Hurlers ease past Louth
Sligo 5-35 Louth 1-4
Sligo easily progressed to the final of the All Ireland U-21C Hurling Championship for the first time with an impressively dominant performance over an under-strength and youthful Louth at sunny Markievicz Park last Saturday.
Following their convincing 4-20 to 0-6 quarter-final win over Fermanagh manager Declan Loughnane welcomed back a number of key players including dual senior county star Gerard O'Kelly-Lynch, and senior county hurlers Gavin Feely and Ronan Redmond to the starting team.
Senior player Paul Kilcoyne was also available to start and the talented Finnian Cawley also featured in a tremendous exhibition of top class hurling by the home team. This very talented and athletic group provided a super team performance of top-class hurling skills and excellent scoring prowess from both play and placed balls with eleven players contributing to the huge Sligo score of 5-35 in 60 minutes of hurling.
The team captain, Coolera/Strandhill's talented wing-back Kevin Banks, struck the sliotar from distance, deceiving the opposition keeper, and hitting the back of the net after five minutes. Previously Naomh Eoin corner forward Niall Feehily swept over a first minute point and both Banks, who pointed from play, and Easkey's Joe McHugh, Sligo's top scorer, who added two points from play, his first in a succession of eleven points, set the tone for the rest of this contest. It was clear at this early stage that Louth were no match for the power and scoring prowess of this well-drilled Sligo team, and Sligo showed great discipline by maintaining the early intensity by adding a succession of points and goals throughout the game.
Louth managed one first half score in response after 6 minutes from corner forward Evan McGrane with the score 0-4 to 0-1 to the home team, but that was their last and only contribution to the scoreboard in the first half as Sligo took over with O'Kelly-Lynch firing over five first period points from all angles from active play and an excellently worked goal with the sliotar finished to the net with a swift run and bat down past the overworked Louth keeper.
At this point the game was over as a contest at 2-11 to 0-1 but Sligo didn't let the pace and workrate drop and a number of players including the powerful Eamonn Kilgannon (0-2), Naomh Eoin's midfielder Paul Kilcoyne and Kieran Prior adding to the points from play. At half-time Sligo led 2-20 to 0-1 with all from play bar four McHugh frees and one Kevin Banks converted 65m free.
In the second half a number of the 24 man panel were added as substitutes but it didn't affect the intensity and quality of the performance with Sligo adding a further 3-15 to Louth's slightly more promising 1-3. Mikey Gordon excelled with three super points early in the second period and Kieran Prior athletically soloed through and added a well struck goal and two points from play, with sub Stephen Mulligan plundering two late goals, providing the standout second half moments.
They continued scoring from full forward Joe McHugh, and wing forward O'Kelly-Lynch who added six second half points between them and ended up with 1-18 in total. The Sligo defence and centre field held firm and delivered some excellent ball to the rampaging forwards. Sligo now meet Donegal in the final on Saturday week 22nd July at a neutral venue.
Donegal will provide much tougher opposition as they progressed following a dominant 2-23 to 1-5 victory over Ulster neighbours Tyrone in Saturday's other semi-final. Sligo will however be confident of bringing home a first All-Ireland U-21 hurling title to the Yeats County with the added bonus of progressing to the U-21 B quarter-final against Kerry providing a unique opportunity for the U-21C winners.
Sligo Team and Scorers: Luke Comerford (Coolera/Sthill); Joe Moran (Tubbercurry), Gavin Feely (Tourlestrane), Cathal Jordan (Naomh Eoin); Kevin Banks (Coolera/Sthill) 1-2 (0-1 '65), Ronan Redmond, Finnian Cawley; Tony O'Kelly-Lynch (Naomh Eoin) 0-1f, Paul Kilcoyne (Naomh Eoin) 0-3; Gerard O'Kelly-Lynch (Naomh Eoin) 1-7, Mikey Gordon (Easkey) 0-3, Eamonn Kilgannon (St Farnan's) 0-2; Niall Feehily (Naomh Eoin) 0-2, Joe McHugh (Easkey) 0-11 (0-5f), Kieran Prior (Coolera/Sthill) 1-3.Subs used: Gerard Perry (Tubbercurry) 0-1 41 mins, Sean Chambers (Coolera/Sthill) 46mins, Stephen Mulligan (St.Farnan's) 2-0 49 mins, Thomas Moran (Coolera/Sthill) 54 mins, Sean McVeigh (Tourlestrane) 56 mins.
Louth Team and Scorers: Shane Murphy; Liam Molloy, Philip Tynan; Cian Walsh, Patrick Cunningham, Michael Fitzpatrick; Feidhlim Joyce 0-3 (0-1f), Liam Ryan; Michael Ryan 1-0, Paul Tynan, Niall Tiernan; Alex Cahill, Evan McGrane 0-1, Patrick Birch.
Referee: Shane Hynes (Galway).