManus (0-1), E Mullen; A Costello (0-3, one free), P Hughes (0-1), B Egan; D Kelly (0-2), A Marren (2-6, 1-0 pen, one free, one 45), M Breheny (0-1). Subs: T Taylor for Mullen (45 mins), D May for Hughes (70 mins), J Davy for McGovern (70 mins).

GALWAY: A Faherty; K McGrath, F Hanley, K Kelly; G Bradshaw, J Duane, G O’Donnell; J Bergin, G Higgins; G Sice (0-3, frees), D Burke, T Flynn; S Armstrong (0-1), P Conroy (0-3), M Hehir (0-7, six frees). Subs: M Meehan (0-1) for Flynn (42 mins), G Sweeney for Kelly (46 mins), P Joyce for Burke (53 mins), C Forde for Hanley (57 mins).

Referee: M Deegan (Laois).

Att: 8,556

Walsh believes lesson learned from past pain

Sligo manager Kevin Walsh believes the painful experience of losing the Connacht final two years ago to Roscommon will stand to them when they play Mayo or Leitrim on July 15th.

Sligo went into that clash as favourites having knocked out Mayo and Galway but they never performed in the final and it has been downhill for them ever since. “The approach will be different on the basis that hopefully we’ve learned a few lessons,” said the former Galway All-Ireland-winning midfielder.

“Having said that, it’s every game on its own. If Mayo beat Leitrim, we’re heading into the lions’ den. I’m delighted for our boys, they’ve an awful lot of work done the last four years. At the end of the day, it’s another match and that’s the way we were treating it.”

Walsh, in his fourth year in charge of Sligo, was reluctant to single out players for praise – even full-forward Adrian Marren who scored 2-6 – but he acknowledged the work put in by David Kelly to return from a serious ankle injury. “It’s a sign of a really committed player they mightn’t be getting their chance on the field but they’re absolutely looking after themselves.

“They’re doing probably three times the work the rest of the team is doing just to get back and get in there. In fairness to him, he did a job but it probably took him a while to get into it, but that’s his first game really since the Sigerson.”

Galway manager Alan Mulholland said they would regroup for the qualifiers, but admitted it would be difficult. “We will take a while to bounce back. The good news is we have a few weeks to let the dust settle . . . We will be in a different headspace in a few weeks. We have got to do ourselves justice. There is no point in training from October to now and then give up for the next couple of weeks. We are going to try regroup and give this a lash and see where that takes us.”