Friday 23 August 2019

Eugene McGee: Sligo heroics prove value of provincial championships

Sligo's Kevin McDonnell celebrates with supporters after the team's shock Connacht SFC semi-final victory over Roscommon, at Markievicz Park, Sligo on Saturday night
Sligo's Kevin McDonnell celebrates with supporters after the team's shock Connacht SFC semi-final victory over Roscommon, at Markievicz Park, Sligo on Saturday night

Eugene McGee

Regardless of what happens from here on, Sligo's result in decisively beating Roscommon on Saturday evening will go down as one of the best football achievements of the year.

The Division 3 side completely took control of this Connacht semi-final and left Roscommon in shreds - and remember the Rossies are the team that won promotion to Division 1 for next season.

There has been a lot of talk about Roscommon in recent years.

I keep repeating, U-21 football is not senior football. Roscommon and Cavan have both won four provincial U-21 titles in recent years but this has not translated into their senior teams.

Players play U-21 for about two years when all the other counties are also confined to the same period. But once they step into senior grade, where there is a range of players covering about ten years, the significance of U-21 rapidly diminishes.

Sligo, under the outstanding management of Niall Carew - from Kildare via Waterford - gave an exhibition on how to use minimal resources to maximum effect.

The players were highly motivated, meaning they would go through a stone wall to win the ball, while Roscommon often gave the impression they had a God-given right to win the same ball.

There was a brilliant example of this early in the game when Sligo full-back Kevin McDonnell, who had a wonderful game, ran out towards the sideline in a desperate attempt to win a ball on the ground that should never have been his.

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But he got there won the ball even when falling and got it away to a colleague, and within seconds the ball had been delivered with a long kick to corner-forward Adrian Marren, who scored a brilliant point. With the exception of Cathal Cregg, no Roscommon player. showing such do-or-die effort.

Sligo players showed remarkable discipline and had extraordinary belief in their own ability.

They never panicked on the few occasions when Roscommon threatened to take over, and led from start to finish, helped by the losers only scoring two points in the opening quarter.


From an early stage it was clear that the Roscommon defence had no plans for coping with the Sligo forwards.

Full-forward Pat Hughes is a big, strong player but also very smart on his feet and caused massive problems for Roscommon full-back Neil Collins.

David Kelly has been hampered by injury for the past couple of seasons and his return to fitness changed the whole dynamic of the Sligo attack.

It was not so much that he dominated the play but merely his presence on the field as one of the classiest forwards in the game seemed to unhinge the opposing backline and opened doors for other forwards to cash in on.

But the dominant theme of this contest was the lack of killer streak by Roscommon, with the notable exception of Cregg and midfielder Cathal Shine.

That was surely caused by over-confidence as Roscommon people regarded this as a sure victory in advance. Talk of them being good enough to win an All-Ireland in the near future certainly created the wrong attitude among players and supporters, and they paid the price on Saturday.

When I watched Roscommon play Meath in a League game this year I questioned whether either county was capable of playing in Division 1 and got some stick for that but I have not changed my view.

I really enjoyed this game in Markievic Park. The football was direct and intelligently so.

Having watched Cavan v Monaghan, Laois v Kildare and now Sligo v Roscommon, it is clear that there is still a lot of life left in provincial championships as far as the paying customers are concerned, and the notion of changing them is ludicrous.

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