Superb Sligo achieve their dream goal!

Who said provincial titles count for nothing any more? You would only have to take one look at all the satisfied smiles on the Sligo supporters’ faces after the final whistle was blown at Dr. Hyde Park on Sunday last to realise what a Connacht title meant to the Yeats County.   Having being in the shadows for thirty-two long and frustrating years, Tommy Brehony’s men produced the performance of their lives to capture the Nestor Cup and cement their place in the history books as the third Sligo team to emerge as Kings of Connacht.   Sometimes it is said in football that the underdog needs that bit of luck if they are to cause an upset. Make no mistake about it, the underdogs made their own luck on Sunday as Sligo totally outclassed the tribesman with a second-half display of guile, determination and quality.    Had the signs not being ominous though? The safe money may have been on a Galway win last weekend but Sligo were never going to just surrender with a Connacht title to be won.    They were the ones with all the momentum coming into the game. A routine win over New York was followed by an exceptional victory over Roscommon in unlikely circumstances in the last round.   Galway on the other hand recorded a sluggish and somewhat fortuitous victory over Leitrim in Carrick-on-Shannon. Granted the manner of the way they disposed of a poor Mayo team was very impressive to say the least but any hopes that existed that they were capable of reproducing a performance of that magnitude were dashed in Hyde Park last Sunday as they had no answer to a gallant Sligo side.   The first half was an entertaining affair with Kieran Quinn and Mark Brehony handing the Yeats County an early two-point lead before Galway found their rhythm. Points from Ja Fallon, Derek Savage, Michael Meehan, and two from full-forward Padraig Joyce had Galway in the ascendancy 14 minutes in.   Sligo hauled themselves back into the game with a Mark Brehony free, a Johnny Davey 45 and a Brehony point from play to restore parity in the contest.    Cormac Bane restored Galway’s lead before the turning point arrived. A long ball from centre -back Michael McNamara was collected by David Kelly who in turn put Eamonn O’Hara through on goal and the Tourlestrane clubman produced a clinical finish, firing past the helpless Paul Doherty in the Galway goal. Hyde Park erupted. Game well and truly on.   John McPartland slotted a neat point moments later as the Sligo challenge gained momentum. Nicky Joyce replied for the Tribesmen and Ja Fallon further reduced the deficit with half-time looming. McPartland exchanged points with Padraig Joyce to leave just the minimum of margins between the sides at the interval.    Although holding a slender advantage at half-time, it was Sligo’s second-half display which raised quite a few eyebrows amongst the sizeable contingent in Hyde Park. Confronted by the more illustrious rivals, Sligo put in a performance like men made of steel. They bossed the game for the final thirty minutes and exposed the lack of character in this latest Galway side.   Brehony extended their lead after the resumption before Nicky Joyce replied with a fine point of his own to keep his side in touch.   But it was here that Sligo took total control of the contest. And had they made the most of their opportunities of front of goal they wouldn’t of had to wait until the very final whistle to be certain the Nestor Cup was theirs.   The teams swapped points for the remainder of the game, the pick of them coming from Sligo centre back Michael McNamara when he pointed inspirationally after racing up the fieldto join the attack in the dying moments.   There was still time for full forward Joyce to point a consolation free and after four nervous minutes of injury-time which probably seemed like an eternity to the Sligo faithful, referee Brian Crowe blow the final whistle as Sligo captured the Connacht title of 2007.   Scenes of joy and jubilation followed as fans and supporters alike swarmed onto the pitch to congratulate their heroes and celebrate a famous victory.   Next on the agenda for Sligo is a date with destiny in Croke Park in a few weeks time and a guaranteed All-Ireland quarter-final. And who knows after that? If they can reproduce the form they showed in this game then they will be very difficult to beat.   Galway on the other hand will have to go back to the drawing board. Based on this display, they are far from All-Ireland contenders.    They lack strength down the middle. Finian Hanley is still learning his trade at full-back at this level while Diarmuid Blake was substituted from the centre-back position during the game. Centrefield continues to be a concern with the unconvincing duo Joe Bergin and Niall Coleman being exposed more often than not.   