Sligo’s ruthless wake-up call

Connacht SFC semi-final: Sligo 1-14 Roscommon 0-13


Roscommon’s bid to win this season’s Connacht title was emphatically derailed last Saturday evening in Markievicz Park, Sligo as the home side caused one of the shocks of the 2015 championship, defeating the visitors by a four-point margin.

  Arising from eye-catching back-to-back league promotions, John Evans’ (now) Division One charges were viewed as firm favourites to book their place in the provincial final, but a determined and clinical Sligo side tore that script to shreds with their most impressive display in recent times.

  Talk of Roscommon being potential All-Ireland quarter-finalists – with even the outside prospect of a place in the last four touted in some quarters – looks somewhat fanciful just now, and the Division 2 league champions have a lot of soul-searching to do in the run-up to their game against Cavan in the qualifiers.

  The result may have caused mini-shock waves throughout the country, but this was an ambush that was expertly orchestrated by a tactical masterclass from Niall Carew’s management team which rightly anticipated they could catch Roscommon cold.

  Quite simply, Roscommon couldn’t find the answers to the questions which Sligo posed, and their below-par performance once again proved that the favourite’s tag sits uncomfortably with them. There is no doubt that Roscommon took their eye off the ball with a potential tilt at the Connacht title against Mayo in the back of their minds. The drive, passion and desire needed to get over this semi-final hurdle was nowhere to be seen. As poor as Roscommon were, Sligo deserve great credit for this win.

  The foundations for their success were laid by their rampant full-forward line trio of Adrian Marren, David Kelly and Pat Hughes, who accounted for 1-10 of their overall 1-14 tally. The trio tormented and exposed a Roscommon full-back line which had hitherto been hailed as the most established and reliable line in the team.

  The tactic of deploying Marren in a much deeper role in the opening half created space for colleagues Hughes and Kelly, who proved to be a major thorn in the Roscommon defence’s side throughout. The inside duo were the primary ball-winners, procuring many scores, while Marren provided a touch of class with his excellent marksmanhip which yielded a personal tally of 1-7.

  Their decision to implement a short kick-out system also threw Roscommon as Sligo built from the back with a patient approach, before unleashing direct ball into their industrious and explosive full-forward line. One would have to question the psychological preparation of the Roscommon team following this disappointing defeat.

  Sligo were the hungrier side throughout, and Roscommon failed to match their superior levels of intensity and passion. From as early as the opening minute when Cian Breheny capped a brilliant sweeping move to register their first score, one could sense that Sligo’s tails were up, and they were primed for the heat of the battle.

  And yet a lethargic Roscommon side could have still rescued the game during the third quarter when three goal chances went abegging. If any of those efforts from Donie and Enda Smith or Cian Connolly had found the target, the entire complexion of the game would have changed.

  Some may say that Sligo rode their luck at times during a frantic second half, but they made their own luck on this occasion, and were full value for their win. Now facing a trip to Cavan on Saturday week in the qualifiers, John Evans’ team’s season is in danger of imploding entirely. Pressure is now mounting on the Kerry native, with former Roscommon player and current RTE analyst Shane Curran calling for the manager’s head in the wake of this championship defeat. Roscommon now have to go back to the drawing board.

  A defeat on Saturday week would threaten to undo all the positive progress which Roscommon have made in recent times, and in all probability bring an end to John Evans’ time in charge. What a crunch game this will be for the Rossies.