According to Roscommon boss John Evans, whose fancied charges were undone by the accuracy of Adrian Marren, who scored 1-7, including a match-turning 32nd minute penalty, it was the home side’s unmatched ‘hunger’ that was the deciding factor in what, so far, is the summer’s biggest championship upset.
The Kerry man said: “You can quantify hunger in so many different ways – we were just as fit but Sligo had the hunger to make things go right. They were taking their chances and we weren’t.
“We looked tired, cumbersome and we were struggling, even experienced players like Cathal Cregg and Senan Kilbride.
“Full credit to Sligo – they had us in all departments. The big factor was Sligo’s hunger, they were starving. This is Sligo’s ‘All-Ireland’, they were at home, they had a good crowd here and they performed extremely well.”
Sligo, the last county to enter the race for Sam Maguire, didn’t resemble a side whose last competitive game was 11 weeks previously.
At a noisy Markievicz Park, well-organised Sligo took a second minute lead through a fine point from midfielder Cian Breheny – nephew of Eamonn O’Hara and team captain Mark Breheny – and never relinquished the advantage.
Indeed, a misfiring Roscommon, who hit 13 wides, nine of these in the first-half, never once drew level and were five points in arrears at half-time, 1-7 to 0-5.
Sligo, who have qualified for their first Connacht decider since 2012, when they lost to Mayo, were superior in all sectors.
The winners avoided – where possible – direct duels for 50-50 balls in midfield, usually working the ball painstakingly out of defence, a ploy that was somewhat nerve-racking for their supporters, before attempting to hit either David Kelly or Pat Hughes, who cleaned his marker, Niall Carty, with precise passes.
Seasoned defenders Brendan Egan and Ross Donovan, two survivors from the 2007 Connacht winning side, were superb, while Mark Breheny, hitherto quiet, burst info life in the last 10 minutes when he landed two priceless points to keep Roscommon at arm’s length.
Aside from Adrian Marren’s flawless penalty conversion, Sligo’s other main goal chance was David Kelly’s effort that was saved after three minutes.
Roscommon, who were without Donie Shine, who scored 10 points when these counties met in the 2010 provincial decider, Kevin Higgins, Ultan Harney and Conor Daly, were horribly profligate. Nine firsthalf wides only tells half the story as they squandered four goal chances although twice Sligo goalkeeper Aidan Devaney intervened superbly to frustrate Enda Smith and Donal Smith, while the winners’ wingback, Keelan Cawley, took another dangerous ball off the goal line.
Aside from Sligo’s fierce determination, Roscommon’s wasted chances and off colour attack – Senan Kilbride, part of an inside forward line that failed to score from play, was replaced after 54 minutes – Evans theorised that his side’s success earlier this year may have raised expectations whilst also dulling their outlook.
Roscommon won the FBD Connacht League and the Allianz League Division Two, with their U21s in an All-Ireland semi-final, but it was near impossible to notice this progression during Saturday’s encounter.
Evans stated: “The players are hurting. Losing in the Connacht Senior Championship, which is something we had prioritised, and we wanted to have a go at it.
“Mick O’Dwyer said that if you win a trophy before the championship it takes the edge off you.”
The Roscommon boss, who, during his tenure with Tipperary resigned in the wake of an AFL defeat to Sligo at Markievicz Park three years ago, disagreed with referee Maurice Deegan’s decision to award Sligo that all-important first-half penalty.
Evans also dismissed the notion that Sligo had been taken lightly.
“Absolutely not. The freshness of Sligo, the appetite to contest and chase hopeless cases was very evident out there.
Meanwhile, Sligo manager Niall Carew said that building up a lead – and holding it – was so vital.
“In the League Roscommon won a few games well where they had the lead but in certain games where they lost, against Laois and Galway, they struggled when they went behind.
“That was part of our game plan that we would go a few points up early on. But we only won by four in the end so it is not as if we blew them out of the park or anything.
“I still think Roscommon will have a big say later on in the summer and that this defeat will make them stronger.”
A Marren (1-7, 1-0 pen, 3 frees); P Hughes (0-2); C Breheny (0-2); M Breheny (0-2); D Kelly (0-1).
C Cregg (0-4); C Murtagh (0-2, 2 frees); C Cafferky (0-2); E Smith (0-2); D Smith (0-1); N Daly (0-1); F Cregg (0-1, free).
A Devaney; R Donavan, K McDonnell, D Maye; E Flanagan, B Egan, K Cawley; C Breheny, N Murphy; C Davey, M Breheny, N Ewing; D Kelly, P Hughes, A Marren.
B Curran for Davey (35+3, black card); S Gilmartin for C Breheny (61); J Hynes for Cawley (70+3).
D O'Malley; S McDermott, N Carty, N Collins; N Daly, D Ward, C Cafferky; I Kilbride, C Shine; E Smith, R Stack, C Cregg; D Murtagh, S Kilbride, C Murtagh.
C Connolly for D Murtagh (34); D Smith for Stack (ht); D Keenan for Ward (42); C Compton for S Kilbride (54); F Cregg for C Murtagh (62); M Finneran for Shine (65, black card)
Maurice Deegan (Laois)