Friday 23 August 2019

Sligo and Antrim defy odds on day of shocks

Antrim’s Dermot McAleese celebrates scoring his side’s crucial second goal in Portlaoise yesterday
Antrim’s Dermot McAleese celebrates scoring his side’s crucial second goal in Portlaoise yesterday
Sligo players Eoin Flanagan and Cian Brehony celebrate last night

John Greene

It took seven weeks, but then two came along at once as Antrim and Sligo caused the first shocks of this year's football championship.

Antrim became the first team to beat a side from a higher division when they stunned Laois in round 1A of the Qualifiers in Portlaoise yesterday afternoon.

And last night, Roscommon were sensationally dumped out of the Connacht championship 1-14 to 0-13 by Sligo at Markievicz Park. It was Sligo's first win in the province in three years.

Having secured promotion to Division One of the League, Roscommon were widely viewed as the main challengers in Connacht to Mayo's dominance but Niall Carew's side had other ideas.

Adrian Marren's expertly finished penalty just before half-time gave Sligo a well deserved five-point lead at the break, and a combination of poor shooting by the visitors and tenacious defending by a well-marshalled defence meant Roscommon could never manage to close the gap.

Man of the match Marren, who scored 1-7, said he was always confident that Sligo could pull off an upset, although he admitted that there were times in recent years when he feared the good days would not return for Sligo.

"We knew we were the underdogs, but the 11-week break probably suited us a bit more, it enabled us to work on our game-plan.

"We had had one or two barren years, but Niall Carew and his back-room team came in this year, and they brought a freshness to the team, a new belief. The talent was always there - we just needed to work harder, and today we did," said Marren.

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Manager Carew added: "I wouldn't say it was an upset - we felt we were as good as Roscommon, despite their success this year."

Earlier in the day, Antrim were eight points down early in the second half and with 10 minutes to go still trailed by 1-16 to 1-12 after a Ryan Murray goal midway through the half had given them some hope of a fightback.

Laois just had no answer in the closing minutes as Antrim hit 1-3 without reply, including a crucial goal from substitute Dermot McAleese in the 68th minute, to win by 2-15 to 1-16.

Manager Frank Fitzsimons dramatically dropped Connor Burke, and the McGourty brothers, CJ and Kieran, before the throw-in after they lined out for their club St Gall's in an Antrim senior hurling league match on Friday night.

"We've a panel of 30 and to be fair to the rest of the panel I had to pick fresh players and thankfully for us, it worked out," he said.

He added: "The next day we go out, they will probably be on. You wouldn't know. They are part of the plans.

"The boys just dug in deep and were absolutely fantastic in the second half."

Joining Antrim in tomorrow morning's round 2 Qualifier draw are Offaly, Cavan and Longford, who recorded easy wins over Waterford, London and Carlow respectively.

Galway cruised into another Leinster hurling final, where they await the winners of today's second semi-final between Kilkenny and Wexford in Nowlan Park.

In a ruthless display, Galway showed no mercy to Laois in a 20-point mauling. Joe Canning scored 1-15, 1-4 from play.

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