CONNACHT’S big two have already fallen under the Sligo steamroller but David Kelly has warned that the county’s ambitions stretch far beyond the banks of the Shannon this summer.
Kelly isn’t for one moment overlooking the fact Sligo have still to face Roscommon in the provincial final but his honesty in acknowledging broader ambitions is symbolic of a Sligo team on the rise.
It is also recognition that the county failed to do themselves justice in 2007 when they claimed the Connacht title but flopped in Croke Park where they lost an All-Ireland quarter-final to Cork in dismal fashion.
“We’ve beaten two strong teams this year already and we’ve a strong team to beat in the Connacht final as well but we’re not going to stop just with the Connacht final,” he said. “We have bigger ambitions than that.”
Beating both Mayo and Galway will do that for a team.
The first deposits in Sligo’s bank of belief were made last year after narrow defeats to Galway and Sligo and the replay victory over Joe Kernan’s side last week was the most significant lodgement of them all.
The perceived wisdom was that Sligo had blown their chance six days earlier when letting a nine-point half-time lead slip through their fingers and Kelly admits that it was a hard one to get the head around.
“There was just depression really in the dressing room,” he revealed. “It was nasty but the next day we had a meeting and the heads were back on. We took a lot of confidence from it.
“We were all over them really and we shouldn’t have let them back into the game. It was a learning curve for us. We didn’t lose, we drew. It felt like a loss but it wasn’t a loss. Thankfully we won the next game.”
They did it the hard way, turning a two-point deficit into a one-point victory in the game’s dying moments and with a number of substitutes playing key roles in those vital, game-defining scores.
That extra depth has gone a long way this season.
“This year, compared to last year even, we have three or four new lads in straight away and there’s lads biting to get in. Training is ridiculous. I’ve never been involved in a setup like it. Everyone wants to get in the team. There’s massive competition.”
Kelly has been front and centre from the off and he was in Dublin yesterday to accept the Opel GPA Footballer of the Month award after scoring 1-6 in win over Mayo and draw with Galway in June.
That was followed up with another 1-2 last weekend and his growing reputation as a dangerman was highlighted by images of Galway’s Alan Burke jostling the corner-forward prior to the throw-in last weekend.
“It just comes with it and you have to deal with it and not react. I’ve got it before. It’s not anything new. It has just been highlighted.”
If anything, such ‘attention’ can be harder to bear at college level where there are less eyes and cameras to highlight foul play and Kelly has credited his experience in winning this year’s Sigerson Cup with DCU for his current form.
Roscommon’s Donie Shine and Cathal Cregg were other members of the squad that accounted for UCC in that final back in February so Kelly knows all too well the challenge facing Sligo on Sunday week.
“Donie is a serious player,” he said. “Roscommon are a young team but an ambitious team and they have nothing to lose coming into this so we’ll have to watch a bit more.”
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