Updated: 16/07/12 : 05:20:50
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Seesaw struggle as Sligo yields to Mayo middle supremacy

Mayo 0-12
Sligo 0-10


A special report


FOOTBALL SAGES were looking back to the 1920s to see when the same squad of Sligo players contested three Connacht Finals inside the space of five years.

The same trawl of history shows that Sligo have won just three Connacht GAA Senior Football titles in total - 1928, 1975 and 2007.

This weekend past there were were high hopes, even going in as outsiders against defending Connacht Champions Mayo, that the disappointment of losing so late to Roscommon in the 2010 Final would be erased.

Those hopes were even higher at half time in Hyde Park Roscommon yesterday (Sunday) when Sligo led by two points, 0-5 to 0-3. Celebrations looked on the cards; the JJ Nestor Cup might even make it to Tubber by teatime.

Sligo also scored five points in the second half but they were eventually out manouevred by Mayo - who turned the interval deficit around and themselves had two points to spare at the end.

It can be argued that one of those winning points, from Colm Boyle, was not a point at all. The umpires were poorly positioned to call it. Equally, Mayo could argue there was little wrong with their disallowed goal in the ninth minute of the first half and there was a doubt, or two, on a Mayo ball waved wide by the umpires in that first period.

In the final analysis, none of that mattered. The decisive tussle in this 2012 Connacht Final was at centre field and Mayo won. In a seesaw struggle  which saw the sides level on five occasions, Sligo only finally yielded the fight in the final five minutes. Sligo led the game for 29 minutes and were level on four other occasions.
Football is like a version of war; control the 'supply lines' and you can reasonably predict the most probable outcome. So it was, but it must be said that these red hot favourites in the famed 'green and red' of Mayo stuttered over the finishing line with little of their usual flourish on show.


Rack Up


There was nothing predictable in this match - it took nine separate Mayo players to rack up the twelve points which which secured that stuttered victory.

The most fluent forward player on view was Sligo's Adrian Marren but he faded in the second half as supply dried and David Kelly diminished from the game.
The acres of space at Hyde Park seemed to sap Alan Costello and after a promising start with spectacular long range scores he was withdrawn.

Barry Moran gave Mayo the winning edge in the middle third all through the game. In the final half hour he got a ''rocket booster'' from Aidan O'Shea, whose towering size belies his mobility and speed. The advantage of his strength and height are never questioned by anybody.

O'Shea can be as mightily inconsistent as he can be mightily impressive. He put in a good shift for Mayo yesterday. That was further underlined in four of the last five scores coming from Mayo, including a point from O'Shea himself as the Final seesawed one way, then the other.

On the other hand, Sligo replaced both its centre field starters during the game, Tony Taylor with Eugene Mullen but it was 37 year old veteran Eamon O'Hara who replaced Geevagh's Shane McManus, showed what the sinews of war must look like when facing Mayo, who were chasing their 43rd Connacht title.

Even off the field, O'Hara looked the part of the warrior, blood streaming his face as doctors worked frantically to repair him on the sidelines at one stage shortly after his introduction.

The bitter irony for Sligo is that their team is managed meticulously by an All Ireland winning centre field giant, Kevin Walsh of Galway. Walsh drains the best possible wine from limited resources in Sligo club football.

Best Memories

The two best memories of this game both come from captain Ross Donovan of Eastern Harps. He evoked the spirit of 1970s Sligo All Star Barnes Murphy in his prime, first in the 23rd minute with a shoulder charge that momentarily moved the clock forward to Monday for his Mayo opponent and then Donovan showed masterful skill and will-to-win in the 26th minute with a full length diving block, such a common feature of the best Northern teams in the past decade.

The match overall ranged between mediocre and middling fare. The full time whistle came as Sligo rucked, rugby style, looked for a late ticket to the Promise Land. A lot done and more to do, as the summary of another era once suggested.

Damn near everybody they were expecting for this Connacht Final turned up in Roscommon, too, yesterday - the official attendance was a very healthy 23,257.

Strong Breeze

In early stages Sligo put its first four possessions into the hands of Mayo defenders or drove them wide as they tested the advantage of playing with the wind towards the 'graveyard' goal in the Roscommon venue. It seemed wasteful one or twice too often, especially in the enforced late absence of Pat Hughes with a hamstring injury.

Mayo opened the scoring after three minutes through Danny Geraghty.

Alan Costello, a Mayo man playing with Sligo, scored a superb drop kick opening point from a free 60 yards out in the fifth minute. He tried the same drop shot in the 10th minute but, aided by a strong breeze, his effort drifted just wide.

In the ninth minute Mayo had a goal disallowed when Cillian O'Connor's swift hand pass to set up Andy Moran was deemed to be illegal.

Sligo Ahead

Sligo went ahead in the 15th minute when Mark Breheny pointed a free on the right after Adrian Marren had been fouled.

In the 16th minute Marren, on the left this time, released David Kelly and the Tubbercurry man made no mistake, even under pressure.

Easily Sligo's best player, Marren stretched Sligo's lead in the 20th minute when he took a pass from Paul McGovern on the right and hit the ball beautifully with the inside of his boot.

Sligo led 0-4 to 0-1 after the first 20 minutes and, crucially, Adrian Marren was showing the sort of form which had swept Galway aside in the semi final. He switched wings with ease.

Enda Varley pulled a point back in the 24th minute after a soft free kick gave Mayo its first score in, hard to believe, 21 minutes of play.

