Sligo aim for stars as Marren rocks Rossies
Sligo 1-14 Roscommon 0-13
More often than not when a favourite is upset, we see the underdog limp across the finish line to victory. Sligo's win over Roscommon on Saturday never looked in doubt.
From the early minutes there was a decisiveness about them. Their game-plan was clear: Niall Carew even told the media during the week that his tactical approach would centre around his in-form forwards. Roscommon still had no answer.
John Evans' side often gave possession away, they kicked 13 wides, looked awkward in attack - nothing like the team that had cut a swathe through Division 2 on the way to a league title.
The difference that 12 months and a change of management has brought in Sligo is remarkable. The key difference was the return to full fitness of David Kelly and Adrian Marren.
Last summer was a sorry scene as the two Yeats dangermen struggled badly because of injuries, but still put their bodies on the line.
At the weekend they never gave the Roscommon defence a second's rest - Kelly had one of his best games in black on one of Gaelic football's best defenders, Seanie McDermott.
Marren was employed in a deeper role than usual, sharing the play-making duties with captain Mark Breheny, and the pair found it easy to gift-wrap deliveries into Kelly and brilliant target-man Pat Hughes.
Despite his stature, Kelly won plenty of poor ball into him as well as a high quota from decent passes, but anything else was either broken or mopped up by Hughes.
Between them the Sligo full-forward line kicked seven points from play, and their all-round game was crucial to the win.
Indeed, it will be interesting to see how Sligo's little and large inside line compares to Mayo's duo of Aidan O'Shea and Cillian O'Connor in the Connacht final.
Leading his side to that provincial decider in his first year is quite an achievement for Carew. He quickly assessed the strengths in the county and set his team up to play to that. They have real hopes of a fourth Connacht title this year.
"We have a chance, we always have a chance," said Carew. "It'll be tough going but it's great to be getting ready for a Connacht final - we had somebody at the Connacht semi-final last week just in case.
"Look, in fairness to Mayo they're in a different league to the rest of us here, they're a top three team and we'd have to step up our performance again to beat them."
To call Marren's penalty just before half-time a turning point would be incorrect - it was more like another decisive step towards victory - but it gave Sligo a five-point half-time lead they fully deserved.
It certainly looked to be a foul by Neil Collins on Neil Ewing - perhaps it was a touch soft - but Marren oozed confidence as he drilled the ball to the bottom corner to earn his side a 1-7 to 0-5 lead at the break.
"We needed that," said former Kildare selector Carew. "I had a great view. It looked like he was pulled back when he was shooting. Whether he was outside, I'm not sure, but we'll take it.
"There was a couple of decisions in the second half that I thought we would have been under pressure with but overall we're pleased with the win."
By the fifth minute the usually reliable Senan Kilbride had registered two poor wides, while the dynamic Cian Breheny had kicked Sligo ahead, and soon after Darren O'Malley had denied Kelly with a brilliant save with his feet.
That fact that two fisted points from Roscommon wing-back Ciaran Cafferky had him as his side's top scorer at the interval spoke volumes.
Over the 70 minutes they were well served by Cathal Cregg and Enda Smith up front, while the introduction of Donie Smith at the interval also had an impact. But the scores still came easier for Sligo.
Ross Donovan was his usual brilliant self at the back, but despite a couple of hairy moments, the defensive unit - featuring debutants Daniel Maye and Eoin Flanagan - were dominant, while Criostóir Davey and Ewing regularly tracked back and helped out.
Evans put Roscommon's below-par display down to a general lethargy, insisting that they had not in any way underestimated their hosts.
"When nothing goes right, nothing goes right, you are going to meet days like that and we met the whole lot them in one," said Evans.
"Still, you can't take away from Sligo's performance, they had a lot of belief, a lot of pace, they moved the ball very well and we were not clinical with our chances.
"There was a bit of slickness about their play as well, while we looked tired and cumbersome - even very experienced players like Senan Kilbride and Cathal Cregg, who got into great positions but did not capitalise.
"Definitely not (we did not underestimate them). The freshness of Sligo, the attitude they had in chasing hopeless cases that was very evident out there."
Scorers - Sligo: A Marren 1-7 (1-0 pen, 3fs), P Hughes, C Breheny, M Breheny 0-2, D Kelly 0-1. Roscommon: C Cregg 0-4, C Murtagh (2f), E Smith, C Cafferkey 0-2, I Kilbride, F Cregg (1f), N Daly 0-1.
Sligo - A Devaney 7; R Donavan 9, K McDonnell 8 , D Maye 8; E Flanagan 7, B Egan 8, K Cawley 8; C Breheny 9, N Murphy 7; C Davey 7 , M Breheny 9, N Ewing 8; D Kelly 9, P Hughes 9, A Marren 9. Subs: B Curran 7 for Davey (35 +3 BC), S Gilmartin 7 for C Breheny (62), J Hynes for Cawley (70).
Roscommon - D O'Malley 8; S McDermott 5, N Carty 5 , N Collins 5; N Daly 7, D Ward 4 , C Cafferky 7; I Kilbride 7, C Shine 7 ; E Smith 8, R Stack 5, C Cregg 9; D Murtagh 4, S Kilbride 4, C Murtagh 6. Subs: C Connolly 7 for D Murtagh (34), D Smith 7 for Stack (h-t), D Keenan 6 for Ward (42), C Compton 6 for S Kilbride (55), F Cregg 7 for C Murtagh (62), M Finneran for Shine (66 BC).
Ref - Maurice Deegan (Laois)
Game at a glance
Man of the Match: Adrian Marren (Sligo)
There were several Sligo challengers for this award, but when Marren is on form, Sligo usually win. He missed just one free, buried his penalty at a key juncture, and his all-round link play and workrate was a stand-out. Ross Donovan was the leader at the back, but Marren gave his team the vital scores.
What caused Roscommon to deliver such an abject performance? Can they resurrect their Championship hopes through the qualifiers? Can Sligo go on now to stop Mayo's drive for five?
Marren's point from play in the 23rd minute was a vital score. As Roscommon broke out of defence Ross Donovan got a strong hand in to turn over possession. The Curry man immediately kicked a long-range point which lifted Markievicz Park.
Maurice Deegan was excellent. The advantage rule was brilliantly employed - we saw a couple of scores come from it - especially to Sligo's benefit. Roscommon may feel harshly done by with the penalty call, but it looked a good shout. For once we saw a referee brave enough to flash black cards: both sides had players carded to the letter of the law. Deegan worked well with his assistants, but could have dealt more harshly with a couple of incidents.
A Connacht final awaits for Sligo against Mayo in four weeks' time. Roscommon will face a tough game in the qualifiers in a fortnight.