Easkey one step away from Croker
The flags and bunting are flying high in Easkey as their All-Ireland Junior semi-final is finally here on Sunday next when Dessie Sloyan's men take on Red Hughs of Donegal in Ballinamore (throw-in 2pm).
It has been a long wait for the Sea Blues since their Connacht final victory over Clonbur on November 18th but Sloyan admits they are ready and counting down the days to the semi-final with the Killygordon side.
They know that victory on Sunday means a final in Croke Park which is where every player dreams of playing but Sloyan said all focus is on Sunday and the work that is required come throw-in.
He said: "We are all set now we are really looking forward to a big game on Sunday.
"It has been a long wait but it has crept up quick enough. We took a break for a couple of weeks and thankfully the weather has been good too and the pitch is decent so training has been going well.
"The only problem was that there were no teams we could play in challenge matches as they were not training so that was the toughest thing.
"We don't have that big of a big panel so the only part that was tough was not having the match practise so all we could do was train but we are fine and happy enough with how things are looking," Sloyan added.
"I suppose it was nearly 10 weeks since the Connacht final at the end of November which is a long wait but then we knew come Christmas that the game was only 3 weeks away. Everyone is looking forward to it, we have 28 on the panel which is decent enough.
"We have a few missing through injury but it is not too bad we are looking pretty much like a clean bill of health," the manager said.
Back to their dramatic Connacht final win, it was a Ryan McKenna point in the second minute of injury time that sealed the victory for the Sea Blues and paved their way to the semi final. Sloyan admits though it was not easy stuff to watch from the sideline at the end. "Yes it was dramatic I suppose especially on the sideline! But a one-point win is as good as any. It was great to win and I suppose we let them back into it and should have taken our chances but we learn a lot from games like these."
Having a team from the county in an All-Ireland semi-final is good for Sligo football as a whole, he pointed out. "It is great for Sligo football because winning Connacht titles is not that often for us and we will take any as they come. Especially when we beat the Leitrim, Galway and Mayo champions along the way it was huge for us. It shows the depth of talent there in the team and it is important that the lads are doing well and that they push on the in the county too."
The village of Easkey and the surrounding parishes are all getting behind Sloyan's men for Sunday's big match. "In the last week or so it really has been building and in fairness to the local businesses they are getting behind the team and so too is the parish.
"The neighbouring clubs too have been great and really supportive which is important." Their opponents on Sunday in Ballinamore are Red Hughs from Donegal and Sloyan said they know any team in a semi final is going to be tough.
"We know a bit about them and know they are a good, solid team that are very well set up and very difficult to break down. Winning Ulster shows that they are a strong team and it is going to be a tough test but that is what you're expecting when you are in an All-Ireland semi final."
Easkey know they are one step away from playing in Croke Park and what that would mean to the players and management alike. "
Sloyan says though that the main focus is on the semi final. "We are focusing on Sunday. The goal would be playing in Croke Park as a club player. The fact the final is in Croke Park is huge. Very few players get to represent their club in Croke Park and that is the incentive.
"We haven't looked further than Sunday's game, that is the main thing at the moment.
"We had a couple of bad years, things didn't go our way in terms of relegations and all of that but in fairness to the fellas they are young and working hard. It is a very young panel, there are a few older guys too. The main focus is to promote them and get them playing to a better standard, getting the results which they have been doing and as a manager I am very proud of them," Sloyan added.
Throw-in on Sunday in Ballinamore is 2pm.