Sligo just come up short in Tailteann Cup semi-final

Cavan 0-20 Sligo 1-14

Gerard Smith of Cavan in action against Nathan Mullen, left, Luke Towey of Sligo during the Tailteann Cup Semi-Final match between Sligo and Cavan at Croke Park in Dublin. Pic: George Tewkesbury/Sportsfile

Gerry McLaughlinSligo Champion

They died with their boots on, and showed that the spirit of resistance burns brightly in the county of William Butler Yeats.

For, Sligo showed loads of that utter refusal to bend the knee- in a memorable display that had shades of those towering Sligo legends of 2002 when those boys lit up that scorching summer and teetered on the edge of greatness.

Twenty years on nobody outside of the squad gave Tony McEntee’s boys in black a chance against an all-conquering Cavan side and it looked very dark when Cavan ambled into a 0-6 to 0-0 lead by the 14th minute.

In the end, inexperience undone them, but time can be a swift cure for this condition as they missed two great goaling chances in either half.

Twelve of this team are 25 or under,-but they showed true mature grit and grace by clawing their way back into contention thanks to a marvellously executed penalty from Pat O’Connor- the lithe and lean St Farnan’s man belying his youth.

Sligo went on to create 18 chances in this half and only converted four which is a telling statistic.

And they were just never quite able to bridge that precious few points gap.

For, big Gearóid McKiernan came to the favourite’s’ rescue time and time again with calming scores just when his county needed them most and that is the classical definition of leadership.

But Sligo should be proud of the way they made this into an epic old -style end to end contest and sweepers were mercifully as scarce as tickets for an All-Ireland final.

Both sides went for the jugular resulting in a richly entertaining affair played before a big and most vocal Sligo crowd who cheered Niall Murphy to the rafters when he came on at half time and almost won the match single-handedly.

It also marked the final match of Sligo’s Pat Hughes as team boss Tony McEntee paid an emotional tribute to the genial Geevagh giant.

And despite defeat this match was the day that this young Sligo team showed that they are a rising force that they will be even stronger next year with a promising U-20 squad to pick from.

The game began ominously enough with Cavan’s giant icon McKiernan and late sub Stephen Smith combined well to set up veteran Martin Reilly for the opening score in the 1st minute.

Ten seconds later Breffni midfielder James Smith made it 0-2 to 0-0 as youthful Sligo looked tentative and nervous.

Sligo were like a dentist patiently probing for a weak cavity, but it was Cavan who were the more clinical as midfielder Thomas Galligan put the wind-assisted and hot favourites ahead by three.

Sligo were slowly settling into it but the old bugbear of failing to convert scoring chances began with three wides on the trot, three shots into the keeper’s hands and one effort unluckily coming back off the post.

Doubt was seeping into this young team like damp in old walls as Oisin Kernan and Conor Brady, who hit a mammoth point to put Cavan into a 0-6 to 0-0 lead by the 14th minute.

And then we heard the Sligo roar when Kerry man Pat Spillane finally got the Yeats County off the mark as great Sligo support outnumbered that of their famed opponents.

That was the start of fifteen minutes of exciting Sligo attacks as they took by Cavan by the throat, created 18 scorable chances over the first 35 minutes-missed two great goaling chances and ended up with just four scores.

And then magic for Sligo when team captain superbly set up Luke Towey who was bearing down on the Cavan goal-only to be hauled down by Gerard Smith.

Pat O’Connor had ice in the veins as he calmly sent the Cavan keeper Raymond Galligan the wrong way with a low graceful shot that old timers would describe as a daisy cutter and at last it was….game on.

Sligo were buzzing and Pat Hughes sent over a beauty with the outside of his boot to make it 0-7 to 1-2.

The Yeats County had found their mojo but could only manage another point from Darragh Cummins as Cavan hit four more points to go in ahead at the break by 0-11 to 1-3.

O’Connor had a chance to level matters but went for a goal when a point would have sufficed.

But Devaney brilliantly came to Sligo’s’ rescue when he superbly saved from McKiernan just before half time and that was real life support.

Sligo threw on the talismanic Niall Murphy for Hughes and the classy Coolera/Strandhill made an immediate impact hitting five well taken points.

The tempo rose in the second half as both sides tried to outscore each other-just how real Gaelic football was played.

Cavan hit four early wides in the second half as Sligo crept back to a two- point lead and we wondered if Lady Luck was wearing a black mini skirt.

But despite several attacks Sligo could not get the goal that they really needed to win this wonderful contest.

O’Connor had a great chance with Murphy in the clear, but his shot was smothered.

With seven minutes to go Cavan were only ahead by 0-17 to 1-12.

This was the time for Sligo to put their boot firmly on Cavan’s throat-instead it was the inevitable McKiernan punched over yet another crucial point for the winners in a half with fine scores from Cavan’s Smith brothers and mainly Murphy for Sligo.

There were six minutes of injury time and Sligo fought like dogs to pull of what would have been a fabulous victory as Sean Carrabine really excelled.

Sadly, it did not quite happen-but these boys have time on their side and they played with great passion and pride in the black jersey.

You could not ask for more.

Cavan: Raymond Galligan; Jason McLoughlin, Padraig Faulkner, Killian Brady (0-1); Ciaran Brady, Killian Clarke (0-2) Conor Brady (0-1); Thomas Galligan (0-1), James Smith (0-2); Oisin Kiernan (0-1) Gearóid McKiernan (0-41ff) Gerard Smith (0-3); Martin Reilly (0-1) Paddy Lynch (0-1), Stephen Smith (0-1) Subs; Cian Madden (0-2) for Martin Reilly (30), Oisin Brady for Stephen Smith (56), Conor Moynagh for Killian Brady (67), Luke Fortune for Ciaran Brady (66), Chris Conroy for Paddy Lynch (73)

Sligo: Aidan Devaney; Nathan Mullen,, Evan Lyons, Paul McNamara; Luke Towey, Darragh Cummins (0-1) Paul Kilcoyne; Peter Laffey, Pat Spillane (0-2); Mikey Gordon, Alan Reilly (0-1) Keelan Cawley; Sean Carrabine (0-32f), Pat Hughes (0-1) Patrick O’Connor (1-1,pen). Subs; Niall Murphy (0-5,1mark) for Pat Hughes (h-time), Mark Walsh for Keelan Cawley (52), David Quinn for Darragh Cummins (62) Conor Griffin for Peter Laffey (62). Donal Conlon for Pat Spillane (68)


Fergal Kelly (Longford)

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