Sunday 18 March 2018

Marren shines as Sligo tame Tribal hopes

SLIGO 2-14

Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

Taped to the inside of their dressing-room door was a sheet of paper, bearing nine simple words. "We are Sligo, leave no man on his own!"

It was a declaration boldly honoured in Salthill on Saturday night as Kevin Walsh's 5/1 outsiders brought down his native county with football that was utterly faithful to the manager's personality.

Sligo's patient calm, mistaken at times as ennui, delivered them to a Connacht final that most presumed to be beyond their reach.

Composure is, maybe, an under-appreciated gift on the hot plate of championship and there were times, playing into the wind especially, when Sligo's short-passing just drew them laterally into cul-de-sacs.

In the stand, we mistook it for a mix of reticence and confusion. Walsh saw it as setting a snare.


Seemingly fortunate to reach the interval a mere four points adrift (0-9 to 0-5), they came to dramatic life thereafter, full-forward Adrian Marren's two second-half goals tearing the Galway sails to ribbons.

And, if the small print of that opening half escaped us, Walsh read only promise. "We had scored five from play, Galway had seven from frees," he told us later.

"So we felt we were absolutely well in the game. You know, we were definitely not going to kick ball down the throat of Galway.

"We said to be patient, even if it might have looked a bit too patient at times."

It was a monumental triumph for a group that, having failed to win Connacht two years ago despite evicting both Mayo and Galway, looked to the world like a team with its future left behind.

Marren was the star turn in a two-man full-forward line alongside the returning David Kelly. He turned Finian Hanley inside out, the Galway captain in deep, deep trouble long before leaving the field with a shoulder injury approaching the hour mark.

By then, Marren's return was already 1-5, the goal a sublimely converted 52nd-minute penalty after Hanley had dragged Paul McGovern to the ground.

Galway just never quite found telling momentum, those human lifeboats -- Michael Meehan and Padraic Joyce -- called into action earlier than Alan Mulholland would, ideally, have chosen. They were effectively chasing the wind.

Full-back Johnny Martyn just about broke even in his battle with Paul Conroy, and Sligo's work rate around their own square meant that Galway did not mine a single recognisable goal chance all evening.

Having been bossed around midfield in the opening half, Sligo took over in the shape of Shane McManus, Alan Costello, Pat Hughes and substitute Tony Taylor, the smart movement of their two inside forwards giving them licence to crowd that middle third.

Marren was in exhilarating form, scoring 0-3 from play in that difficult opening half, then turning to exhibition mode as Sligo became more direct in the second.

One gorgeous 44th-minute delivery completely decommissioned the Galway full-back line but a contrary bounce took McManus a little wide and he had to be satisfied with a fisted point.

Seven minutes later, Marren's vision again tormented Galway, this time a glorious diagonal ball finding Costello on the run and the finish was rudimentary.

That point levelled the scores at 0-10 each. Galway did not know it, but they were already doomed.

It was, you felt, a game in which the first goal might carry inordinate traction and, when Marren sent Adrian Faherty the wrong way with that penalty, Sligo grew perceptibly.

Galway's over-dependence on frees (all but 0-6 of their total would come from placed balls) spoke of a structural distress that no sideline tinkering could alleviate.

Garreth Bradshaw did start making trademark runs from wing-back but the sheer density of Sligo traffic ensured that their goalkeeper, Philip Greene, had an undramatic day.

A frustrated Mulholland watched his team essentially get tangled up in a black web.

"They fouled us a lot, they gave away a lot of frees," suggested the Galway manager.

"They were working on us, they didn't want us to build any momentum."

The match arithmetic didn't exactly support Mulholland's thesis, Maurice Deegan calling an almost identical number of frees against both teams.

To the naked eye, the difference appeared to be nothing more profound than the spatial awareness of Sligo's movement, the ability to isolate markers.

With three minutes of normal time remaining, that quality was caught in microcosm. Costello's quick free put the rampant Marren one-on-one with Faherty and his exquisitely rolled finish was a perfect portrait of conviction.

Galway did get the last two scores of the evening, injury-time points from Meehan and Conroy, but these didn't so much constitute dissenting voices as loud groans of frustration.

"I suppose we were written off completely by the experts, but that's the way to be," said Walsh afterwards.

"We won't be fully written off the next time against Mayo or Leitrim. But, if it's Mayo, we face a huge challenge. We're Division 3, they were in the (NFL Division 1) league final."

He sounded like someone who might just formulate a plan.

For Galway manager Mulholland, time can be the only consolation.

With more than a month to recuperate for the qualifiers, he expresses doubt that his captain and full-back Hanley can recover that quickly from apparent damage to an AC joint.

"From the start, I have always said when people were pushing me about our goals for the year that we haven't beaten a team outside of Connacht since 2004," he said.

"So that has been the goal and it remains it.

"We have got to do ourselves justice."

SCORERS -- Sligo: A Marren 2-6 (1-0 pen, 0-2 fs), A Costello 0-3 (1f), D Kelly 0-2, P Hughes, S McManus, M Breheny 0-1 each. Galway: M Hehir 0-7 (0-6fs), P Conroy, G Sice (3f) 0-3 each, S Armstrong, M Meehan 0-1 each.

SLIGO -- P Greene 7; N Ewing 7, J Martyn 7, R Donovan 7; P McGovern 7, M Quinn 6, C Harrison 7; S McManus 7, E Mullen 6; A Costello 8, P Hughes 7, B Egan 6; D Kelly 8, A Marren 9, M Breheny 7. Subs: T Taylor 8 for Mullen (46), D Maye (not on long enough to rate) for Hughes (71), J Davey for McGovern (73).

GALWAY -- A Faherty 7; K McGrath 7, F Hanley 5, K Kelly 5; G Bradshaw 7, J Duane 7, G O'Donnell 6; J Bergin 7, G Higgins 6; G Sice 6, D Burke 7, T Flynn 6; S Armstrong 6, P Conroy 7, M Hehir 7. Subs: G Sweeney 5 for Kelly (46), M Meehan 6 for Flynn (42), P Joyce 6 for Burke (53), C Forde 6 for Hanley (57).

Ref -- M Deegan (Laois).

Irish Independent

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