Sligo comeback stuns Wicklow in Division Four final showdown

Paul Kilcoyne’s strike early in the second half gave the Yeatsmen a lead they never lost. Picture: Mark Marlow
Paul Kilcoyne’s strike early in the second half gave the Yeatsmen a lead they never lost. Picture: Mark Marlow

Allianz National Football League Division Four: Sligo 2-10 Wicklow 0-14

OISIN McConville’s Wicklow led at half-time but Sligo, managed by his former Crossmaglen and Armagh clubmate Tony McEntee, took the Division Four crown in the proverbial ‘game of two halves’ at wet and windy Croke Park.

Late in the first period the Garden County led by five and misfiring Sligo were staring down the barrel after full-back Eddie McGuinness was black-carded.

But two quality goals turned an entertaining game their way. The first from skipper Niall Murphy (who scored Sligo’s entire first half tally of 1-3) meant they were still in the hunt at the break and Paul Kilcoyne’s strike early in the second half gave the Yeatsmen a lead they never lost.

Amid the celebrations there was sorrow as Sligo remembered the man who wasn’t there to share their joy. Murphy dedicated the victory to Red Og Murphy, his former team-mate, who died so tragically exactly a year before this final.

After two early Sligo wides, Wicklow seized control. Their full-back line was winning their personal battles and, with the Yeatsmen looking nervy and uncertain, a series of Kevin Quinn scores saw them open a 0-7 to 0-2 lead before Murphy’s goal pegged them back.  

“We made it to half-time – just about,” admitted McEntee afterwards.

“Then we got a bit of organisation and structure about us and we turned up in the second half. I don’t think we turned up well at all in the first half and we struggled for large periods.

“Maybe it was the occasion? I don’t know but we sat off our men, we weren’t making our runs… There was so much wrong with the first half but to be fair to them they put in a good effort in the second half and had more opportunities than the scoreboard suggested.”

The Division Four title is Sligo’s first piece of silverware since 2010 when the Yeatsmen beat Antrim in the Division Three final. McEntee believes it will send his players to London for next Saturday’s Connacht Championship quarter-final in a positive frame of mind.

“Any opportunity we get to win a trophy should be grasped with both hands,” he said.

“Winning this cup is important - it’s important for mentality and for progress. We’re going into a Championship match against London next week and we’re going in positive rather than negative if we had been defeated today.

“Winning means we’ll come with a different mindset to training on Tuesday, we’re less critical of ourselves and we’re looking forward to training whereas if we had been beaten we’d be looking at a critical analysis of what went wrong and we’d be picking out mistakes.”

The play within the play was of course McEntee’s head-to-head with McConville, his lifelong friend and team-mate from primary school to All-Irelands with club and county.

“Me and Oisin spoke a number of times early in the week,” said McEntee.

“We get on very well and we respect each other in relation to our work. There has been a lot of banter and texting around the town at home all week but that’s all part of it. It’s a great honour for our club that we have two clubmen from Crossmaglen representing two different counties in a final at Croke Park. It’s certainly not common.”

McEntee’s men took the title but there were plenty of positives for his former Cross and Armagh team-mate McConville. He was disappointed but immensely proud of his players.

“Coming into the game not many would have given us much of a shout and I thought we bossed it for long periods,” said the Wicklow manager.

“Maybe just a little bit of extra experience on their behalf and a bit of inexperience on our behalf, and we coughed up a little bit of ball early on in the second-half and that sort of came back and bit us.

“But again, I couldn't be any prouder of our boys because it's been a long journey from where we've come from. One thing I didn't want from today was them to walk away feeling they didn't do themselves justice. I think they did themselves justice today and look, you don't get time to dwell on it anyway, which is a brilliant thing. We'll be back at it next Sunday (in the Leinster Championship preliminary round against Carlow) so these boys just need to recover properly and we'll get at it again during the week and we'll be ready to go.”

Sligo celebrate victory in the Division Four final. Picture: Mark Marlow
Sligo celebrate victory in the Division Four final. Picture: Mark Marlow

Wicklow had four points on the board – Mark Kenny, Quinn (two) and JP Hurley were all on target – before Murphy’s free opened Sligo’s account in the 15th minute.

Wicklow’s direct style worked well in the driving rain and goalkeeper Mark Jackson made it 0-5 to 0-1 with a well-hit free and although Murphy pulled a point back, Quinn cancelled it out after Daniel Lyons had saved well from Eoin Darcy.

Sligo’s day went from bad to worse after McGuinness fumbled a short kick-out and dragged down Quinn. He was climbing the steps to the sin bin as Quinn stroked over another free to make it 0-7 to 0-2.

Sligo were on the brink then but skipper Murphy dragged his county back into it. He pointed a mark and from the kick-out, Nathan Mullen set off on a surging run through the Wicklow defence. He passed to Luke Towey who picked out Murphy and his flick found the back of the net.

With McGuinness off the field, Sligo engaged in some boring but necessary keep-ball but when they lost it it took a combination of Evan Lyons and Kilcoyne to block Kenny’s goal-bound shot out for a 45.

Jackson stroked it over the bar and Wicklow headed for the changingrooms 0-8 to 1-3 in front.

The early second half signs weren’t that promising for Sligo and Darcy’s free extended Wicklow’s lead to three.

But the game suddenly swung the other way. Lally lashed a shot over the bar and then Sean Carrabine, kept quiet until then by Malachy Stone, added another after the Wicklow defence allowed a line-ball to bounce in their square.

That left a point in it and Carrabine won the ball in midfield, turned his marker and drove forward at the Wicklow defence. Lally took his pass and then squared to Kilcoyne who sent a brilliant finish into the net to give Sligo the lead for the first time.

Towey and Pat Spillane added points and Carrabine’s long diagonal ball (straight out of the Joe Kernan playbook) found Patrick O’Connor who turned one way then the other but his shot was saved by Jackson.

Sligo were in charge but couldn’t seal the deal and Wicklow hit back through Dean Healy and Quinn’s mark left two in it. There were still a couple between them when four minutes of injury-time were signalled and the eventual champions had to survive a late aerial bombardment from the desperate Garden County men.

In the dying seconds the ball dropped into the square and broke loose. Padraig O’Toole swung a right boot at it but didn’t connect and Sligo hung on. They’ll set off for London with the wind in their sails.  

Sligo: D Lyons; N Mullen (0-1), E McGuinness, E Lyons; L Towey (0-1), B Cox, P McNamara; P Kilcoyne (1-0), C Lally; K Cawley, S Carrabine (0-2, 0-1 free), D Quinn; P Spillane (0-1), P O’Connor, N Murphy (1-4, 0-1 free, 0-1 mark)

Subs: M Gordon for Quinn (39), A Reilly for O’Connor (57); G O’Kelly-Lynch for Cawley (63), M Walsh for Spillane (65)

Black card: McGuinness (25)

Wicklow: M Jackson (0-3, 0-2 45, 0-1 free); M Stone, E Murtagh, J McCall; T Maher, P O’Keane, C McDonald; D Healy (0-1), P O’Toole; A Maher, JP Hurley (0-1), D Fitzgerald; K Quinn (0-5, 0-3 frees), M Kenny (0-1), E Darcy (0-2 frees)

Subs: K Furlong for McCall (52), Z Cullen for A Maher (53), C O’Sullivan (0-1) for Fitzgerald (57), F O’Shea for T Maher (60), J Keogh for Kenny (70)

Referee: Paul Faloon (Down)