Ja Fallon seems to let the game pass him by and Padraig Joyce isn’t capable of influencing a contest the way he used to. In the midst of all the uncertainties, one thing is clear. Peter Forde will have to use all his experience to pick up the pieces from this Hyde Park fall-out.  Sligo: Philip Greene; Charles Harrison, Noel McGuire, Ross Donovan; Paul McGovern, Michael McNamara (0-1), Johnny Davey (0-1, a 45); Eamon O’Hara (1-0), Kieran Quinn (0-1); Brian Curran, Brendan Egan, Sean Davey; David Kelly, Mark Brehony (0-4, 3 frees), John McPartland (0-2). Subs: Kenneth Sweeney (0-1) for Brendan Egan (49 mins.), Pauric Doohan for Eamonn O’Hara (50 mins.), Adrian Marron for David Kelly (64 mins.), Brendan Phillips for Michael McNamara (70 mins.). Galway: Paul Doherty; Kieran Fitzgerald, Finian Hanley, Damien Burke; Michael Comer, Diarmuid Blake, Declan Meehan; Joe Bergin, Niall Coleman; Derek Savage (0-1), Ja Fallon (0-2), Nicholas Joyce (0-2, 1 free); Michael Meehan (0-1), Padraig Joyce (0-5, 4 fress), Cormack Bane (0-1). Substitutions: Sean Armstrong for Cormack Bane (45 mins.), Barry Cullinane for Michael Meehan (48 mins.), Niall Coyne for Diarmuid Blake (58 mins.), Matthew Clancy for Niall Coleman (64 mins.), Paul Geraghty for Derek Savage (69 mins.). Booked: Damien Burke (16 mins.); Joe Bergin (65 mins.). Referee: Brian Crowe (Cavan).    Match at a glance Man of the match: There were a number of contenders for this award on the Sligo team. Kieran Quinn put in a vintage display in  midfield and while all the backs were excellent throughout, it is Ross Donovan who gets the vote. The Eastern Harps clubman put in an outstanding performance at corner-back making one crucial intervention in the dying moments when Galway were trying to force an equaliser.  Weather: Not ideal for football. Heavy showers made footing very difficult. Crowd: 21,000 approximately. The atmosphere was very good inside the ground with the Sligo crowd generating most noise. Entertainment value: The game was entertaining throughout. The close-knit nature of the tie meant you could not take your eyes of it until the final whistle. Referee: Brian Crowe of Cavan enjoyed a very good game. He used commonsense throughout and let the game flow as much as he could. Wides: Sligo 10 Galway 7 Yellow cards: Sligo none. Galway 2 (Diarmuid Blake, Joe Bergin)           Minors down – but not out  Seamus Duke ESB Connacht Minor Final Galway         2-7 Roscommon 0-9 Roscommon lost their Connacht and All-Ireland ESB minor football championship titles in controversial circumstances in Hyde Park last Sunday when Galway had four points to spare over Fergal O’Donnell’s men.    The result means that Roscommon will now play against the winners of the Leinster final between Carlow and Laois next Sunday, in the All-Ireland quarter-final in four weeks time.   However behind the scoreline of this game  lies a story of missed chances, incredible tension and a very, very disappointing refereeing display by Mayo man Declan Corcoran who made several very strange decisions over the hour – not least the hugely controversial sending off of Roscommon  captain Paul Garvey 14 minutes into the second half at a stage when Roscommon were leading by a point.   In fact even at this remove it is still not certain what this sending off was for as the referee was called by the linesman who sent off the Roscommon captain (on a second yellow card) – and there are even some theories that it may even have been a case of mistaken identity! Either way it was a massive blow to Roscommon and their chances of retaining their title were all but gone after that.   It must however be acknowledged that Roscommon did not play well in this stop-start final, a game that never really got going. The defence played really well against a very talented Galway attack but up front Roscommon missed a number of chances and the usual free flow of ball towards the full-forward line was absent on the day.   The conditions were difficult for the game and several heavy rain showers fell during the hour’s play. The tackling was ferocious but there was little free-flowing football as both sides knew that any mistakes could be fatal.    It was five minutes before we had a score and it was a good one two as Alan O’Hara pointed from 20 metres after good work from James McKeague and Paul Garvey. A minute later Roscommon grabbed another excellent point when Kevin Higgins turned and shot over from 35 metres.   The play was tough and scrappy and was not helped by a poor referee who handed out yellow cards like snuff at a wake. There was no need for half of them in such slippy conditions as there was very little dirty play from either side.   Galway were struggling up front when they were handed a lifeline in the 11th minute. Centre half-forward Tommy Walsh made a good run into the Roscommon defence but he was sent sprawling into the penalty area and referee Corcoran promptly awarded a penalty, which Michael Martyn dispatched with consummate ease past Darren O’Malley.   