Galway have been warned.
Sligo are going to take some beating in Pearse Stadium in two weeks’ time. They proved that last Saturday evening against an inept Mayo outfit. All the individual battles were won by Sligo men, except Noel McGuire, who struggled with the impressive Alan Freeman at full forward.
Team captain Charlie Harrison led by example with textbook blockdowns, swept up loose ball, and broke out of defence. He, along with Eamonn O’Hara, gave real leadership to the Yeats’ men.
Sligo were dominant in the midfield sector and it was a crucial factor in their triumph. Tony Taylor, Stephen Gilmartin, and the half-back line of Keelan Cawley, Brendan Philips and the outstanding Johnny Davey, were all in the zone and blitzed their direct opponents.
Sligo collected 25 of the 42 kick-outs taken and in a 10-minute spell in the final quarter they incredibly won possession from six consecutive kick-outs and racked up game winning points from Gilmartin, Alan Costello and David Kelly.
Tactically, Kevin Walsh got his moves spot on and he is rapidly gaining a reputation as the best young manager in the country.
His decision to move O’Hara back as a sweeper to cover the space in front of a rampant Freeman, who had 1-1 on the board after only six minutes, worked splendidly.
O’Hara hoovered up ball and his breaks from deep lit a fuse of panic in the Mayo defence.
O’Hara is 34, but he is in superb shape. His experience and determination for a famous win played a big role in the triumph. He exudes positivity and belief on the field which others feed off. Whoever Joe Kernan selects to nullify him has a key job to do.
Sligo had ready-made solutions to any problem that arose last weekend - obviously thought out beforehand.
John O’Mahony was sluggish making any changes and, even when fresh legs arrived, there were question marks. Was Billy Joe Padden – who was Mayo’s first sub – really going to turn things around for them? Were Enda Varley, Trevor Mortimer, the disappointing Tom Parsons, and McGarrity left on too long? Why was Keith Higgins not switched to try to curtail the rampant Kelly who roasted Donal Vaughan from the throw-in?
Mayo looked lethargic, listless, and above all, leaderless. The body language of most of the team going into the home stretch was revealing and signals major issues that cannot be glossed over.
It was ironic to see former Mayo panellist Alan Costello score two sublime points to kill off any hopes Mayo had of seeing extra time.
It is impossible to see how Mayo and John O’Mahony can recover from this and make a burst in the qualifiers. Alan Dillon (injured ) was a big loss, but from the talk on the terraces and the poor Mayo support on the day, things are not good.
On the flip side, Sligo look like a team who cannot wait to have a cut at Galway on Sunday forthnight. Their corner backs, Harrison and Ross O’Donovan are tremendous players, Cawley and Davey on the wings were immense, and Tony Taylor and Stephen Gilmartin have grown in stature enormously in the last few months.
Up front, Kelly is the jewel. He has stunning pace, tremendous skill and he will take some watching. Either Alan Burke or Donal O’Neill look like Galway’s best options to try to nullify him. Colm McGee is a good player too, while big Sweeney is an awkward customer.
Galway manager Joe Kernan must know his Galway side has it all to do to stop them.
Sligo possess belief, momentum, a bloody great attitude, and some damn fine players. If Charlie Harrison had not been injured in last year’s clash, they could have beaten Galway.
They expect to avenge that loss on June 27.