Monday 21 October 2019

Hand praises young Yeats men as supersub Prior secures glory

Sligo 2-14 Armagh 2-13

Sligo’s 19-year-old captain James Weir lifts the Nicky Rackard Cup. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Sligo’s 19-year-old captain James Weir lifts the Nicky Rackard Cup. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Darragh Cox

Nineteen-year-old Kieran Prior was the Sligo hero at Croke Park on Saturday, as he came off the bench to score the winning point in injury-time to secure back-to-back national titles for the Yeats men.

Just 12 months after winning the Lory Meagher Cup for the first time, Daithí Hand's men returned to headquarters to inflict further Rackard heartache on an Armagh side that has now lost four of the last five finals.

It could have been so different for the Orchard County as they led by four points after 70 minutes, but when referee James Connors signalled for five minutes of additional time, and Connor Griffin scored a crucial point, Sligo summoned a last-gasp attack.

Scrambled

Dual player Gerard O'Kelly-Lynch drew them level when he scrambled home from close range after Kevin Gilmartin's surge.

And, despite seeing his initial effort blocked, Prior made no mistake from his second shot, which meant another 19-year-old - corner-back James Weir - got to lift the trophy.

Rory McHugh of Sligo in action against Davy Bridges of Armagh. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Rory McHugh of Sligo in action against Davy Bridges of Armagh. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

It's a remarkable record for Monaghan native Hand who, at 34, is one of the youngest senior inter-county managers in the country.

He said: "We did it with lads that are 18 and 19. Most of the group is under 22, complemented by three or four real leaders that are in their 30s.

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"I never dreamed I would be managing a team in Croke Park, but it is an absolute privilege to be working with this bunch of lads.

"You have to give young people a chance, and that applies to all walks of life.

Tony O'Kelly Lynch of Sligo in action against Patrick Quinn of Armagh. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Tony O'Kelly Lynch of Sligo in action against Patrick Quinn of Armagh. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

"Four of our six starting backs today were under 19, another one is just 21. It's all about trusting these young lads and making them believe in themselves that they can do it."

It means Sligo will compete in the Christy Ring Cup for the first time next year, with the likes of Offaly now potential opponents.

Hand feels they can be competitive.

"We will need support and we will need financial backing. We will need to work together as a unit in the county, but the talent is there for us to keep progressing."

SCORERS - Sligo: K Raymond 0-8 (8f); G O'Kelly-Lynch 2-1; R Cox, S Crowley, C Griffin, K Prior, J Starr 0-1 each. Armagh: D Gaffney 0-6 (6f); D Magee 2-0, E McGuinness, N Curry 0-2 each; S Doherty (1f), D McKenna, P Quinn 0-1 each.

SLIGO - M Burke; J Weir, N Feehily, K O'Kennedy; K Banks, L Reidy, R McHugh; R Cox, J Starr; T O'Kelly-Lynch, C Griffin, G O'Kelly-Lynch; G Cadden, K Raymond, K Gilmartin. Subs: S Crowley for T O'Kelly-Lynch (ht), M Gordon for O'Kennedy (47), K Prior for Cadden (58).

ARMAGH - S Doherty; C Rice, O McCann, P Quinn; D Bridges, C Clifford, P McGrane; O Curry, T Nevin; S Toal, E McGuinness, D Gaffney; S Renaghan, D McKenna, D Magee. Subs: N Curry for McCann (19), J O'Connor for Toal (56).

REF - J Connors (Donegal).

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