This is a big weekend for Sligo’s footballers but, after this evening’s enthralling U20 All-Ireland semi-final win for the county over Kerry, it’s already guaranteed to be a great one.
Tomorrow’s Nestor Cup decider is, of course, important for the Yeats County but a first-ever Championship win over Kerry, guaranteeing Sligo only their second ever appearance in an All-Ireland final, surely has greater currency.
Those of us in Connacht who were felled by the Magpies’ progress thus far this year know full well what battling qualities this team possess. They needed all that and more at Pearse Stadium this evening, as they lost their inspirational captain Canice Mulligan to injury with fewer than ten minutes played.
Sligo struck the first significant blow in this tense, low-scoring encounter, when Ronan Niland found the net for the game’s only goal in the 12th minute. That score helped Sligo reach the break on level terms, having played against the wind in the first half.
The tension ratcheted up a few more notches on the resumption. Kerry briefly edged in front but the Westerners were back level when Dylan Walsh drove over a long-range free. Further points from Luke Marren (a free) and substitute Brian Byrne then saw Sligo take a two-point lead.
Kerry still had time to rescue the situation but although they saw plenty of ball in attack, their shooting was on the wayward side. William Shine, from a free, pared the lead back to the minimum but Sligo’s Daire O’Boyle responded with what proved to be the game’s final score, as Paul Henry’s team claimed a famous win over the Kingdom by 1-8 to 0-9.
The only other time that Sligo have ever contested an All-Ireland decider (aside from Junior where the county has two titles from two appearances) was the Minor final of 1968. They lost that one to Cork.
Next Saturday, however, Sligo’s U20s – who have already beaten Roscommon, Mayo, Galway and now Kerry in this campaign – will contest this year’s U20 All-Ireland final. That’s against Kildare – who came from behind to beat Down in this evening’s other penultimate round tie – and the final has been confirmed for Breffni Park, Cavan, with a 2.45pm throw-in.
There was a big, boisterous Sligo following in Salthill this evening and you’d imagine their ranks will be swelled further for next Saturday’s decider. As they should be too: this is the kind of team that every supporter would want to follow.
Congrats to Sligo’s U20s on their great win today and here’s hoping they now go on to finish the job next Saturday.