Sunday 21 July 2019

About time Lady Luck gave Sligo the time of day

Eamonn Sweeney

Eamonn Sweeney

THERE is a saying that good teams make their own luck. Perhaps. But sometimes it seems that the teams which benefit from good fortune are the ones which don't really need it. Counties that need a leg-up tend to find that Lady Luck can't come to the phone when they call. For over a century she's been washing her hair when Sligo have suggested a date.

This isn't just small county paranoia. Sligo footballers through the ages genuinely seem to have been afflicted by some kind of curse, perhaps inflicted by one of WB Yeats' occult friends in response to some slight by the local populace.

A certain bitterness afflicts me, for example, when I think of the 1922 championship when Sligo, for the only time in their history, beat Roscommon, Mayo and Galway to win the Connacht title. They followed this up by defeating Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final. But the likes of Nicky Devine, Click Brennan and Paddy Colleran never got to play in the All-Ireland final.

What is described in the marvellous Sligo Centenary History by John McTernan as, "a flimsy technicality" led the Connacht Council to order a replay of the provincial final against Galway. Pulled back into the Connacht racket and short three of their star players, Sligo lost and have still to appear in an All-Ireland.

Just how flimsy the technicalities were back in those days becomes obvious when you look at 1926. Sligo had qualified for the National League final when they were ordered to replay their semi-final against Laois on the grounds that a player's name had been spelt wrong. Once more it was second time unlucky for Sligo. When this group of players won the county's first Connacht title in 1928 there can have been few more deserving champions.

Forward to 1954 and a Sligo team which included such legends as Nace O'Dowd, Frank White and Mick Gaffney reached the Connacht final against a Seán Purcell-inspired Galway in Tuam. Trailing by 1-10 to 0-1 at half-time, Sligo rallied in the second half and were 2-10 to 3-4 down when they scored an equalising goal in the last minute. That would have earned Sligo a home replay. Instead the goal was mysteriously disallowed. "I could have cried in Tuam on Sunday," wrote the Sligo Champion's sportswriter Joe Jennings.

The fates have found myriad ways to trip Sligo up. In 1962 we led almost all the way against Roscommon. But first Mickey Kearins had to go off injured followed by three of his team-mates. Centre half-forward Cathal Cawley bravely soldiered on as a limping passenger. After all this Sligo led by two points and forced a 50 in the last minute. The kick was spectacularly botched and Roscommon broke all the way up field for a winning goal. They went on to reach the All-Ireland final. "One of the great football tragedies in Connacht," says McTernan.

Sometimes we've sabotaged ourselves. With Sligo seven points clear against All-Ireland champions Galway in the 1965 Connacht final, McTernan tells us that when midfielder Bill Shannon, "was mysteriously sent to the full-forward spot the entire team lost momentum". Galway came back to win 1-12 to 2-6 and win a second All-Ireland. Between mystery, tragedy, tears and technicalities, somebody up there definitely has it in for Sligo.

It's still happening. In 2002 Sligo were not alone denied a last-minute penalty in the All-Ireland quarter-final against Armagh but were placed in the position of needing a goal rather than a point by an umpire who had bizarrely awarded the Ulster champions a point even though our 'keeper had fielded the ball. And last year against Westmeath we were banjaxed by a referee who sent Eamon O'Hara off after mistaking him for Seán Davey. Two more sending offs followed, and a last minute Westmeath goal for maximum heartbreak.

Perhaps today all this bad luck will change and in one huge act of cosmic karma, bounces, breaks and refereeing decisions will all go the way of the underdogs. But I don't really believe that. How can I?

I'm from Sligo.

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