Tuesday 24 October 2017

Crucial win avoids the dreaded drop

Sligo finish off strongly

Eugene Mullen comes out on top in this midfield tussle during Sligo's game with Wicklow at Markievicz Park on Sunday (Pic Carl Brennan)
Eugene Mullen comes out on top in this midfield tussle during Sligo's game with Wicklow at Markievicz Park on Sunday (Pic Carl Brennan)

A game which was identified as one of the defining fixtures of the season for Sligo produced the right result as the Yeats County delivered a strong finish to edge out Wicklow in the last round of Division Three of the Allianz Football League at Markievicz Park on Sunday.

It means that Sligo beat the dreaded drop by the skin of their teeth as Antrim's defeat to Monaghan consigns them to Division Four along with Wicklow.

It was understandable that both teams lacked fluency and for a long time it looked as if Sligo might not be able to find the momentum to bring victory.

A first half goal by Pat Hughes meant that the sides went in level at the break, 1-4 to 0-7. And, given that they had the advantage of a strong breeze in the second period, it was reasonable to expect Sligo to stamp their authority on the exchanges on the restart.

But, as things transpired, it was Wicklow who looked the more composed side in the early stages of the second half and Sligo looked to be in real trouble when the Leinster moved three points clear, 0-10 to 1-4 within six minutes of the restart. With disaster staring them in the face, Sligo came up with the required response, however.

A switch which saw Hughes moving to the full-forward line and the introduction of the lively Niall Murphy injected badly needed urgency and penetration up front. And the ever-reliable Adrian Marren also became increasingly influential.

They hauled themselves back to equality, 1-8 to 0-11, with fifteen minutes to go and pushed on in the closing stages to secure a priceless win.

Sub Tony Taylor, who was making his first appearance of the campaign, winning some good ball, Sligo dominated possession, adding on four unanswered points. And it was also encouraging that they managed to keep Wicklow scoreless during the closing minutes as well.

In the end, the win was more comfortable than might have been anticipated early in the match but the overwhelming emotion among fans and players alike was one of relief rather than celebration.

Wicklow led by three points to two after 11 minutes, with Sligo's two scores coming from Marren. Then, in the 14th minute, Sligo struck for a vital goal as Pat Hughes connected with Marren's sideline kick and punched the ball low to the net. Wicklow hit back with three points in a row from John McGrath, Dean Healy and Paul Earls but Marren slotted over from a free in the 29th minute to keep things level.

Breheny edged Sligo back in front with a terrific score from way out on the left but this was quickly cancelled out by McGrath to leave it all square at the break. Austin O'Malley, Patrick McWalter and Kevin Murphy all scored from play to give the Leinster side a three point lead early in the second half.

It was looking bleak for Sligo at that stage but they dug deep to haul themselves back into contention. Points by Breheny (2), Brendan Egan and Murphy helped them to draw level by the 55th minute. It was all to play for now and Sligo got their noses in front when Murphy fired over after Marren's neat lay-off.

A great long range score by Marren served to settle the nerves in a tense finish and Sligo never looked back, adding on two pointed frees from the excellent Marren in the closing minutes.

Sligo Champion