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Sligo off to a flying start after victory

Sligo 0-12 Wexford 0-10

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Pat Spillane and Luke Towey of Sligo in action against Paidí Hughes of Wexford during the Allianz Football League Division 4 match between Wexford and Sligo at Chadwicks Wexford Park in Wexford. Pic: Matt Browne/Sportsfile.

Pat Spillane and Luke Towey of Sligo in action against Paidí Hughes of Wexford during the Allianz Football League Division 4 match between Wexford and Sligo at Chadwicks Wexford Park in Wexford. Pic: Matt Browne/Sportsfile.

Pat Spillane and Luke Towey of Sligo in action against Paidí Hughes of Wexford during the Allianz Football League Division 4 match between Wexford and Sligo at Chadwicks Wexford Park in Wexford. Pic: Matt Browne/Sportsfile.

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SLIGO’S PROSPECTS of gaining promotion from Division 4 of the Allianz Football League received a major early boost after they registered the last three scores to edge out Wexford by a two-point margin in miserable conditions in Chadwicks Wexford Park on Sunday.

A failure to register from play throughout the second-half put paid to the home side’s victory hopes, with a series of goal attempts kept out by a defiant visiting defence.

A fourth converted free by Ben Brosnan edged Wexford into a 0-10 to 0-9 lead early in the last quarter, but another 20 minutes would elapse without adding to their haul as a Sligo side aided by the elements finished on a real high.

Captain Keelan Cawley took a calculated risk when he won the toss and opted to play against the wind first, but it proved a smart move in the long run as the visitors found themselves just one point in arrears at half-time (0-6 to 0-5).

And while the game had the appearance of a draw about it for long stretches of the second period, with the sides level on four separate occasions, Sligo’s surge for home saw them take the precious spoils with points from the 65th minute onwards by Cawley, a fourth from play for the excellent Seán Carrabine, and the clincher in additional time from Niall Murphy.

In a game with scores hard to come by, Wexford had good cause to regret a trio of missed goalscoring opportunities in the third quarter. Even one successful conversion might have been decisive, but it wasn’t to be as Sligo’s goalkeeper Eamonn Kilgannon and defenders put their bodies on the line in order to keep their net intact.

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Wexford trailed by 0-7 to 0-6 when captain Martin O’Connor almost goaled in the 42nd minute, although play was brought back for a free that Ben Brosnan knocked over.

And the hosts threatened again a mere 45 seconds later, with Alan Tobin, Liam Coleman and Brosnan linking up before Eoghan Nolan struck a low shot that was deflected for a ’45 – expertly driven over the bar for the lead score by goalkeeper Darragh Brooks.

Brosnan made it 9-7 after Nathan Mullen touched the ball on the ground from Kilgannon’s kick-out, with the free brought closer to goal by fussy Cork referee John Ryan for dissent.

It was a particularly strong period of the game for Wexford, but the goal they needed to create a bit of daylight continued to elude them.

The third chance in the space of five minutes saw a Brosnan thunderbolt stopped by Kilgannon, and a follow-up drive by Alan Tobin was kept out by a brave block by corner-back Paul McNamara, who typified the spirit surging through the Sligo back division.

And they managed to eventually lift the siege, with a cheap giveaway by Páraic Hughes leading to Niall Murphy popping a pass to full-forward Pat Hughes in the 51st minute.

However, in a split second his chance for a goal was lost, as Martin O’Connor got back to make a shot-saving tackle.

It did lead to a ’45 that the on-form Seán Carrabine converted, and the leveller followed from the kick-out. A Nathan Mullen mark kick-started another Sligo attack, with a Keelan Cawley effort blocked but breaking kindly for Carrabine whose confidence was sky high as he made it 0-9 each with 53 minutes gone.

A foul on Martin O’Connor resulted in Ben Brosnan regaining the lead for Wexford, but he dropped his next attempt short before Sligo’s much-publicised newcomer, Pat Spillane, entered the fray in the 60th minute to replace Mikey Gordon.

And the eager-looking Kerry native certainly contributed in rich measure to that late burst for victory, although before it started the visitors had good reason to be thankful once more to corner-back Paul McNamara.

He made a vital interception in his own square when Eoghan Nolan handpassed across in search of that elusive Wexford goal, and the outcome remained in the balance after Sligo equalised in the 65th minute.

Spillane provided the assist for excellent captain Keelan Cawley to fire over his second point (0-10 each), before Niall Hughes landed a kick short that resulted in a cheap turnover.

The Sligo attack that followed was momentarily thwarted by a diving block by Michael Furlong on David Quinn’s kick at the expense of a line ball, but the visitors maintained the pressure and that man Carrabine curled over his fourth point from play with his left peg to give them an 0-11 to 0-10 advantage in the 68th minute.

The new leaders did survive a scare on the next Wexford attack, with Niall Hughes almost getting a touch on a dangerous delivery by fellow substitute Robbie Brooks that wasn’t intended as a pass.

Peter Laffey missed a good chance before Niall Murphy kicked the second-last of Sligo’s eight wides (double the Wexford haul) as the match moved into five additional minutes that extended to six.

Just one more point was added, and it could have been avoided by the losers as a misplaced Eoin Porter pass from a free resulted in Luke Towey teeing up Niall Murphy to double the Sligo advantage.

