It came as somewhat of a surprise to many people that Galway’s triple all-star Kevin Walsh, was ratified this week as the new manager at senior level with the Sligo footballers for 2009.
Walsh will also be in charge of the county’s U-21 side for the coming year.
The double all-Ireland winner in 1998 and 2001 is a hugely popular figure in Connacht footballing circles but he has limited experience at management level and from that perspective it is a brave move by the Sligo county board.
Admittedly the 39 year old former Garda has been in charge of the Aran Island junior “A” footballers this season in Galway and has been a selector with Connacht and John O’Mahony for the last few years.
However his only inter-county role was when he was involved with the Galway ladies footballers a few years ago. And it will be a big step up as regards making his first foray into senior inter-county management with the 2007 Connacht champions.
Indeed he faces a massive challenge in the season ahead.
Sligo had a horrid year under Tommy Jordan in 2008.
They were relegated to division four for the first time in a few years and conceded 6-86 in the seven games that they played in the league and ended up with a minus twenty scoring difference.
Coming on the back of that kind of league form it was absolutely no surprise that they had a miserable run in the championship too, losing to Mayo on a score-line of 3-11 to 0-7. Last year’s manager, Tommy Jordan retired at that juncture for personal reasons.
From Walsh’s perspective, the only way Sligo football can go is up next year; it cannot go any lower and if he makes some progress he can be deemed a success.
The fact that his new team will face some of the weaker counties in the early months of 2009 as he embarks on the inter-county road will also allow him and his side to build up some momentum and get a few wins under their belt before the more difficult tests come down the track.
To prove that point, Sligo’s first NFL game in 2009 is at home against Kilkenny on the first Sunday in February and they follow that up with an away trip to Clare the following Saturday.
Some of the other teams in that division include Carlow and London who are both well beatable, however based on last year’s form, Sligo would find it tough to beat the likes of Wicklow, Antrim, and Leitrim.
Just to add a bit of petrol to his managerial debut season, Sligo are due to play Galway in the Connacht semi-final next year.
Walsh will be supported in his new management role by three youthful selectors, Paul Taylor, Paul Durcan, and Dessie Sloyane who have all played with Sligo this decade. Indeed Taylor is still a top club player with Eastern Harps and he scored 1-06 in their Connacht club quarter-final victory over Glencar-Manorhamilton (Leitrim ). He will line out against Ballaghadereen in the semi-final this Sunday.
Managing Sligo would be seen as one of the toughest jobs in Gaelic football. They have only 20 football clubs in the entire county, however it should not be forgotten that they beat Galway in the Connacht final in 2007 and if Walsh can get them back to playing that quality of football and get them out of division four next year, he will be deemed a massive success.
Sports editor with the Sligo Weekender, Liam Maloney spoke to me yesterday about Walsh’s appointment and he considered it a very positive move by the county board as his playing pedigree and huge success on the field of play would command the immediate respect of the Sligo players.
Allied to that is the fact that his three selectors are all legends in Sligo football and their combined freshness and new approach was considered the best way forward for the current panel. According to Maloney - “We are happier to see a new fresh manager in the job, someone who will bring a fresh focus and impetus to the senior squad rather than a manager who has been on the managerial circuit for a few years”.
Could this be the first step on the path for Walsh to manage the Galway seniors at some stage in the future?
Corofin expected to advance to Connacht final
Galway senior county champions Corofin will be favourites to see off Castlerea in the Connacht club championship semi-final in Hyde Park next Sunday at 2.30pm.
Former Galway player John Donnellan has been managing in Roscommon this season and had some great success with Western Gaels who were defeated by Castlerea after a few replays in the semi-final. His considered view is that Corofin will just have enough to win this Sunday.
“It will be a very tight game. However Corofin should have the defenders and the experience to keep Castlerea to a low score-line. Castlerea are overly dependent on Ger Heneghan and Nigel Dineen for scores up-front and while both men are playing superbly, the combined excellence of the likes of Kieran Fitzgerald, Mickey Comer, Damien Burke, and Kieran McGrath should be able to stop them.
I’d expect Corofin to win by three or four points, but they’ll have to earn it and they’ll need a bigger return from their forwards than they have been getting.”