KEVIN WALSH embarked on the start of his fifth year as Sligo senior team manager last Sunday with an FBD game against Sligo IT at Ballinode.
He is the first Sligo manager to start a fifth year in charge in over four decades and is now one of the most experienced inter county managers in the country at present, with a high rate of attrition on the inter county manager front in 2012.
This is an important year for Sligo and Kevin. With an excellent draw in the Connacht championship in 2013, there is the real possibility of another Connacht decider and title with London and Leitrim standing in our way. As a player I played when there was a seeded system in Connacht and it was not possible to get this type of draw to reach a Connacht final so thankfully things have moved on. The last time we had this draw was in 2002 when we lost narrowly to Galway in the Connacht final but went on to have those memorable games against both Tyrone and Armagh at Croke Park in the All Ireland Qualifiers
As is typical of this time of year, the Sligo management will be looking to unearth a player or two to boost the chances of success which may be more important this year as the squad have lost a number of players from 2012 namely, Noel Maguire, Johnny Davey, David Rooney, Colm McGee who have not made themselves available in addition to Eamonn O'Hara (pictured) who didn't commit before Christmas but who has not yet retired and Alan Costelloe who is in Australia at present. As well as these, David Kelly is recovering from serious ankle surgery and Paul McGovern is still getting over a broken leg sustained in the club championship in August
On the plus side Sligo are boosted by the return of Stephen Gilmartin and Brian Curran in addition to one of the best players in club football in Sligo over the last couple of years Adrian McIntyre who has the potential to make a big impact at this level. In 2010 Walsh discovered Colm McGee who had an outstanding campaign so hopefully another player or two can be found that can have the same impact as McGee had Even though we are disadvantaged with only three home National League games versus four away I feel promotion is a real possibility. With an away game against Roscommon to start the season in earnest, this is a game we should be winning as Roscommon will not have their St Bridget's players and have a new manager who is finding his feet. The three home games should be three bankers against Antrim, Cavan and Wicklow and newly promoted Fermanagh away is another game that should provide two points. The most difficult games are unfortunately away from home where we play Meath and Monaghan. Looking back at last Sunday, Sligo looked very sharp and fit and could have won by a lot more considering their dominance. I was disappointed with the Sligo IT performance as they were obviously missing some key players, but that should not take away from a competent Sligo outing where the movement and option taking was excellent for the first twenty minutes in particular. Sligo IT did respond with a couple of scores before half time against the run of play but Sligo dominated the second half and ran out comfortable winners.
Players that caught the eye were Neil Ewing and Mark Quinn at the back and Niall murphy and Mark Breheny in attack scoring ten points between them. Adrian McIntyre made his debut on the wing but unfortunately didn't get to see too much of the action with the IT concentrating on trying to get the ball in long to their forwards, which didn't work for them.
It was good to see Stephen Gilmartin back at midfield again and he will be happy to get that game under him. Eugene Mullen who has been hampered with injuries over the last two seasons was another addition in the second half and looks like he is over his injury concerns.
Kevin Walsh also gave a competitive debut to the youngest player in my memory to play for Sligo in Castleconnor's Kevin McDonnell who is still a minor player in 2013 and is a player that is going to form a backbone of the team in future years. Personally I feel in the long term he will be either a centre half back or midfielder where he can be continuously involved and control games with his imposing physique and competitive nature.
I feel over the last number of years that we didn't have enough second ball winners around the middle third but with Brian Curran back in addition to Pat Hughes, Brendan Egan and Francis Quinn we have plenty of players to play this role.
All in all Kevin Walsh and his new management team will be happy with the win and the outing to kick start 2013 and get the year off to winning ways which hopefully will be the theme for this season.