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Learning to cope with favourites' tag a big step for Sligo

FORMER Sligo manager Tommy Breheny sounded a cautious note in this week's 'Sligo Champion', pointing out that Kevin Walsh's squad won the games they were expected to lose and lost the one they were expected to win in last year's Connacht championship.

He's correct, of course. Sligo were long-odds outsiders against Mayo and Galway but beat both, only to fail as favourites against Roscommon in the final.

Whether that's a case of Sligo harnessing inspiration from the outsiders' tag while finding favouritism a distraction is open to question but, either way, they will need to be extremely wary against Leitrim tomorrow.

Leitrim head for Markievicz Park as 5/1 outsiders against a Sligo side (1/5) who know that their neighbours will see this as a great opportunity to repeat their 2005 against-the-odds win.

Granted, that was in Carrick-on-Shannon, so Leitrim's challenge is all the greater tomorrow.

From a Sligo perspective, this is as crucial a championship game as they have played for a very long time. Victory would set them up for a revenge mission against Roscommon in the Connacht semi-final, while defeat would destroy much of the momentum built up over the last few years.

Relegation from Division 2 was damaging but not fatal. It was extremely disappointing as they were the victims of a crazy system of differentiating between teams who finish with the same number of points -- they were level with Meath, who survived.

Such small margins can stunt the development of a team like Sligo, although it would be altogether more serious if they were to lose to Leitrim.

The immediate background to the fixture points to a Sligo win. Apart from having home advantage, they are coming off seven games against high-quality opposition in Division 2, whereas Leitrim were in Division 4. Also, Sligo scored more against Division 2 defences than Leitrim did against their Division 4 counterparts, which could be a significant pointer.

Perhaps ominously too for Leitrim, they scored just one goal in six games against Clare, Fermanagh, Wicklow, Carlow, Longford and Roscommon, which is not an encouraging strike rate.

It's difficult to see them beating Sligo via the point route so their strike force need to figure out some way of scoring a goal or two.

If Sligo play to their full capacity they have enough in the locker to see them safely though but, as always, there's the possibility of Leitrim producing one of those really spirited days that have delivered upsets when least expected over the years -- Sligo have felt the brunt of those more than anybody.

A Sligo victory keeps them on track but a defeat would quite probably be the end of their season since it would be very hard to relaunch for the qualifiers after losing at home to 5/1 outsiders.

Irish Independent