Sligo 2-10 Wicklow 0-14
Tears, cheers, spilling rain and silverware celebrations. The National League’s Division 4 final had a little bit of everything including a terrific performer in Niall Murphy who captained Sligo to a memorable win with a towering individual display, sniping 1-4 and collecting the Man of the Match award.
Murphy dedicated the triumph to former team-mate Red Óg Murphy who passed away exactly a year to the day. Murphy spoke for the group when he said that ‘we miss him dearly’, adding that ‘Red Og’s legacy will live on’.
Manager Tony McEntee echoed the warm sentiments and said that whether they won or lost, it was always going to be a unique occasion.
“Winning means that we’ll come with a different mindset to training on Tuesday, we’re less critical of ourselves and we’re looking forward to training whereas if we had been beaten, we’d be looking at a critical analysis of what went wrong and we’d be picking out mistakes that, in all honesty, are irrelevant because of the occasion and the atmosphere and the venue and things like that,” said McEntee.
“Also, the day that’s in it, being Red Óg’s anniversary. That was probably playing on the fellas’ minds as well.
“Red Óg would have two very close people on the field. One is Luke Towey and the second is Alan Reilly. In the second-half in particular, Luke stood up really well and Alan’s contribution was important.”
The other close friendship that framed much of the build-up to the Division 4 decider was between McEntee and Wicklow manager Oisin McConville. The Crossmaglen Rangers clubmates won All-Ireland medals together, for club and county, and are in regular contact as key figures in the club’s underage setup.
[ The life and death of Red Óg Murphy: ‘We had no reason to believe anything was wrong’ ]
“We’re entirely comfortable with each other,” said McEntee. “Me and Oisin spoke a number of times early in the week and we both get on very well and respect each other in relation to our work. We’re entirely comfortable with that.
“There has been a lot of banter and texting around the town at home all week but that’s all part of it. It’s a great honour for our club to be fair that we have two clubmen from Crossmaglen representing two different counties in a final at Croke Park. I don’t know if it’s rare or not but it’s certainly not common.”
Wicklow enjoyed an early bounce with eight first-half points despite the slippery conditions and at times driving rain. They led 0-7 to 0-2 at one stage thanks largely to Kevin Quinn’s sharpshooting but Murphy’s 29th minute goal - which owed plenty to Nathan Mullen’s terrific burst through the centre - gave Sligo a fighting chance and they trailed by just 1-3 to 0-8 at half-time.
A third quarter burst of scoring which yielded 1-4 without response, including Paul Kilcoyne’s 43rd minute goal, left Sligo in pole position and they duly closed it out from there. There is little time for celebration or even reflection though as Sligo will play London in the Connacht SFC on Saturday.
“Winning this cup is important,” said McEntee. “It’s important for our mentality and for our progress. We’re going into a Championship match against London next week and we’re now going in positive rather than negative if we had been defeated. The trophy and the success is certainly something that will lift us.”
Wicklow lost little face in defeat as they battled gamely. In the closing 20 minutes, they outscored Sligo by 0-5 to 0-3 and have a decent platform from which to attack their Leinster SFC opener against Carlow next Sunday.
“Obviously we’re disappointed but, to be honest, I’d be proud of the boys’ performance because coming into the game not many people would have given us much of a shout yet I thought we bossed it for long periods,” said Wicklow manager McConville.
Sligo: D Lyons; E Lyons, E McGuinness, N Mullen (0-1); P McNamara, B Cox, L Towey (0-1); P Kilcoyne (1-0), C Lally (0-1); P Spillane (0-1), S Carrabine (0-2, 1f), D Quinn; N Murphy (1-4, 1f, 1m), P O’Connor, K Cawley.
Subs: M Gordon for Quinn 39, A Reilly for O’Connor 57, G O’Kelly Lynch for Cawley 63, M Walsh for Spillane 65.
Wicklow: M Jackson (0-3, 1f, 245); E Murtagh, M Stone, J McCall; C McDonald, P O’Keane, T Maher; JP Hurley (0-1), P O’Toole; A Maher, M Kenny (0-1), D Fitzgerald; D Healy (0-1), K Quinn (0-5, 2f, 1m), E Darcy (0-2, 2f).
Subs: K Furlong for McCall 52, Z Cullen for A Maher 53, C O’Sullivan (0-1, 1f) for Fitzgerald 57, F O’Shea for T Maher 60.
Referee: P Faloon (Down).