Scores were at a premium though as both defences were on top but an 11-minute barren spell was broken when Donie Shine grabbed an excellemt point from 30 metres in the 22nd minute and 4 minutes later Shine was on target with a brilliantly struck ’45. However there was never going to be much between the sides in this final and it was Galway who struck for three vital points in the final four minutes of the first half.   Paul Conroy, Eoin O’Mahoney and Martyn were all on target to leave the Galwaymen 1-3 to 0-4 ahead at half-time.   Roscommon came out like tigers on the restart and played their best football of the game. James McKeague was again brilliant  at centre half-back and the scores began to flow. After 4 minutes Kevin Brady kicked a peach of a point and 5 minutes later Darren McDermott was on target with a 13-metre free.   The exchanges were tough but fair and Galway’s aggressive approach meant that every ball was fought for with great intensity. Donie Shine kicked another great free in the 11th minute to give Roscommon the lead and when McDermott landed a super point from play in the 13th minute of the second half the huge Roscommon support were in full voice. However it all went wrong from there.    O’Mahoney kicked a mighty Galway point to narrow the gap to one and the the supporters, players and officials looked on in amazement as referee Corcoran then showed Roscommon captain Paul Garvey the red card in the 14th minute. There were at least 100 people in the press box and no-one I spoke to could say or see why he was sent off. It was to prove a mortal blow for Roscommon. A minute later Martyn tied up the scores and Roscommon were now under pressure.   Galway full-forward Joe Greaney fisted a point to put them ahead and in the 25th  minute Damien Reddington kicked a vital score from play to put the Tribesmen two in front with five to play.   Roscommon had chances but too often their kicks were blocked down or a player was caught in possession as the deficit in numbers up front began to tell. Alan O’Hara kicked a great Roscommon point in the 28th minute to narrow the gap to just one but as the Roscommon crowd roared on their side to try for an equalisier it just wouldn’t come.   The final nail was cruelly hammered into the Roscommon coffin and with the last play of the game Galway swept the ball downfield and Martyn was on hand to crash the ball home for Galway’s second goal in the 3rd minute of injury-time.   It was a score that flattered Galway on the day and in truth a draw would have been a fair result because despite Roscommon not playing well they were still as good as Galway on the day.   The Roscommon defence were fantastic. Neil Collins and Paul O’Grady were excellent in the full-back line while James McKeague was again a colossus at centre half-back and was  Roscommon’s best player.    Colm O’Neill and Kevin Higgins worked really hard at midfield and both suffered really hard knocks during the game and both soldiered on bravely.   Up front Roscommon were disappointing.  Donie Shine kicked some mighty frees but was clearly not match-fit. Alan O’Hara and Darren McDermott were the pick of the bunch but it was not Roscommon’s day in that sector.    For Galway Colin Forde did well at full-back. Paul Conroy was the pick of the midfielders while up front Michael Martyn was scorer-in-chief and he was helped most by Eoin O’Mahoney and Damien Reddington.   It had to happen some day that Roscommon minors would have an off-day – a day when  everything they tried wouldn’t work on and off the field.    After nine championship games in a row when it all went right Sunday was the day when it came unstuck. That’s the way sport goes but Roscommon are not out of the reckoning yet. They have four weeks to prepare for an All-Ireland quarter-final and if Donie Shine and Niall Carty can get fully fit they will be a match for anyone. Down we may be – but certainly not out.  Galway: Eoin Higgins; Keith Kelly, Colin Forde, Eanna Glynn; Tom Fahy, Damien Reilly, Conor Doherty; Jason Devane, Paul Conroy (0-1); Michael Martyn (2-2, 1-1 frees), Tommy Walsh, Eoin O’Mahoney (0-2); Jonathan Ryan, Joe Greaney (0-1), Damien Reddington (0-1). Subs: Anthony Griffin for Devane (blood);  Devane for Griffin; Martin Cody for Walsh.  Roscommon: Darren O’Malley; Conor Boylan, Neil Collins, Paul O’Grady; Darragh Lennon, James McKeague, Eamonn Bannon; Colm O’Neill, Kevin Higgins (0-1); Paul Garvey, Donal Shine (0-3, 1 45, 1 free), Kevin Brady (0-1); Alan O’Hara (0-2), Kevin Cummins, Darren McDermott (0-2). Subs: Niall Carty for Lennon, Niall Brogan for Boylan, Alan Duffy for Brady, Leon O’Connor for Cummins. Referee: Declan Corcoran (Mayo) Match at a glance