Wednesday 19 June 2019

Sligo impressive in Nicky Rackard return but big challenge lies ahead

Thomas O'Callaghan

It was exactly what the aim was - get out of Louth with a win.

Like all round-robin group stages in any competition, getting a win in the first outing is so important.

The mindset of going into the second game with a win under the belt compared to a loss is seismic.

Sligo were extremely impressive last Saturday and looked comfortable with the jump in standard from Meagher to Rackard hurling.

The slickness of the Sligo attack coupled with the ferocious tackling from the back 6 was noteworthy. Niall Feehily at full back was rock solid.

The experienced Ronan Cox and Liam Reidy mopped up danger around the half back line.

Rory McHugh and Gerard O'Kelly-Lynch at midfield were the catalysts for a lot of Sligo's attacks.

Joe Starr and Kevin Banks showed the aerial ability they have by winning any ball that was landed in front of them and Gary Cadden, Shane Crowley and Keith Raymond were able to split the posts when given an inch. Bear in mind, Sligo haven't played at this level since 2014, with only 6 of the starting 15 from the game against Louth last Saturday involved in Nicky Rackard squads from previous years.

However, it is important not to get carried away. Louth were wasteful towards the end and seemed over-dependent on their teenage sensation, Darren Geoghgan, who notched 0-12 of their 1-19 last Saturday.

Tyrone this Saturday should prove to be a sterner test, and Sligo management need to have a plan in place to try and keep talisman, Damien Casey, at bay as the Dungannon man has the ability to cause mayhem to any team operating in the lower tier competitions.

But Tyrone are more than a one-trick pony. They are physically strong and experienced at Nicky Rackard level. They opened their account against Rackard favourites Mayo with a stunning 1-15 to 0-15 last Sunday in Omagh; Casey, himself, notching 1-12.

Sligo should enter the game Saturday with confidence after the win in Louth. Victory would put Sligo in a great position to advance to a semi-final berth which would be an incredible achievement seeing as the majority of players in the panel are experiencing their first year at Rackard level.

However, there is a potential headache facing Daithí Hand and the management team with Sligo footballers in action in the CSFC Semi-Final this Sunday meaning Gerard O'Kelly-Lynch and Mikey Gordon may have a decision to make regards availability for Saturday's crunch game with Tyrone.

Sources indicate provisionally that the pair will make themselves available for selection for both fixtures this weekend but nothing has been officially confirmed.

From the evidence of last Saturday, the forward line looks to be in razor sharp form and could cause serious problems for the Tyrone defence to curtail, particularly if the right ball is delivered into the likes of Raymond, Kennedy, and Joe Starr.

The use of players off the bench could prove pivotal also.

Kevin Gilmartin, Conor Griffin, and Andrew Kilcullen all made an impact against Louth when called upon.

Saturday's game against Tyrone will be a significant challenge for the hurlers of Sligo, but no doubt Daithí Hand and the tactically-astute, Colm O'Meara, along with the rest of the backroom team will devise a plan to try and deal with Tyrone's influential, Damian Casey.

Throw-In this Saturday is 1pm at Kent Park.

Sligo Champion