Spirited 2nd half sees Sligo through to the final
Nicky Rackard semi-final - Sligo 2-21, Warwickshire 2-17
Sligo hurlers are returning to Croke Park for the 2nd successive year after defeating Warwickshire 2-21 to 2-17 in the Nicky Rackard Cup semi-final last Sunday at Celtic Park, Derry. Two 2nd half goals from Kevin Gilmartin and Gerard O'Kelly-Lynch sealed the win for the Yeats men who will now meet Armagh in Croke Park on Saturday, June 22nd in the Rackard decider.
Daithí Hand and the management team made numerous positional switches, with the versatile Kevin O'Kennedy operating at corner-back, Liam Reidy at centre back, Keith Raymond stationed beside Joe Starr at midfield, and Gerard O'Kelly-Lynch starting at the edge of the square.
Sligo got off to an excellent start through Tony O'Kelly-Lynch who slotted over after 12 seconds from the left-hand side to open the scoring but Warwickshire, who were beaten finalists in last year's Rackard final, replied well with Niall Kennedy equalising shortly after.
It was tit-for-tat in the opening 10 minutes, with both sides cancelling each other out.
Emmet McCabe hit a sweet score from the left-hand side just before Joe Starr slotted over from 45 metres out after being set up by the illustrious Ronan Cox leaving it 2 points apiece after 6 minutes.
Keith Raymond registered his first score of the game with a 21 metre free after Gerard O'Kelly-Lynch was fouled bearing down on goal.
But Warwickshire hit the next 3 scores with Willie Allen registering his first placed-ball from a '65, another from a free minutes later before corner-forward Ian Dwyer hit a superb point in the 13th minute.
Sligo's Gary Cadden, operating at right-half forward, added to the scoreboard for Sligo straight after Dwyer's point with a sweet score of his own from 45 metres out.
Warwickshire found the back of the Sligo net after 16 minutes when Dwyer delivered the ball dangerously into the goalmouth which found Pauric Crehan who pulled on the sliotar mid-flight to raise the green flag and leave it 1-5 to 0-04 in favour of the Birmingham outfit.
Sligo responded well after the concession of the goal and registered 4 unanswered points from two Raymond frees, who was now operating at full-forward, Tony O'Kelly-Lynch, and a sensational score by Ronan Cox from midfield.
Warwickshire tackled hard and hounded the Sligo half-backs when in possession, putting the likes of Kevin Banks, Rory McHugh, Cox, and Liam Reidy under severe pressure when in possession.
Tony O'Kelly-Lynch, who posed serious problems for the Warwickshire defence, added his third of the half with a terrific effort from the left-hand side just after Warwickshire's placed-ball specialist Willie Allen pointed from a free.
It was Warwickshire who finished the first half the strongest and scored their 2nd goal entering into injury time.
A sideline ball from the right-hand side from Allen found its way into Crehan who once again pulled on the sliotar giving Mark Burke no chance, leaving it 2-08 to 0-10 at half-time.
Sligo started the brightest after the break with Raymond slotting over from the left-hand side after a poor clearance from Warwickshire full-back Dean Bruen in the 36th minute.
The ever-reliant Allen slotted over a free for Warwickshire before Gerard O'Kelly-Lynch got off the mark after being set-up brilliantly by Joe Starr who made a terrific solo run from midfield.
Sligo were beginning to show the form seen in the previous games and quick ball delivered into the full-forward line was posing problems for Warwickshire.
Raymond, in particular, seemed un-markable and slotted over 2 brilliant scores after finding space for himself.
Sligo then found the back of the net through Kevin Gilmartin after Warwickshire keeper Phil Crean failed to deal with a ball delivered in by Conor Griffen and Gilmartin was on hand to flick the ball past Crean into the empty net in the 46th minute leaving it 2-10 to 1-15.
Warwickshire looked to be fatiguing mid-way through the 2nd half and relied on the accuracy from placed-balls from Allen while Sligo looked sharper and registered points through the problematic Raymond and substitute Shane Crowley.
Sligo then hit 5 unanswered scores with Tony O'Kelly-Lynch, Raymond, Gerard O'Kelly-Lynch, Gilmartin and Crowley all raising the white flag leaving it 1-21 to 2-12 entering the final 10 minutes.
Warwickshire didn't throw in the towel and hit 4 unanswered points of their own through an Allen free, 2 quick-fire points from Dwyer and Emmet McCabe from 45 metres out to pull them right back into contention, leaving it 1-21 to 2-16 in Sligo's favour with 5 minutes left.
Warwickshire should have found the back of the in the 67th minute when substitute Kelvin Magee found himself unmarked at the edge of the square but didn't get the right connection and his effort was cleared off the line by Kevin Banks.
Sligo sealed the win in injury time after Gerard O'Kelly-Lynch gathered the ball 45 metres out, took on the Warwickshire full-back, and buried the sliotar low passed Crean to make it 2:21 to 2:16.
Peadar Scally slotted over for Warwickshire with a nice point from 45 metres out but it was only consolation as Sligo remarkably booked their place in the Nicky Rackard Cup final against Armagh in Croke Park on Saturday week.
Sligo scorers: Keith Raymond; 0-09 (0-03f, 0-02 65'), Gerard O'Kelly-Lynch; 1-02, Kevin Gilmartin; 1-01, Tony O'Kelly-Lynch; 0-04, Shane Crowley; 0-02, Ronan Cox, Joe Starr, Gary Cadden; 0-01 each.
Sligo: Mark Burke, James Weir [c], Ronan Cox, Niall Feehily, Kevin Banks, Keith Raymond, Rory McHugh, Liam Reidy, Joe Starr, Gerard O'Kelly-Lynch, Connor Griffin, Tony O'Kelly-Lynch, Gary Cadden, Kevin Gilmartin, Kevin O'Kennedy.
Subs used: Mikey Gordon for Kevin O'Kennedy (HT), Shane Crowley for Gary Cadden (45), Kieran Prior for Kevin Gilmartin (65).
Warwickshire scorers: Willie Allen; 0-08 (0-07f, 0-01 65'), Pauric Crehan; 2-00, Ian Dwyer; 0-03, Peadar Scally, Niall Kennedy, Emmet McCabe; 0-02 each.
Warwickshire: Phil Crean, Tom Kelly, Dean Bruen [c], Kieran Meaney, Peadar Scally, John Collins, Michael O'Regan, Ciarán Heeney, Michael Holland, Robert Curley, Willie Allen, Niall Kennedy, Pauric Crehan, Emmet McCabe, Ian Dwyer.
Subs used: Kelvin Magee for Pauric Crehan (54), Kieran Boxwell for Michael Holland (60).
Referee: Justin Heffernan (Loch Garman).