Sligo 1-14 Cavan 0-20
Sligo footballers left it all on the Croke Park pitch last Sunday, and if they had taken some of their goal opportunities they could have been looking forward to a final against Westmeath. Overall, however, I felt it was a fair result and Cavan were slightly better on the day particularly their efficiency. I mentioned last week that Sligo could not be below 50% conversion rate of ‘chances created’ but unfortunately this was their undoing as they played lovely positive football at times but didn’t finish some of these moves and let Cavan off the hook.
I felt Sligo played some of the better football on the day with a good mix of running support play together with accurate measured ball played into the full-forward line. Defensively I thought despite conceding twenty points they looked organised and closed off space very well in addition to some excellent goalkeeping by Aidan Devaney. To be fair to Cavan they picked off some beautiful points from long range and difficult angles and always seemed to find a score when Sligo got themselves back in the game.
Cavan started very well and looked like they could close out the game in the early stages but there was no panic from the Sligo players or management as they remained very calm and got themselves back into the game with a well converted penalty. This score settled the players along with a well taken point from Spillane. Spillane had two other very good opportunities in the first half and if he had scored, he would have been in man-of-the-match territory, as he had his best performance of the year.
In defence Evan Lyons had an outstanding game not only eliminating the threat of his immediate opponent but taking on responsibility in driving the game from the full-back line to Cavan. Along with Alan Reilly, Sligo have uncovered two players of the highest quality this year and all going well for them will be around for a long time, as they are still only developing at this level.
Paul McNamara was another player that had his best outing of the year and looked like he really enjoyed the Croke Park experience.
While Gearoid McKiernan was awarded the RTÉ man-of-the-match, I felt Darragh Cummins did a respectable job on him and I would have given my vote to Gerard Smith at number twelve for Cavan who I thought was very busy for the afternoon with four points from play.
Once again, Sligo will be looking back at all the scoring opportunities created and squandered, which ultimately cost them the game. However, the positive from this is that they are creating this number of chances and if they can find another ten to fifteen per cent in efficiency, they will win more games than they lose. Niall Murphy came in at half time and improved these stats greatly and who knows what might have happened if he was fit enough to be on for the full game.
Overall, the Tailteann Cup has been a very positive experience for Sligo, giving us two cliff hangers, extra-time, and penalties but most importantly the opportunity to play at Croke Park, this was not only important to players and management but to the supporters who turned out in force.
This was particularly evident in the number of young children and teenagers supporting their county for their first time at headquarters which hopefully will help build an infinity with their county team.
Overall, after two years of covid where we only played one championship game, 2022 has been an excellent year in terms of player and team development with five championship games.
Backs were to the wall against New York, London and Leitrim but showed good character in digging out results in these games. The priority now must be to get back to Croke Park next year to a Division Four final and promotion to Division three and further build on the momentum of this year at both Senior and under 20 level.
Lastly best wishes to Pat Hughes who announced his retirement from county football after the game, he has been an excellent example to all aspiring young players, that have come into panels that he has been involved with, in terms of commitment and dedication and what is required to play at intercounty level. By all accounts always very well respected and popular with his fellow players, who was also an excellent rugby player but choose to give his all to Sligo football instead.