Walsh looks to build on solid Sligo foundations
IT'S still 'Kevin Walsh's Sligo' for 2011 despite him being heavily linked to the job vacated by Joe Kernan in his native Galway last year.
And ahead of the meeting between the two sides in the FBD League in Enniscrone on Sunday, Walsh insists that the Yeats' men have plenty more to give as he prepares to face the third different manager Galway have had since he was appointed by Sligo.
"When Galway came, I was already fully committed," Walsh said. "And I couldn't be turning then for a vacancy that had come up unexpectedly. There has been a lot of work put in by these lads in the last two years and there's a good bond with those fellas too.
"If it comes again, it comes again. But there have been a lot of good things done in the last two years and you couldn't walk away from that. We fell in the Connacht final but that's life, you pick yourself up and get on with it."
The good things include last year's All-Ireland junior success that concluded with victory over a fancied Kerry side and senior championship wins over Galway and Mayo in the same season for the first time.
They can also point to the near miss against the Kingdom in the 2009 championship in Tralee as well as successive promotions that will see them play in Division 2 this year.
But Sligo captain Charlie Harrison agrees that the 2010 Connacht title will forever be the one that got away.
"At the time it felt like a disaster," said the 2010 All Star defender. "But looking back on 2010 we were Division 3 champions and we beat Galway and Mayo for the first time in the same season so there's plenty to take from that.
"When we lost to Kerry in 2009 we were a young team but I hope we learn from last year. Sligo were never favourites going into a Connacht final before and we didn't cope with that. I think it was as simple as that. Six days later we were out against Down but you were only getting your head around what had happened by the middle of that week."
Harrison believes that the Sligo panel would have broken up had Walsh moved on. They have picked up a number of serious injuries in recent months and Johnny Davey, Eugene Mullen and Michael McNamara aren't expected to see action until the summer at the earliest due to cruciate knee injuries, although Brendan Egan, who was part of the 2007 squad that won Connacht, is available once more.
"The minute I heard Joe Kernan was gone from Galway I rang Kevin. It must have been tough for him but I think there would have been a couple of drop-outs if Kevin left," said Harrison.
"There is a huge respect there for him. He has us in top shape and you have to be for the game we play. I mean, Sligo were always a hard-working team but we're now thinking a little bit more about how we play and tweaking it slightly for certain games. I don't know if Sligo teams have done much of that before."
The real stuff starts for Walsh's trrops on May 22 when Leitrim come to Markievicz Park, but there's also a competitive looking Division 2 league campaign to navigate before that.
"We were in Division 4 a couple of years ago and winning games by a point or two and we've Division 2 this year. Looking at some of the teams it could almost be Division 1, with Tyrone and teams who are getting to All-Ireland quarter and semi-finals like Kildare and Meath," Harrison said.
"But that's where we want to be. I've been with Sligo for five or six years now and we never had the options from the bench that we did last year.
"There was loads of competition there last year, particularly in the forwards, and you were looking over your shoulder in terms of keeping your place. That wasn't there before and it makes all the difference."