Sligo come late, but deserve their victory

Galway can have absolutely no complaints after their one-point defeat last Saturday evening to a vibrant, fit, and tremendously committed Sligo outfit.

Well done to them. They fully merited their triumph.

Big Kevin Walsh has them eating out of his hand and they are on a serious roll now. They won their last five league games, beat Antrim in the league final, and now have downed Mayo and Galway.

They will not fear Roscommon either and a quarter-final in Croke Park beckons.

Belief is built on a run of wins like Sligo have enjoyed over the past few months - just look at Holland in the World Cup, and the Yeats’ men have self-confidence in abundance at present.

When the game was in the balance in the last five minutes, their conviction showed. They hit the last three points from play and were cheered on to victory by the huge and frantic home support that outnumbered Galway by at least 12:1.

Sligo have won a lot of dog-fights in the last few months and this one was to prove no different.

Why did Galway lose?

Why did Galway, who have only lost to Sligo five times in 31 championship games, lose the initiative when they led by three points after 35 minutes and were moving reasonably well?

There were a few reasons.

Gareth Bradshaw will be disgusted with himself for his part in Sligo’s goal. To be fair, he had a very fine game apart from this one major error – an attempt at a back pass to Adrian Faherty from a side-line about 20 yards from his own goal.

An unmarked and alert David Kelly intercepted and coolly slotted home the defining score and Galway’s hard earned three-point advantage was wiped out.

Bradshaw showed commendable character to immediately bounce back from that error and storm up the field to set up a pointed free for Seán Armstrong, but his error was a key moment in the game and a real knock for Galway.

Joe Kernan’s tactic of playing Owen Concannon out the field was an unmitigated disaster.

That tactic brought Sligo’s captain Charlie Harrison, a tremendously mobile and astute player, out to the real engine room of the game.

Harrison was magnificent in the loose. The Sligo captain had an assist in many of Sligo’s points and he drove Sligo repeatedly. How the Galway management team left that tactic in situ defied belief and the other decision to move Matt Clancy, who was having a fine game at wing-forward, into the corner when Paul Conroy came on for Michael Meehan was also a poor move which had to be subsequently reversed.

Clancy had been picking up breaks and removing him from that area did not make any sense.

Why only two subs?

What faith does the management have in the bench, using only subs for injured players?

David Reilly did well on his introduction and no doubt Caherlistane’s Cormac Bane, who is a fine point taker, Fiachra Breathnach, Darren Mullahy and Declan Meehan would believe they merited some game time over the past 150 minutes of action.

Kevin Walsh, on the other hand, and this is becoming a recurring theme, used his bench splendidly and his substitutes all made telling contributions.

Colm McGee came on for Stephen Coen on 55 minutes and he kicked the glorious winner, having already raised a white flag. His fresh legs and eye for goal made a big difference, while big Ken Sweeney, who came on for O’Hara, was only on the field three minutes when he lofted one too. Their points won the game for Sligo.

Subs are there to come on and make a difference and most top teams try to utilise their options especially coming into the last quarter in tight games. Galway need to use the bench more, starting this weekend.

Sligo looked fitter than Galway coming into the home stretch and again we were wiped out at midfield for key stages despite a few fine fetches from the valiant Niall Coleman.

Sligo work hard to win breaking ball and in the last quarter they won seven consecutive kick-outs, with Eugene Mullen in particular making a few superb catches.

That crucial possession allowed Sligo to keep a foothold in the game and stopped Galway getting any possession into Joyce or Armstrong who had the beating of their markers.

Instead Mark Brehony, who was immense, Kelly and McGee kept the scoreboard ticking over.

Galway face Wexford next Saturday in Pearse Stadium in the qualifiers at 2pm and a win there could get Galway on a mini-roll.

However since 2001, the only team that Galway have beaten in championship outside of Connacht is Louth. That is not a great record.

Sligo can look forward a Connacht final with Roscommon in two weeks’ time in McHale Park. It is the first Connacht final since 1947 that will not feature either Mayo or Galway and that is not a bad thing either.

If Sligo go on to win that final, after beating Mayo, Galway (after a replay ), and then Roscommon, it will be their sweetest Connacht championship ever.

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