Sligo football manager Pat Flanagan paints a most vivid picture of the dressing room following their qualifier win over Wicklow last Saturday. The Yeats County entered Fortress Aughrim having failed to secure a championship victory in over two years while their last qualifier win arrived back in 2009. The pressure weighing down on the player’s shoulders, he admitted, was intense.
Three changes had been made to the side which flopped against Galway in the Connacht semi-final, the team bus pulling into their Wicklow hotel a full 24 hours before throw-in. This was win at all costs territory.
“We needed to get a victory. Last Saturday was all about getting a result,” said Flanagan. “In stages we gave up a lot of ball. We didn’t score what we felt we should have scored. Again, I think everyone was just thankful to get out of Aughrim with our championships status intact. It is not the easiest place to go. We got out by two points and we were happy with that.
“People were at pains to tell me they had won six of their last seven qualifier fixtures there over the last five years and in the same period we hadn’t won a single qualifier. The bottom line is we knew we were capable of playing much better than we had against Galway. We went down there and showed a lot of spirit and heart.
“I am in the job since the end of November. We had three or four sessions in December and it wasn’t really until January that we got going. There was a hangover from what happened last year and nobody wanted a repeat of that. The sooner Sligo won a championship game after last year the better. It was a monkey off the back. Had it stayed there it would have put more pressure on the players. Now we can look forward to today.”
Limerick stand in their path of stringing back-to-back qualifier wins for the first time since 2006 and Flanagan stresses the importance of taking another step along the back road.
“To back up our performance in Aughrim is the challenge. When we were beaten by Galway we said we were going to give our best in the qualifiers. Fellas knuckled down to it straight away on the Tuesday night afterwards. We had a very hard training session and that got the show back on the road. The win in Wicklow was one step and we would like to take another step this weekend. We would love to get the chance to play a beaten provincial finalist.
“Limerick have some very good footballers. They have built momentum and are on a role and it is very hard stop a team in the qualifiers when they are on a roll. We are trying to get on a roll of our own now. It is a home game and hopefully we can get a good crowd and put this on for another round. In terms of the development of football in Sligo, sustaining this run for as long as possible is key.”