Hurlers into Rackard semi-finals
Sligo 2-16 Mayo 1-19
Sligo are through to the semi-final stage of the Nicky Rackard Cup after drawing with neighbours Mayo in Scarden last Saturday in round 3 of the group stage. Sligo went in at the break 12 points up, but a determined 2nd half display from Mayo saw them outscore Sligo 1-12 to 0-03 in the 2nd half to share the spoils.
Going into the game, Sligo needed to avoid defeat and hope Tyrone would slip up against Louth in Omagh or hope scoring difference was in their favour in order to progress out of Group 2 of the competition.
It was Sligo who started the game in tremendous fashion. A tactical experiment of deploying dual-star Gerard O'Kelly-Lynch at the edge of the square reaped the benefits as the Naomh Eoin man punished the Mayo defence with 2 goals in the opening 5 minutes. Keith Raymond added a '65 and Rory McHugh was first to the ball after a Mayo clearance to slot over from 45 yards out to make it 2-02 to Mayo 0-00 after 8 minutes.
Mayo registered their first score of the day through the impressive Shane Boland, who slotted over a free after the 10-minute mark. Mayo added another free from wing-back, Cathal Freeman from inside his own half shortly afterwards.
Sligo were dominant around the middle third with Mayo struggling to get the ball past Sligo's half-back line. Centre back Ronan Cox was rock solid, with Kevin Banks, Rory McHugh, and midfielder Joe Starr all mopping up breaking ball.
Sligo added to the scoreboard through Gary Cadden, Raymond and Shane Crowley - who could have found the back of the net in the 17th minute after being set up brilliantly by Raymond who rose highest to catch the ball and hand-passed to the on-rushing Crowley only for Mayo keeper Stephen Leneghan to save Crowley's shot which then deflected over the bar.
Mayo started to grow into the game with the talented Sean Regan starting to pose problems for the Sligo half-back line. He slotted over a fine score after good work from Kieran McDermott in midfield. Further points came from Boland through set plays and towering full-forward, Adrian Phillips.
But Sligo registered scores of their own with Gerard O'Kelly-Lynch, who was now operating around midfield, slotting over a great score 45 yards out just after Phillps had pointed for Mayo.
Raymond opened his account from play after putting great pressure on Mayo full-back Conor Daly to slot over from his left-hand side 21 metres out.
Arguably the score of the half came just before the 30-minute mark when a long diagonal ball from Joe Starr found Raymond who set up Cadden to slot over from 30 yards out near the right-hand sideline.
But Mayo kept fighting and registered a point through Regan after a good solo effort and a free from Boland. O'Kelly-Lynch, Joe Starr, and Conor Griffin raised the white flag for Sligo just before the break leaving Sligo well in control on a scoreline 2-13 to 0-07 at half time.
Fighting for their Rackard campaign, Mayo made 3 changes at half time and were a different team altogether in the 2nd half. They registered the first 4 scores after the interval through Corey Scahill, a Seán Kenny '65, Phillips and the dangerous Boland.
Raymond slotted a '65 for Sligo in the 52nd minute but it was Mayo who took over the midway point of the half and closed the gap through frees with Boland hitting 3 and Kenny registering one 50 yards out leaving it 2-14 to 0-15 entering the final 10 minutes.
Sligo's nerves were settled slightly when Raymond slotted a monster score from inside his own half in the 64th minute and substitute Andrew Kilcullen, who punished Mayo after Kevin Gilmartin overturned Mayo's Conor Murray from their puck out for the ball to make its way to Kilcullen who slotted over from 30 yards out.
But a crucial goal came for Mayo in the first minute of injury time when Phillips gathered the ball 35 yards out and took on Sligo full-back Niall Feehily who then buried the sliotar into the roof of the net from close range to make it 2-16 to 1-18 with 5 minutes of injury time remaining.
Mayo then levelled the game through a free from substitute Kenny Feeney in the 3rd minute of injury time. Mayo could have found the back of the Sligo net again right at the death when Regan gathered the ball in the corner, hit a crossfield ball to Scahill at the far post whose goal effort was blocked bravely by Conor Griffin with Gerard O'Kelly-Lynch picking up the loose ball before referee blew the final whistle ending the contest in a draw.
The result sends Sligo through to a semi-final date next Sunday against Warwickshire, venue TBC, and means Mayo surprisingly exit the Rackard cup at the group stage after Tyrone beat Louth 2-21 to 1-17 in the other Group B fixture.
Sligo Scorers: Gerard O'Kelly-Lynch; 2-02, Keith Raymond; 0-06 (0-02 65's, 0-02F), Gary Cadden; 0-02, Shane Crowley; 0-02 (0-01F), Rory McHugh, Joe Starr, Conor Griffin, Andrew Kilcullen; 0-01 each.
SLIGO: Mark Burke, James Weir, Niall Feehily, Kevin O'Kennedy, Kevin Banks, Ronan Cox, Rory McHugh, Keith Raymond, Joe Starr, Kevin Gilmartin, Conor Griffin, Shane Crowley, Gary Cadden, Gerard O'Kelly-Lynch, Brian Shannon subs used: Mikey Gordon for Shane Crowley (42), Tony O'Kelly-Lynch for Brian Shannon (47), Kieran Prior for Kevin O'Kennedy (55), Andrew Kilcullen for Gary Cadden (59), Niall McDermott for Kevin Banks (70).
Mayo scorers: Shane Boland; 0-09 (0-07F), Andrew Phillips; 1-03, Sean Regan; 0-02, Seán Kenny; 0-02 (0-01 65, 0-01F), Corey Scahill; 0-01, Cathal Freeman, Cathal Freeman; 0-01 (0-01F each)
MAYO: Stephen Leneghan, Conor Murray, Conor Daly, Sean Mulroy, Brian Hunt, David Kenny, Cathal Freeman, Kieran McDermott, Seán Kenny, Sean Regan, Kieran Kiely, Patrick Kiely, Shane Boland, Adrian Phillips, Corey Scahill subs used: Daniel Huane for Cathal Freeman (HT), Eoin Delaney for Kieran Kiely (HT), Padraig O'Flynn for Patrick Kiely (HT), James Gallagher for Kieran McDermott (50), Kenny Feeney for James Gallagher (67).
REFEREE: Sean Stack (Áth Cliath).