SLIGO PLAY Leitrim in a provincial decider for the first time since the Connacht minor final of 1998 when they come face to face in the FBD Connachg League decider next Sunday.
The 1998 match was the only time these sides have met in a Connacht final competition at any grade. While the FBD won't be high on the list of goals of either team other than going out to win every game it would still provide a boost of confidence heading into the more important business of the national league in a couple of weeks time.
While Sligo people would consider this year's Championship draw as great chance to win a Connacht senior title later this summer, Leitrim would obviously fancy their chances as well and would love to put down a marker next Sunday and get one over on their neighbours.
While Sligo have consolidated their position as the second best team in Connacht at the moment with Mayo marginally ahead, Leitrim however would never fear playing Sligo always feeling they can turn us over. This together with the impending meeting later in the year guarantees plenty of competitive bite in the FBD final with this unique pairing.
While Leitrim only had to go through the formalities last weekend it was different for Sligo who had to go and defeat Galway for the second time in seven months if they were going to reach the final. Galway only needed a draw to qualify for the decider.
At a well organised Enniscrone venue Sligo did what they had to with a hard earned win over a committed Galway side. With Galway football in decline regardless of their recent success at under age level, Sligo again have shown we are ahead of them at present winning more comfortably than the scoreline would suggest.
While Alan Mulholland will highlight that they were without some regulars, Kevin Walsh could very much say the same with many regulars not available for one reason or the other. Walsh in other years has used the FBD league for experimenting with results not a priority. This time, he appears more ruthless in his thinking and has balanced his side, giving players a chance in addition to getting the wins.
For the first twenty minutes of the opening half with Sligo playing with the aid of a strong breeze it looked like Galway were going to build up a sizable lead as they were causing considerable trouble for the Sligo defence with a strong direct running game and were unlucky not to have lead by more at one stage with a number of goal chances wasted. However, once the Sligo players got to grips with the pace of the game after weeks of heavy training they were by far the better side. Philip Greene made his return to the number one position after some uncertainty surrounding his availability this year because of work committements and he once again highlighted his value to the side with a commanding performance.
After an uncertain start the Sligo defence came to grips with the Galway forward line nearly holding them scoreless for the second half when their opponents were playing with the strong elements on a bitterly cold day in Enniscrone. Galway didn't score until the 27th minute of the second half and considering they scored their last score of the first half on the 20th minute it demonstrated the superiority of Sligo throughout this period.
At midfield both Stephen Gilmartin, who continuously demanded the ball making himself available, and Adrian McIntyre (pictured above) battled hard in what was Galway's strongest area. There is no doubt McIntyre has the attributes and ability to play in this position but it's a big step up from club football and may take a little time to find the difference in pace and intensity of games and demands at this level. If the desire he shows when playing for his club is replicated in the county jersey he will be a big asset to Kevin Walsh's plans this year.
With a number of forwards unavailable including Adrian Marren on honeymoon, Niall Murphy who has shown good scoring form in the two previous games and Pat Hughes who picked up a training injury, it left the Sligo management depleted in this area and forced a reshuffle and it was left to Mark Breheny and Brian Egan to make the big contributions on the score board.
Overall Kevin Walsh will be very happy with the start to 2013 with three wins out of three but will also know that the types of turnovers and misplaced passes in this game will need to be minimised once the national league starts.
What will have also impressed the manger last Sunday was the resilience and desire that was in the team at this stage of the year. If that hunger is shown next Sunday a second ' home leg' of the FBD league should be completed.