Seven weeks ago, Tipp let Limerick build up a nine-points lead in the Munster SFC quarter-final before launching an heroic fightback which fell just short.
It was déjà vu in Thurles as Tipp fell nine behind to Sligo early in the second half, came roaring back but ended up losing by just a point. Evans lamented Tipp’s first half display when they made far too many errors as visitors Sligo built up a 0-10 to 0-4 half-time lead.
Tipp struggled for possession around the midfield, were too dependent on Barry Grogan for scores and suffered at the feet of inside forwards Adrian Marren and David Kelly, who landed six first-half points between them.
Evans reflected: “When we won the ball we just couldn’t hold it and were dispossessed very easily. When they got the ball, they rolled over and they got a free every time. They wasn’t necessarily the referee’s fault, they were cuter.
“They were clever. Having said that, give credit to Sligo. They did their homework and were hugely up for the game and took advantage of the wind in the first half.”
Two minutes after half-time, it went from bad to worse for Tipperary as Kelly fed Stephen Coen for a well-taken goal. Tipp, now playing with the breeze, needed the good start and it looked like Sligo would win comfortably.
That they didn’t is testament to Tipperary’s fighting qualities and when they got going, the home side proved difficult to stop in front of 2,500 spectators. Incessant rain made conditions difficult for both teams but when they had their respective spells of ascendancy, some of the score-taking was impressive.
Evans nodded: “Sligo were accurate in what they did. It was in that period in the first half, when they went 10-4 up, where they won the game. But our lads went out and showed tremendous heart. We started to put together, under real pressure and in bad conditions, a couple of points, a cracking goal, another couple of beautifully worked points.”
Between the 46th and 64th minutes, Tipp outscored Sligo by 1-6 to 0-1 to get within a point.
Brian Mulvihill’s smashing goal with 13 minutes left lit the touchpaper and with four minutes remaining, Damian O’Brien looked set to fire over the equaliser. However, the substitute found himself caught in two minds, wondering whether to shoot or pass with Philip Austin unmarked inside.
O’Brien’s effort dropped short and two minutes later, Michael McNamara surged forward to kick Sligo two clear and end a 15-minutes barren spell for the Yeats County.
But Evans insisted that nobody was to blame for defeat and that the damage was done in the first half. Only Barry Grogan scored for Tipp before half-time and they went 18 minutes without a score after opening up a 0-3 to 0-2 lead in the 10th minute.
Sligo boss Kevin Walsh was delighted with his team’s performance, 13 days after the crushing four-point loss to Galway in the Connacht semi-final.
The former Galway All-Ireland medallist said: “What pleased me most was the style of football, the commitment of the fellas and to be asked those questions at the finish and we held our heads. Eamonn O’Hara maybe went out of the game for 20 minutes in the second half but when he was most needed, he swept up a lot of ball and held strong towards the sidelines.
“They’re not downing tools, they’re getting on with it and finishing out the 70 minutes which is very important.
“Trying to rise a team after 13 days is a very hard thing to do, particularly after a nine- or 10-week build up to a huge championship game which we felt we had a great chance of winning.
“They believed they could beat Galway, it was a huge disappointment and coming down here 13 days later and winning is a huge achievement.”
Scorers for Tipperary: B Grogan 0-6 (4f), B Mulvihill 1-1, H Coghlan 0-2, B Coen, D O’Brien & A Fitzgerald 0-1 each.
Scorers for Sligo: A Marren 0-5 (1f), S Coen 1-1, D Kelly & M Breheny (1f) 0-2 each, M McNamara, T Taylor & A Costello 0-1 each.
Subs for Tipperary: D O’Brien for Carey (45), A Fitzgerald for Aylward (48), B Jones for Mulryan (56), J Cagney for Austin (68).
Subs for Sligo: D Davey for Costello (53), G Gaughan for Ewing (69), B Kivlehan for McNamara (69).
Referee: M Deegan (Laois).