Niall Murphy shows the way in Sligo revival for NFL Division 4 title

NFL Division 4 final: Sligo 2-10 Wicklow 0-14

Sligo captain Niall Murphy lifts the cup after his side's victory over Wicklow in the Allianz FL Division 4 final at Croke Park. Photo: Tyler Miller/Sportsfile

Conor Breslin

Despite a rather flat opening half, Sligo improved massively in the second half to secure the NFL Division 4 title in Croke Park.

While these counties operate in different provinces, there was a distinct Ulster feel between them – or more accurately a Crossmaglen one – with former Armagh teammates Oisín McConville and Tony McEntee operating in opposite dugouts.

For the Garden County to bounce back into Division 3 after suffering relegation last season and coming through an extremely tight league campaign this term highlights their impressive improvement under McConville.

​But Sligo’s impressive running game in the second half, accompanied by goals either side of half-time, saw the Connacht men climb the steps of the Hogan Stand .

In a match that was played in horrendously wet conditions, it was the underdogs Wicklow who got off to the better start leading 0-5 to 0-1 after 20 minutes, with Sligo failing to register a single score until the 16th minute and not landing a point from play until the 23rd minute.

It was long kick passing and constant movement that worked in Wicklow’s favour in the opening half with Mark Kenny, JP Hurley, ’keeper Mark Jackson, and the impressive Kevin Quinn getting their scores.

Even though the Yeats County were trying to ease their way into the match, things went from bad to worse when full-back Eddie McGuinness was black-carded in the 24th minute after a dodgy kickout went astray and he was controversially sent to the line for an alleged pulldown.

But Sligo corner-forward Niall Murphy kept in touch, being his county’s only scoring in the first half when landing 1-3 – his goal coming in the 28th minute from a superb darting run up the field from corner-back Nathan Mullen. He brilliantly played a one-two with Luke Towey, who found Murphy who found the Wicklow net.

The Connacht men attempted to play ‘keep ball’ to see out the half but Wicklow’s pressure told, and a ‘45’ from ’keeper Jackson saw Wicklow head for the dressing room leading 0-8 to 1-3.

The second half saw Sligo turn the tables, as they broke through the opposition defence with ease. Their first goal chance came in the 39th minute but midfielder Cian Lally skied the ball between the posts for a point.

However, three minutes later the goal came. Starting with full-forward Patrick O’Connor, Sligo opened the Wicklow defence and after a series of handpasses from Seán Carrabine, and Lally, Paul Kilcoyne rattled the roof of the net to give Sligo the lead for the first time.

Despite more goal chances coming Sligo’s way with long delivery into O’Connor, they failed to convert them, settling instead for points from Nathan Mullen, Pat Spillane, Carrabine and Murphy. Wicklow crawled back into the game with Eoin Darcy and Quinn converting a free each, while Dean Healy put three between them by the 60th minute.

However, Sligo were able to hold on and win by two points despite Wicklow’s best efforts and late scores from Jackson and Cian O’Sullivan.

Scorers – Sligo: N Murphy 1-4 (1f, 1m); P Kilcoyne 1-0; S Carrabine 0-2 (1f); C Lally, N Mullen, L Towey, P Spillane 0-1 each. Wicklow: K Quinn 0-5 (2f, 1m); M Jackson 0-3 (2f, 1 ‘45’) E Darcy 0-2 (2f); D Healy, C O’Sullivan, M Kenny, JP Hurley 0-1 each.

Wicklow: M Jackson 7; M Stone 6, E Murtagh 6, J McCall 6; K Quinn 8, P O’Keane 6, C McDonald 6; D Healy 7, P O’Toole 6; A Maher 6, JP Hurley 7, T Maher 5; D Fitzgerald 6, M Kenny 7, E Darcy 7. Subs: K Furlong 6 for McCall (51), Z Cullen 6 for Maher (53), C O’Sullivan 6 for Fitzgerald (56), F O’Shea 5 for Maguire (60), J Keogh 5 for Kenny (69).

Sligo: D Lyons 8; N Mullen 7, E McGuinness 6, E Lyons 7; L Towey 8, B Cox 6, P McNamara 7; P Kilcoyne 7, C Lally 7; K Cawley 6, S Carrabine 7, D Quinn 6; P Spillane 7, P O’Connor 7, N Murphy 9. Subs: M Gordon 7 for Quinn (38), A Reilly 7 for O’Connor (57), G O’Kelly 6 Lynch for Cawley (62), M Walsh 6 for Spillane (64).

Referee: P Faloon (Down).