Tom Byrne kicked a late wide for a Wexford side that went for a full 20 minutes without scoring at the end, and there was relief for Sligo when David Quinn earned a free on the right flank of attack to kill some precious seconds. Niall Murphy’s crossfield kick to the far post was caught and sent wide by Alan Reilly, with the full-time whistle following on the restart to confirm a valuable Sligo victory.

It was certainly a far cry from the last meeting of the sides in the Division 4 shield final in Portlaoise last June, when a disinterested looking Sligo were easily brushed aside by 2-15 to 0-9.

This was more like the spirit shown by the men from the west on their previous visit to Chadwicks Wexford Park on the last day of February two years ago, a game they won by 2-7 to 1-9.

In hindsight, Wexford will rue their inability to fully capitalise on a nervy start by their eventual conquerors in Sunday’s tie. With the rainfall adding to the wind and cold, and the pitch cutting up further with every passing minute, it was raw, dogged fare and certainly no place for frills.

And it took Sligo a while to settle after that decision by Keelan Cawley to face the elements first, with a series of early errors contributing to the 0-3 to nil deficit they faced after twelve minutes.

Ben Brosnan got Wexford off the mark from a free before Kevin O’Grady was involved twice in a move that also featured Glen Malone prior to Eoghan Nolan kicking their second point from tight confines.

A lengthy, patient move ended with Liam Coleman setting up Dean O’Toole for number three, with Wexford’s three first-half wides also arriving in that early spell before Sligo finally managed to get their hands on more ball and play their way back into the game.

Seán Carrabine – wearing number 10 but operating on the opposite left flank – was their main inspiration with his pace and direct approach, and he kicked their first point after a one-two with the equally influential man directly behind him, Keelan Cawley, in the 14th minute.

Carrabine then turned provider after gathering a Niall Murphy line ball, popping a handpass to onrushing midfielder Peter Laffey who finished on the run.

And after Naomhan Rossiter fumbled and conceded a free from the short kick-out that followed, Carrabine punished him from inside the ‘D’ to leave the sides on level terms after 20 minutes.

The attacker’s next attempt went wide via the angle of post and crossbar, and Wexford were relieved to end 15 barren minutes when Ben Brosnan picked out wing-back Páraic Hughes for a fine point that restored their lead (0-4 to 0-3).

Sligo threatened a goal for the first time in the 29th minute, with Pat Hughes using his strength to gather a high free by Niall Murphy, only to drill his shot low to the left and wide.

Tom Byrne turned on to his left side and stretched Wexford’s lead to two from a Páraic Hughes pass, but Keelan Cawley replied with a beauty via the outside of his boot from a handpass by David Phillips – on the field briefly as a temporary substitute for centre-back Paul Kilcoyne, who returned to the fray with a heavily-bandaged head.

Sligo equalised in added-time, with Niall Murphy working a short free to Carrabine and the pair exchanging further passes before the accurate wing-forward posted his second point from play (0-5 each). And Pat Hughes had another chance after latching on to a long delivery from Cawley, but Martin O’Connor was alert to the danger and reduced the potential damage to a fruitless ’45. Wexford did regain the lead in the seventh of eight extra minutes before the break, courtesy of Ben Brosnan’s sole strike from play (0-6 to 0-5).That advantage looked precarious, and so it proved, although it was only in the dying stages of the second period that the hosts finally succumbed. They resumed with Michael Furlong and Niall Hughes on in place of Glen Malone and Dean O’Toole respectively, and Sligo drew level after 62 seconds when Pat Hughes was fouled and Niall Murphy tapped over from directly in front of the posts after some dissent.

Murphy played a one-two with Keelan Cawley to give his side a 0-7 to 0-6 lead, before that period of Wexford dominance that did yield three points when their haul could so easily have been three goals instead. It was undoubtedly a pivotal spell in such a tight game, with Sligo surging for home thereafter to get their campaign off to the ideal start.

Sligo: Eamonn Kilgannon; Evan Lyons, Eddie McGuinness, Paul McNamara; Nathan Mullen, Paul Kilcoyne, Keelan Cawley (capt., 0-2); Conor Griffin, Peter Laffey (0-1); Mikey Gordon, Luke Towey, Seán Carrabine (0-6, 1 free, 1 ’45); Alan Reilly, Pat Hughes, Niall Murphy (0-3, 1 free). Subs. – David Phillips for Kilcoyne, temp. (33-35), Conan Marren for Griffin (53), David Quinn for Hughes (53), Pat Spillane for Gordon (60), Brian Egan for Carrabine (70+1).

Wexford: Darragh Brooks (0-1 ’45); Martin O’Connor (capt.), Eoin Porter, Dylan Furlong; Glen Malone, Naomhan Rossiter, Páraic Hughes (0-1); Liam Coleman, Darragh Lyons; Alan Tobin, Dean O’Toole (0-1), Tom Byrne (0-1); Eoghan Nolan (0-1), Kevin O’Grady, Ben Brosnan (0-5, 4 frees). Subs. – Mark Rossiter for O’Grady (35+2), Niall Hughes for O’Toole (HT), Michael Furlong for Malone (HT), Liam O’Connor for Lyons, inj. (50), Robbie Brooks for Nolan (68).

Referee: John Ryan (Cork).


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