David Maye and Mark Breheny each picked up a yellow card in the 26th and 27th minute.

In the 31st minute, Marren went on to score after Barry Egan had been fouled. Sligo now led by 0-5 to 0-3.

Johnny Martin made a timely interception in the 32nd minute as Barry Moran prepared to pull the trigger on a certain score for Mayo.

Alan Dillon scored a point for Mayo in the 33rd minute while two minutes into injury time Mark Breheny drove a scorable Sligo free wide.

First Blood

Andy Moran drew first blood Mayo in the second half with a point in the 37th minute.

In the 38th minute the best score of the game saw Sligo move the ball three-quarters of the field with the fluency and speed which usually marks out victors from also-rans. A composed build-up saw Ewing send Maye on his way, he released to Costello who found Breheny, who scored. Game back on.

Lee Keegan was booked for Mayo shortly before they introduced Aidan O'Shea in the 41st minute.

Cillian O'Connor reduced the margin to the minimum for Mayo with a free in the 43rd minute and the sides were level when Barry Moran pointed in the 44th minute.

Sligo were back in front when Adrian Marren converted a free on for a foul on himself in the 46th minute.

The game saw a double substitution in the 47th minute, with Eamon O'Hara coming in for Sligo in place of McManus, and Mayo replacing Varley with Conroy.

The sides were level for the third time when Alan Dillon took his second point of the day. 0-7 to 0-7.

Ding-Dong Phase

The struggle entered its real ding-dong phase at this point. David Maye pointed in the 51st minute, with a superbly struck '45,' won after an Eamon O'Hara knock down at centre field had set Mark Breheny for a hopeful shot.

Eamon O'Hara was booked with Mayo's Barry Moran after an off-the-ball show of handbags left the Sligo player bloodied and he had to leave field for some minutes.

The sides were level for the fourth time when Cillian O'Connor pointed in the 53rd minute.

All the omens seemed to be stacking up for Sligo when David Maye flighted a 50 yards free over the bar after Barry Egan had been fouled.

The sides were level for the fifth time with 11 minutes left when Aidan O'Shea pointed in the 59th minute. 0-9 to 0-9.

Sligo introduced Eugene Mullen -- an earlier blood sub -- for Tony Taylor in the 59th minute. In the 60th minute David Kelly was booked when it seemed he was the one who had been fouled.

The rain arrived in the 63rd minute and within two minutes Mayo were suddenly two points ahead, a point by Colm Boyle -- was it a point? -- was followed by a '45' from Cillian O'Connor, showing glimpses of the form which made him Man of the Match in last year's Connacht Final.

Johnny Davey was introduced in the 65th minute and in the 67th minute Mark Breheny took Sligo's tenth and final point of the day.

Sligo trailed by one point, 0-11 to 0-12, with three minutes left. The game moved out of their reach when Mayo sub Lee Keegan raided from wing back and scored the game's final point.

Mayo had 12 points to show but with 13 wides they have a lot of work to do before their All Ireland quarter final in August. Their best consolation will be that they took four of the game's last five scores.

Surging Runs

The Sligo game plan in the tiring closing stages, just as the title moved away from them, was crying out for Johnny Davey and his trademark surging runs which draw fouls. We got too little of him too late. Barry Moran, who had just been named TV3s Man of the Match, upended Davey almost on time.
For his troubles, Moran got a second yellow followed by a red. He might easily have got a red but it would have been unfair to the man who, more than any other, denied Sligo the taste of success yesterday afternoon.

In the race for Sam, Sligo remain where they were on Sunday morning - ie in the final 12 in Ireland. It's a fine achievement, when teams like Wexford and Longford from their own Division 3 League status both lost out at the weekend.

Sligo's next game will be in the final week of July when they face one of the winners from the four fixtures drawn on RTE's Morning Ireland this morning (Monday); those four matches to be played next weekend.

Scorers:

Sligo: Adrian Marren 0-3 (2 frees); David Maye (1 free, 1 ’45), Alan Costello (2 free), Mark Breheny (1 free) all 0-2 each, David Kelly 0-1;

Mayo: Cillian O’Connor 0-3 (2 free, 1 ’45); Alan Dillon 0-2; A Moran, Barry Moran, Lee Keegan, C Boyle, Aidan O’Shea, D Geraghty, Enda Varley (free) all 0-1 each.

SLIGO: Philp Greene, Neil Ewing, Johnny Martyn, Ross Donovan, Charlie Harrison, Mark Quinn, Philip McGovern, Shane McManus, Tony Taylor, Alan Costello, David Maye, Barry Egan, Mark Breheny, Adrian Marren, David Kelly.

Subs: Eamonn O’Hara for McManus, Eugene Mullen for Taylor, Stephen Coen for Costello, Johnny Davey for McGovern, David Rooney for Quinn.

MAYO: David Clarke, Kevin Keane, Ger Cafferkey, Keith Higgins, Lee Keegan, Donal Vaughan, Colm Boyle, Barry Moran, Danny Geraghty, Kevin McLoughlin, Cillian O’Connor, Alan Dillon, Enda Varley, Andy Moran, Jason Doherty.

Subs: Aidan O’Shea for Geraghty, Michael Conroy for Varley, A Freeman for Doherty,


Referee: Cormac Reilly (Meath).

LATEST: Sligo have been drawn to meet the winners of Kildare versus Limerick. The draw was made live on RTEs Morning Ireland just after 8.30am today.

Sligo famously recorded a one point win over Kildare in 2001 in the qualifiers at Croke Park.