Wicklow keen to defend 'fortress' as they host Sligo
Harry Murphy and his Wicklow squad will be hoping that 'Fortress Aughrim' will again be a powerful weapon when they host Sligo in the second round of the football qualifiers on Saturday evening.
Over the last five years Wicklow have won six of their seven qualifier ties in Aughrim, leaving the defeat by Armagh in a replay in 2011 as their only reverse. Ironically, it followed one of their best ever 'away' performances, having drawn with Armagh after extra-time in the Athletic Grounds.
Wicklow have won eight of 12 qualifier ties in Aughrim since the 'back door' was opened in 2001, with all four defeats coming against counties ranked ahead of them. In 2001, they lost to Galway, who went on to win the All-Ireland title; in 2004, they were beaten by Derry, who reached the semi-final; a year later they lost to Donegal while Armagh beat them three years ago.
Those apart, Wicklow have succeeded in exploiting the Aughrim factor to the maximum, with the most memorable wins being recorded on three successive Saturdays in July 2009 when Mick O'Dwyer led them past Fermanagh, Cavan and Down. It was one of the greatest months in Wicklow history, before it ended with a fourth-round defeat by Kildare in Portlaoise.
Sligo have bad memories of Aughrim. They lost a first-round qualifier in 2011 while Wicklow have already had a qualifier win at home this season, beating Offaly by four points a few weeks ago.
Sligo enter the qualifiers in Round 2 as beaten provincial semi-finalists, having lost to Galway. They are seeking their first qualifier win since beating Tipperary in Thurles in 2009. Since then, they have lost to Kerry (2009), Down (2010), Wicklow (2011), Kildare (2012) and Derry (2013).