GAA Football

Tony McEntee says more gained than lost for Sligo in 2022

The Cavan team observe a minute's silence for Tyrone hurler Damien Casey who tragically died on holiday Picture: Philip Walsh
From Brendan Crossan at Croke Park

Tailteann Cup semi-final: Cavan 0-20 Sligo 1-14

WHEN Tony McEntee studies the forensics of yesterday’s Tailteann Cup semi-final defeat to Cavan, there might be a few nagging regrets.

But in the immediate aftermath of their three-point loss, the Sligo manager had nothing but praise for his players for pushing the favourites right to the end.

Pat O’Connor smashed one effort against Cavan’s crossbar in the 29th minute and Mikey Gordon must still be wondering how Oisin Kiernan got back to stop his goal-bound effort just before half-time.

A nervous start was the genesis of Sligo's downfall. In the opening quarter, Cavan raced into a six-point to no score lead and throughout just looked that little bit more assured in front of the posts.

“Listen, regrets? No,” said McEntee, “because we were coming in against a very strong Cavan team and, to be fair, everybody outside the camp would realistically say that Cavan were going to beat us comfortably.

“So I’ve no regrets. It was our first time in Croke Park, we attacked the game with positivity.

“Yes, we missed chances and we’ll look back and rue those chances but we’re not leaving here with regrets. We’re very proud about how we kept coming back and fighting in the game. We had chances to win the game, but I’m certainly not regretting anything.”

Even though a final place against Westmeath on July 9 at Croke Park would have been a satisfying way to round off his second year with the Yeats County, McEntee was content with getting five Championship games in 2022.

“That wasn’t the same Sligo team of maybe last year, with COVID, so this has given us huge belief,” said the Crossmaglen man.

“We just about got through against London and Leitrim and it has built resilience because this is a young team. Apart from Pat Hughes (who played his last game for Sligo yesterday), Niall Murphy and Keelan Cawley, the rest of the squad are all 22 or 23 or 24.

“This competition has allowed us the chance [to build] because getting hidings from Mayo, Roscommon and Galway does us no favours and puts us down, whereas this gives us the opportunity to grow and flourish and gives younger players like Evan Lyons, who had a super game at full-back, an opportunity to play and actually perform at Croke Park. We would never get that opportunity anywhere else.”

Super sub Niall Murphy almost changed the game for Sligo in the second half by scoring four brilliant points before Gearoid McKiernan and Gerard Smith kicked on to see the Ulstermen through to the inaugural final.

Would it have been better to start Murphy? McEntee replied: “Niall, to be fair, was fit to play today. The gamble was whether he was fit to last 70 minutes or not. We made that decision: Did it work out? I don’t know. But he was brilliant when he was on the field.”

As soon as Cavan exited the Ulster Championship to Donegal last month, boss Mickey Graham said his squad would give everything to the Tailteann Cup, especially with the winners netting a place in the All-Ireland Qualifiers next season.

“This is an important competition which I think will be here for a while,” said the winning manager.

“I think people who look at who wins this competition will say: ‘Why can’t we be that team?’ and use it as a stepping stone to bigger and better things.

“Getting into the last 16 of the Qualifiers [next year] is a serious carrot.”

Cavan led 0-11 to 1-3 at the break and although Niall Murphy did his utmost to wrestle the game Sligo’s way, Gearoid McKiernan and Gerard Smith’s ability to come up with big scores in big moments proved the difference.

“That’s what big players do in big matches,” said the Cavan boss.

“You need them to stand up and grab the game by the scruff of the neck and I thought Gearoid McKiernan, Jason McLoughlin and Gerry Smith were outstanding. For me, Jason McLoughlin was everywhere - but that’s what you want and I think experience probably told there in the end.”

Cavan's Conor Brady and Sligo's Peter Laffey during yesterday's Tailteann Cup semi-final Picture: Philip Walsh

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