Ladies set up meeting with Tipp after quarter-final win over Offaly
TG4 All-Ireland Intermediate LGFA Championship Quarter-Final: Sligo 2-14 Offaly 2-10
The best way to describe Sligo's four-point win over Offaly last Sunday in Kinnegad would be to say that the Yeats County women did well to extract themselves from a sticky situation that was entirely of their own making, even if the unconvincing nature of their win bodes badly for an upcoming clash with Tipperary, the overwhelming All-Ireland favourites.
Sligo will go into that game with nothing to lose as Tipperary will be hotly-fancied to progress, in a mirror image of the build up to this contest with Offaly.
When the two sides met in the league in Tullamore, Sligo were comfortable winners, 3-16 to 1-9. Sligo easily defeated Leitrim in this year's Connacht championship, a Leitrim team that ran Offaly to a point in the group stages of the competition. Sligo reached this year's Division Three league final, Offaly were relegated without winning a point.
Yet with 30 minutes to play last weekend, the sides were level, Sligo had just had a key player - goalkeeper Noelle Gormley - yellow carded, and Offaly were about to play with the aid of a very strong breeze.
However while those in the crowd believed that a huge upset win was possible, it's hard to escape the view that the Offaly players struggled to share that belief, and that Sligo sensed this uncertainty and duly pounced on that weakness. Players like Ruth Goodwin and Laura-Ann Laffey started to get hold of the ball and keep possession, wearing down their opponents, setting up dead ball chances that Elaine O'Reilly converted.
Even though Sligo picked up another yellow card and so weren't back up to 15 players until the 47th minute, by that time Offaly had added just a single point to their tally and even if Sligo weren't fully out of the woods, they could see light through the trees.
Rewind back to the first quarter, and everything was going broadly along expected lines. Offaly played rope-a-dope football, taking the hits but making sure they didn't sustain too much damage. Still Ciara Gorman got in for an early goal and five of the starting six Sligo forwards kicked points from play so with 11 minutes gone, Sligo led by 1-5 to 0-1.
Yet playing on the back foot and looking to strike on the break seemed to suit the midlanders. 2017 Rose of Tralee winner Jennifer Byrne fired over a point from close range, then minor star Róisín Ennis jinked and jived past three defenders and then set up Marie Byrne for a goal.
Sligo responded with two frees from Elaine O'Reilly, but again Offaly rallied, with Gráinne Egan firing in a second goal, before punching a point to cut the gap to the bare minimum.
A crucial moment came before half time when Amy Gavin Mangan burst through on goal and despite taking a late hit, set up Marie Byrne. Noelle Gormley charged out to make a block but referee Stephen McNulty deemed it a foot block, and gave the penalty and a yellow card.
Jennifer Byrne's spot kick grazed the crossbar on the way over, and Offaly had to be content with a point, making it 2-5 to 1-8 at the break.
To Sligo's credit, their response to this adverse situation was exemplary. They kept hold of the ball, worked it through the lines, exploited Offaly's lack of physicality and experience at midfield and earned the frees that allowed Elaine O'Reilly to keep them in front.
Defensively they got to grips with Offaly's key attackers, rode out the period when Gormley, and then Bernice Byrne, were in the sin bin. Gormley came back at just the right time as a minute after her return, she made a superb save to deny Ennis what would have been a crucial goal in a one-on-one situation. Gradually Sligo moved two, three, and then six points clear when substitute Lauren Boles found the net with her first touch after coming on.
Offaly rallied again with three points but they never looked like getting the third goal they badly needed and a late score from Boles was enough to push the gap out to four and ease Sligo over the line; albeit at the end of a race that few observers expected to be competitive.
SCORERS - Sligo: Elaine O'Reilly 0-7 (0-6f), Ciara Gorman 1-2, Lauren Boles 1-1, Rachel Monaghan, Laura-Ann Laffey, Sinéad Regan & Lisa Casey 0-1 each. Offaly: Gráinne Egan 1-5 (0-2f), Marie Byrne 1-2, Jennifer Byrne 0-2 (0-1 pen), Róisín Ennis 0-1.
Sligo: Noelly Gormley; Jacqui Mulligan, Gráinne O'Loughlin, Michelle McNamara; Clare Dunne, Bernice Byrne, Ann Marie Coleman; Sarah Reynolds, Ruth Goodwin; Sinéad Regan, Laura-Ann Laffey, Rachel Monaghan; Ciara Gorman, Elaine O'Reilly, Lisa Casey. Subs used: Nicole Brennan for Monaghan (22), Aoife Morrisroe for Gorman (30, temp), Lauren Boles for O'Reilly (54), Morrisroe for Coleman (60).
Offaly: Lauren Dunne; Aoife Carey, Becky Bryant, Anne Marie McCormack; Annie Kehoe, Amy Gavin Mangan, Emer Nally; Michelle Mann, Emma Maher; Katie Kehoe, Jennifer Byrne, Gráinne Egan; Róisín Ennis, Marie Byrne, Sarah Cummins. Subs used: Sarah Kehoe for K Kehoe (45), Tara Dunne for Mann (54).
Referee: Stephen McNulty (Wicklow)
Player of the match
Ruth Goodwin (Sligo) Offaly's Róisín Ennis wasn't far off the mark but Goodwin was hugely influential in the closing stages, getting on a world of ball and carrying it with purpose and pace through the heart of the Offaly back line. This was doubly important as it negated the influence of Offaly's extra player.