Armstrong hits all right notes
FBD League SF
AND so to a scenic outpost of surfing and seaweed baths for those of us so desperately starved of our Gaelic football fix during this most interminable and Arctic of winters.
Now more than ever, in this era of closed seasons and training bans, have provincial pre-season competitions, like yesterday's FBD Insurance League openers, become not only football's equivalent of the 'X Factor' for the players, but welcome relief for fans.
Thankfully there were no shouty presenters, half-naked judges or ridiculous styling at Enniscrone yesterday, just plenty of inter-county football wannabees, all desperately seeking to stake their claim to a league jersey.
And a decent crowd of close to 600 came, all anxious to see what they, and especially new Galway boss Tomas O Flatharta, would produce on opening day.
The result? Well, no one got voted off yet and a two-point victory for Galway.
But the better football and most promising new faces came largely from Sligo, who led right up to the three-quarter mark and should really have won had they not then wasted some chances and been caught napping in front of their own goal.
As the only All Star in the game, Sligo's corner-back Charlie Harrison started as the proven class -- the Alexandra Burke if you will -- of the piece, and it was no surprise to see him assigned to mark the best Galway attacker on show, Sean Armstrong.
Yet even Harrison sounded a few bum notes in a game littered by typical early season errors. He held Armstrong scoreless in the first half, by which time Sligo were 1-5 to 0-2 ahead, with their whole full-back line, which included teenager Conor Davey and Neil Ewing, all impressive early on.
But Harrison was caught badly by high balls after the break, letting Armstrong inside him to score a personal tally of 2-3 in Galway's second-half revival which was powered by a big wind advantage.
Having watched his side score just 0-2 by half-time -- one of them an excellent long-range free from new corner-forward Jonathan Ryan -- ex-Westmeath boss O Flatharta must have initially wondered if he had made a grave error by taking over Galway football's hot seat from Joe Kernan.
But the laconic Kerryman was typically unflustered afterwards.
"The wind was very strong and we knew we needed to use direct ball with it and we stuck to that plan and it worked well," he said of Galway's radical second-half improvement.
It was undoubtedly helped by the introduction of the rangy Fintan O'Curraoin to centre-forward, and Eddie Hoare also played a big part in winning more second-half ball and pumping it in high for Armstrong and Cillian de Paor to pounce.
However, Sligo boss Kevin Walsh was not too perturbed by an opening-day loss to his native county.
"This time last year we went down there and got hockeyed; this was very different and certainly you could say we won 40 minutes of that," he said.
Like O Flatharta, he stressed that he'll be using the FBD to look at new players and is likely to field a very different 15 again next week, but he admitted to being impressed by several new boys yesterday.
Chief among them was Geevagh wing-forward Pat Hughes (19) -- an ex-Connacht rugby development player -- who chipped in with 0-2 and showed excellent work-rate.
Fit-again Davey (19) looked good at full-back early on, David Maye and Francis Quinn also impressed up front and Brendan Egan -- back after two years in Sweden -- also won some vital midfield ball.
Maye, an All-Ireland junior winner last year, had scored 0-4 (0-3f) of his 0-6 by half-time to set up Sligo's six-point lead.
Within five minutes of the restart, Armstrong had single-handedly reduced that to two, but Sligo quickly responded with two points from Hughes and another from Maye (a free) to go five clear again.
But Maye slipped as he took one very gettable free and Alan Costello also missed clear chances in that crucial period, and the Tribesmen snatched that reprieve to score 1-5 without reply to take the first blood of the year.
Scorers -- Galway: S Armstrong 2-3 (0-1f), C de Paor, J Ryan (0-1f) 0-2 each, E Hoare, M Clancy 0-1 each. Sligo: D Maye 0-6 (0-5f), T Taylor 1-0, P Hughes 0-2, F Quinn, A Costello (0-1f) 0-1 each.
Galway -- P Lally; K McGrath, F Hanley, A Glynn; D Reilly, N Coleman, G Sice; E Hoare, G O'Donnell; M Clancy, C De Paor, S Armstrong; B Flaherty, C Healy, S O'Riain. Subs: M Kelly for Flaherty (24), F O'Curraoin for Healy (h-t), A Burke for Reilly (56), C O'Cualainn for Hoare (59).
Sligo -- J Farrell; C Harrison, C Davey, N Ewing; P McGovern, N McGuire, B O'Boyle; T Taylor, B Egan; A Costello, F Quinn, P Hughes; D Maye, J Hynes, A Marren. Subs: S Davey for Marren (51), D Rooney for O'Boyle (57), M Breheny for Costello (58), M Quinn for McGuire (63).
REF -- L Devenney (Mayo).