Reasonable start to Flanagan's reign
Leo Gray reviews Sligo's performance in the Allianz Football League
Published 15/04/2014 | 05:40
Solid home form was the key to survival for Sligo in Division Three of the Allianz Football League.
The Yeats County had a one hundred per cent record in their three games at Markievicz Park but failed to collect a single point on their travels.
They finished the seven match League programme with six points which was enough to keep them above the relegation trap door.
It represented a reasonable start to the reign of new manager, Pat Flanagan (pictured right).
The Offaly native was appointed shortly before Christmas, inheriting a squad short on confidence after a depressing 2013 campaign.
Sligo were eliminated from last year's Championship by London at Ruislip and subsequently slumped to a heavy defeat to Derry in the All-Ireland qualifiers. And they only escaped relegation from Division Three in the League on the last day of the campaign. With long serving stalwarts such as Eamonn O'Hara, Noel McGuire, Sean Davey and Johnny Davey no longer involved, Sligo were very much in a transition period. It wasn't the best time for a new manager to come in but Flanagan had important experience of working against the odds.
He brought Westmeath all the way up to Division Two during his time with the Leinster county and was the perfect fit for a Sligo team badly in need of a fresh approach.
Although the had little time to prepare the squad, the new manager said his ambition was to get Sligo out of Division Three as quickly as possible.
Talk of promotion was probably a litte over-ambitious in the circumstances but Flanagan clearly wanted to the test the appetite of the players.
The contribution of the experienced core such as Ross Donavan, James Kilcullen, Mark Breheny, Adrian Marren and David Kelly were critical to a decent League campaign.
The return of Kelly, who had missed most of the last two years through injury, was particularly encouraging.
A return of five points from seven games might suggest that the Tubbercurry man was some way short of his best but the overall level of his performances was of the highest order. His very presence frightened the life out of opposing defences. His clever probing and creative instincts gave the Sligo attack a lethal dimension.
Nobody prospered more from Kelly's incisive attacking threat than Adrian Marren.
The two struck up a great understanding with Kelly the architect of many of Marren's scores.
The Curry man's personal tally of 35 points was a healthy return and underlined once again his immense value to the team.
Another long serving player, Mark Breheny, also had an excellent League campaign.
Next in line to Breheny in the scoring charts was Niall Murphy who registered six points.
There really needs to be a greater spread of scores if Sligo are to seriously threaten the stronger counties.
Murphy, the promising young Coolera/Strandhill forward, offers pleny of hope that Sligo can add some firepower to their attack for the Championship.
He was excellent for the under 21s and only got his chance in the senior team in the latter stages of the League.
He did enough with limited opportunities to prove that he has much to offer, however.
Another slight concern was Sligo's inability to covert goal chances.
The introduction of the 'black card' led to more open games around the country and the upshot was a flood of high-scoring matches with lots of goals.
But Sligo scored just three goals in their seven League games.
They created plenty of chances but need to be more lethal in their finishing.
Ironically, all three goals were scored in away games, against Fermanagh, Wexford and Roscommon.
On the other side of the coin, Sligo conceded five goals, which wasn't too bad in the overall context of the League campaign.
Defensively, Sligo didn't do too badly, especially as a good few newcomers got their chance in the League.
New goalkeeper, Aidan Devaney, had a good League and has the added bonus of deadly accuracy from long range frees and 45s. Debutant Gareth Ryan played in six games, settling in at full-back quite well.
The one worrying note from a defensive point of view as the serious shoulder sustained by Charlie Harrison.
It now looks as if the St. John's man is facing a race against time to be fit for the summer campaign.
His absence could be countered to some degree by the return of Brendan Egan who came back into the squad after his All-Ireland winning exploits with St. Vincent's.
The versatile Tourlestrane man could fill in quite comfortably in the half-back line but also offers options at midfield or in an attacking role.
Another encouraging aspect of the League was the growing influence of James Kilcullen at midfield.
It took the Ballaghaderreen man longer than expected to settle in the Sligo squad but he was very good during the course of the League and looks to have nailed down one of the midfield berths.
Conor Griffin partnered him in the early League games but the Calry player looks a more natural half-forward on the evidence of some impressive outings in this role.
Pat Hughes did well when moved to midfield alongside Kilcullen in the latter part of the League and this looks the most likely partnership for the Championship.
There were positives and negatives along the way but, ultimately, it was a valuable learning curve for everybody.