Sligo passion still burns

It says much about the state of Sligo football when their own players suggest it’s the pull of Sky Sports’ coverage at Markievicz Park this evening that will bump up attendance figures.

Sligo passion still burns

That’s just how Adrian Marren sees it. “The first night that football will be on Sky, there will be a big crowd from [Sligo] town in but that will be more about Sky than us, I would say.”

But then Marren is just calling it as he sees it. Neil Ewing’s take on matters in the province is not dissimilar. “We are never mentioned when it comes to winning Connacht but it is something that we are used of. It is obvious that Mayo are a step ahead of the rest in the province, they are a quality team and they could have won the last two All-Irelands, with a bit of luck.

“Roscommon have had some very good underage teams over the last decade and Galway have won two U21 All-Irelands so the perception is that it is between Mayo, Roscommon and Galway, and you can see it.”

Sligo’s recent record against Galway is enough to fill Marren and Ewing with confidence. As long as Galway continue to struggle to convert their U21 successes to the senior stage, Sligo will fancy their chances.

Then again, Sligo haven’t fared all too well when they’ve been the last team out in the Connacht championship. In 2009, Ewing was sent off as they went down 0-12 to 1-13 to Galway. In 2001, Mayo edged them out while two years before, three goals wasn’t enough to beat the Tribesmen.

A defeat this evening will still mean they will play into July, thus avoiding a repeat of last year when the shock loss in Ruislip was followed by a first-round exit to Derry. But the lack of game-time since the end of the league is a concern for a county who were the last to appoint a manager in 2013. From the moment Pat Flanagan was appointed to now, it’s all been about playing catch-up.

“Any year we have played New York, we got to the Connacht final,” Marren points out. “You win your first game early in May and winning championship games brings confidence and momentum. We had a big win in 2012 and we were very confident going up to play Galway, we knew what we were capable of.”

Just four of the team named by Pat Flanagan were in the 2007 Connacht-winning starting side — Charlie Harrison, Ross Donovan, David Kelly and Mark Breheny.

Marren came on a second-half substitute for Kelly that fateful day. Truth be told, winning another provincial title is the only thing keeping the veterans on the team going.

“The majority of the lads are still on the panel from 2007, if we got another medal we would go. We are just holding on for that. We feel that there is a good enough panel that can compete for a Connacht title and if we get that medal, we will be happy enough.”

Sligo, though, have learned to cut the cloth to suit their measure. The recession hit the county board harder than most and, in turn, preparations suffered. “My first year in 2007, we spent nine days over in New York with a training camp,” recalls Marren. “In 2012 we left the following morning, that’s how times have changed.”

Still, no amount of excuses could justify what happened in London last year. Winning a Connacht title would certainly go a hell of a long way to obliterating that day from the Sligo mindset and the criticism, namely from The Sunday Game pundit and former captain Eamonn O’Hara, that followed it.

“I suppose there was a bit of a circus around,” recollects Ewing, “but for the players that did not come into it. We had our own disappointment and anything that happened in media was not on our minds at that stage. We were just looking back ourselves to see what went wrong, individually and collectively, and try and address that.

“As far as the public are concerned, I suppose there were remarks made but sometimes the public can get too carried away with a good performance and too down with a bad one. But that is part of being an inter-county footballer and you have to listen to that, take the good with the bad and try to concentrate on yourself and what you can do to put it right.” Restoring lost pride is exactly what’s on the line this evening.

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