Tony McEntee and Oisin McConville guide Sligo and Wicklow to promotion
Allianz Football League Division Four round seven
AN incredibly tight promotion race in Division Four went right to the wire yesterday, as late points from Finnian Cawley and Sean Carrabine at Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada in Carrick-on-Shannon didn’t just secure promotion for Sligo at the expense of their Connacht neighbours, they also meant that Wicklow – by virtue of their head-to-head win over Laois – sneaked into second spot at the expense of the O’Moore county.
No doubt Sligo manager Tony McEntee wasn’t in the least bit concerned about doing his Crossmaglen club colleague, Wicklow boss Oisín McConville a favour in the latter stages of this thrilling tie, but instead he was just determined that his side, who had led by eight points early in the second half, wouldn’t be denied promotion after winning five games on the spin prior to this contest.
For Leitrim it was win or bust and they certainly started with intent, firing over the first three points, but Sligo took over from there to lead by 0-9 to 0-5 at half-time.
Patrick O’Connor shot four first-half points for the Yeats county, and they kicked on after half-time to move eight points clear, boosted by a very good goal from Pat Spillane.
However, Leitrim saw a chink of light at the end of the tunnel when sub Barry McNulty netted from a rebound after Jack Heslin’s goal effort was blocked after 54 minutes, and with goalkeeper Nevin O’Donnell keeping them alive thanks to two wonderful saves, they scrambled a goal through Aidan Flynn and then fired over points from Donal Wrynn and Tom Prior to lead by 2-11 to 1-13 with 68 minutes gone.
Enter Cawley and Carrabine, who delivered the scores that completely flipped the top of the table around, ushering in celebrations, not just among the Sligo supporters, but also in Dungarvan, where Wicklow had beaten Waterford by 2-8 to 0-8.
Waterford, who secured their first competitive win in nearly two years last week, certainly kept the Garden county honest, with team captain Dermot Ryan continuing his exceptional form during this campaign as he shot two first-half points from wing-back.
They still trailed by 0-7 to 0-5 at half-time and had to play the first seven minutes of the second half with 14 men due to Michael Kiely’s black card, but they held firm and by the 59th minute, both sides had just added a single point to their tally.
When that long scoring drought ended, it was Wicklow’s Dean Healy who made the crucial intervention, blasting the ball into the left corner of the Waterford net. With five minutes to play, they were home and hosed thanks to a second goal from Cillian McDonald.
It will be of scant consolation to Laois that they – along with Cork and Westmeath – are the top goalscorers in the League after the round-robin stages, and yet they – along with Cork and Westmeath, and remarkably, every other team that scored 10 goals or more – failed to secure promotion.
Brian Byrne, Evan O’Carroll with a stunning solo effort, and Eoin Lowry all found the net in the first half to make it 3-2 to 0-6 at half-time in Ruislip, while Mark Barry and substitutes Pádraig Kirwan and Brian Daly added their name to the goalscorers’ list after the break, with Liam Gallagher and Daniel Clarke raising consolation green flags for the home side in a 6-6 to 2-8 result in Ruislip.
On Saturday, two late points from Mark Rossiter and Eoghan Nolan’s goal deep into stoppage-time gave Wexford a flattering 1-16 to 0-13 win over Carlow.