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Tuesday 16 July 2019

Yeats men are just one win away from claiming back to back All-Irelands

Throw-In: 4pm, Croke Park

Thomas O'Callaghan

Sligo hurlers travel to Croke Park this Saturday to take on Armagh in the Nicky Rackard Cup final.

After a highly impressive journey to date, Sligo are just one win away from claiming back to back All-Ireland's, having lifted the Lory Meagher in 2018.

Sligo will be going in as slight underdogs against the Orchard County.

Although unbeaten and effectively eliminating strong favourites Mayo in the group stage, Sligo again will go into the game hoping to cause an upset and will not fear the Armagh challenge.

The style of hurling that Sligo play coupled with the wide, open field of Croke Park could well prove troublesome for the men from Ulster.

The pace, strength, and aerial ability in the middle third from the likes of Kevin Banks, Rory McHugh, Joe Starr, Ronan Cox to name a few will be relied upon and delivery of good ball into Kevin Gilmartin, Keith Raymond, and Gary Cadden who have caused immense problems for defences so far this year is a must if Sligo are to be in contention.

Armagh were seen as the favourites to reach the final along with Mayo before the competition commenced back in May.

Their form this year has been positive, reaching the Division 3A final in the league only to be beaten by Roscommon.

They'll be hoping to bounce back up to Christy Ring hurling having been relegated last year with Mayo.

They too picked up 2 wins and a draw to top their group that consisted of Warwickshire, Longford, and Monaghan and defeated Tyrone in their semi-final in a close contest at Inniskeen, finishing 2-19 to 1-20.

Sligo last tasted Rackard success back in 2008, defeating Louth on that fateful day. There are 4 survivors from that team - Keith Raymond, Mark Burke, Ronan Cox, and Liam Reidy.

Of course what's impressive about Sligo's run to date in the Rackard cup is the fact Sligo are competing at this level for the first time since 2014 and is seen as a remarkable achievement to come this far in their first year back at Rackard level, given the number of youthful players in the squad.

Sligo won't be phased by the aura of Croke Park either with the backbone of the team being a part of last year's Meagher winning squad and will have garnered experience and knowledge of playing at the GAA's iconic field.

Armagh, however, are very familiar with Rackard finals.

They've tasted success twice at this level back in 2010 and again in 2012. Noticeably though, this will be their 4th final in 5 years having contested Rackard finals in 2015, 2016, and 2017 - losing to Roscommon, Mayo, and Derry respectively.

They'll be relying on sharpshooter Dean Gaffney along with corner-forward Danny Magee and the towering Eoin McGuinness to cause problems for the Sligo defence.

If Sligo can match the performances shown in the previous games then they will be in with a great shout of claiming glory this Saturday.

The full-back line of James Weir, Niall Feehily and Kevin O'Kennedy looks assured.

Up the pitch, Sligo are in devastating form having scored 9-80 in just 4 games. But it's in the middle-third where the game could be won.

If the half-back line and midfield are able to withstand Armagh's physical challenge as they did against Warwickshire in the semi-final along with delivering diagonal balls into a ruthless full-forward line then Sligo have an excellent chance.

Discipline will be a factor also and Sligo need to avoid giving away soft frees especially when Armagh have the likes of Dean Gaffney in their card deck, who hit 0-13 against Tyrone in their semi-final win - 12 of the points coming from placed balls.

It could be a remarkable occasion Saturday for the Yeats men and if Sligo were to get their hands on the Rackard cup for the 2nd time then they would become the first team to win a Meagher and Rackard Cup in the space of 12 months.

Only one other team has won back-to-back titles in the lower tiers of hurling with London clinching Rackard and Ring success in 2011 and 2012 respectively.

More importantly, though, it would see Daithí Hand's charges ply their trade at Christy Ring level for 2020, a standard Sligo hurling has never participated at before, but they'll have to earn it against a strong Armagh team first, who have strong intentions of getting back up to Ring level for next year.

Sligo's Path to The Final

May 11th, Dowdsahill, Dundalk

Group 2 Round 1

Louth 1-19 Sligo 2-24

May 18th, Scarden

Group 2 Round 2

Sligo 3-19 Tyrone 1-14

June 1st, Scarden

Group 2 Round 3

Sligo 2-16 Mayo 1-19

June 9th, Celtic Park, Derry

Semi-Final

Sligo 2-21 Warwickshire 2-17

Sligo Champion

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