Sunday's display gets Sligo off the mark - but only just!
In the proverbial game of two halves, Sligo got themselves off the mark and picked up two league points against Antrim last Sunday at Markievicz Park, in what was a must win game even at this early stage of the season.
Antrim came with high hopes after a first round win over Cavan in Casement Park but looked devoid of any game plan or ideas in a first half that Sligo could have led by even more than the seven point margin at the break. Sligo would not have been flattered if the margin was twelve at that stage of the game after their best thirty five minutes of the year only marred by some wayward shots at the posts.
Kevin Walsh in my mind had way better shape on his team selection with Adrian McIntyre selected at centre half back with Mark Quinn moving to the wing. This allowed Brian Curran to be pushed forward to his best position at wing forward and Shane McManus was brought out to midfield. In addition to this Mark Breheny was brought out for creative reasons out to the half forward line which gave him more room to operate in, with late replacement James Clarke at full forward.
After struggling last weekend at midfield Sligo dominated this sector for the first half which gave them the platform with Mark Breheny as the 'go to' player linking the middle third to the final third of the pitch. If the Sligo management were disappointed with any aspect of this first half it would have been the fact that they didn't fully kill off Antrim in this period of dominance.
In this first half last Sunday Sligo played in a way more measured fashion working the ball from the various lines with a good quality ball going to the inside line. In this period Sligo defended very well only conceding three points while Antrim were playing with the benefit of a strong wind.
If the first half was very good from a Sligo perspective the second half took a downward turn with Antrim looking a different side after the break.
Antrim in the second period started to dominate around the middle and drove at Sligo in directness that they did not have in the first half which caused Sligo some uneasy moments. With a half time lead of seven points and playing with the aid of the wind in the second half maybe Sligo thought all the hard work was done in the first thirty five, as they did not perform in the second period as they did in the first and benefitted by the sending off of Antrim's best player Kevin Niblock their imposing centre half forward for two yellow cards.
Sligo began to look nervous in this period and started to turn over possession which allowed Antrim to get within one point with ten minutes remaining. In fairness to the Sligo players they didn't panic and finished the game with a number of scores to see out the match and get an important two points on the table. While the Sligo management will be delighted with many aspects of the first period they will know that there is still plenty of work to do with loads of room for improvement. It is always easier to dissect these games and look for both the good and the bad after achieving a win as long as the victory doesn't cloud the objective analysis when looking back on this game. It's now about consistency, trying to take the positives from the first half and building on it over the next three weeks until the next game against Monahan who were surprisingly well defeated by their close rivals Cavan.
I said last week that this will be a division that will throw up surprise results with every team capable of beating another which was demonstrated by both the Cavan win and Fermanagh's victory over Roscommon which leaves the northern side top of the table at this early stage. For a team that came up from Division Four Fermanagh has now turned themselves into promotion candidates from touted relegation contenders. Similar to other years based on results even at this stage, you could have a scenario going into the last round of games that a team could be in contention for a top two position with a win, while a loss could have them in the bottom two such is the competitiveness of this division. Wicklow are the side that looks in trouble after two comprehensive losses in the first two games. From Sligo's point of view this win will hopefully get the confidence going again which was drained after the Leitrim defeat and with three weeks off it gives management time to regroup and access where the team is at this early stage of the year.