One away from Croker
Not many predicted before the first ball was thrown in for this year's Rackard Cup that Sligo would top Group B that consisted of strong opponents in Mayo and Tyrone, but that is exactly what has been achieved. Next up for Sligo is a semi-final clash against last year's Rackard finalists, Warwickshire this Sunday.
Fortuitously, Sligo have an extra day of recovery and to get a plan in place to overcome the Warwickshire challenge in order to progress to another final in Croke Park, 12 months on since claiming the Lory Meagher Cup in dramatic fashion against Lancashire.
Ironically, it is not unusual for a team to come up from Lory Meagher level and reach the Rackard final in their first year as Warwickshire themselves did it last year after winning the Lory Meagher in 2017.
Warwickshire finished 2nd in Group A behind Armagh and above Longford and Monaghan. A win against Longford and two draws against Armagh and Monaghan was enough to see them through. They had a disappointing spring losing all 5 games in division 2B of the league, but it is fair to say now that league form is out the window after Sligo's exploits in the group stage to date.
Sligo will enter the game Sunday as favourites, arguably the first time they have done so in this Rackard campaign. It is clear that the management have the luxury of playing players in rotational capacity - illustrated against Mayo when Gerard O'Kelly-Lynch, who operated in midfield against Louth and Tyrone, notched 2 goals in the opening 5 minutes at full forward last Saturday. Keith Raymond can also be deployed as a target man at the edge of the square while also dropping back to give solidity around the middle. Kevin O'Kennedy can do a job corner-back and also be a threat up front with his pace.
A slight concern for Hand going into the Warwickshire game was the fact that Sligo held a 12 point lead at half-time, only for Sligo to take their foot off the gas in the 2nd half and Mayo clawed their way back to draw the game. Sligo started to look a little fatigued midway through the 2nd half, meaning rest and recovery could be the key for the week ahead.
It is clear that Sligo's game plan of getting the ball into the devastating full forward line causes teams serious problems, with Louth, Tyrone, and Mayo all struggling to deal with Sligo's threat. Also crucial to Sligo's chances of progressing to the final is the middle third; Rory McHugh, Ronan Cox, Kevin Banks, and Joe Starr all are rock solid and can prove a threat going forward too.
If Sligo can overcome Warwickshire this Sunday it would be a fantastic achievement for Sligo hurling, but undoubtedly Hand and his troops won't be looking past Sunday's crunch game. At the time of going to press, the venue was yet to be announced.