Sligo 1-13 Clare 2-17: Clare boss Colm Collins refused to take credit for igniting a stunning second half comeback in Saturday’s All-Ireland qualifier win against Sligo at Markievicz Park.
But Collins must have said something inspirational during to break that stirred his charges into life.
The Bannermen outscored their hosts 1-13 to 1-4 in the final 35 minutes having trailed 0-9 to 1-4 at the interval.
The team who lost to Kerry in the Munster semi-final are now just one win away from the All-Ireland quarter-finals and will prove a test for either Tipperary or the Connacht runners-up.
Collins remained typically modest after the Division 3 champions’ ruthlessly impressive win in the north-west.
“I think the players knew themselves coming off the pitch at half-time what had to be done. They were two points down in a championship game and they knew they had to up it, they knew they had to stop the mistakes that they were making. So the reaction came from them.”
It wasn’t all plain sailing for Clare, however, as they eventually stormed to a seven-point victory, only the county’s sixth-ever win the Qualifiers.
Although top scorer David Tubridy’s 27th minute penalty kickstarted Clare’s recovery — and the same player’s point put his side into the lead for the first time in the 47th minute — Clare were also dealt a blow when dual ace Podge Collins, the manager’s son, was black-carded after 30 minutes.
But teenager Keelan Sexton, who replaced Podge, impressed with three points, Eoin Cleary was likewise influential as he chipped in with 0-5 and David Tubridy’s contribution of 1-3 was also crucial.
Clare’s midfield won the day — captain Gary Brennan notched the 61st minute goal to confirm Clare’s progress and his fellow midfielder, Cathal O’Connor, landed five beautiful points from play in a second-half controlled by the Banner men.
Sligo’s attacking sparkle was dulled in the second-half and Clare smothered their favoured option of using short kick-outs to build from the back.
All this meant that substitute Pat Hughes’ 63rd minute goal, which cut the different to four points, 2-12 to 1-11, was unable to rouse an unlikely recovery from the home side.
As well as seeing their decent opening period stalled by Clare’s recovery — wind-assisted Sligo led 0-4 to 0-1 by the 14th minute with a couple of fine scores from Niall Murphy — Sligo will wonder what if Brian Egan had netted just a minute after Clare took the lead. Instead, the corner-forward’s goal-bound shot was kept out by Clare custodian Joe Hayes.
Collins continued: “I was delighted that it was just two points in it at half-time because the breeze was worth more than two points. I felt that we took a lot of wrong options, especially from frees, in the first-half against that breeze as they were just unscoreable and we should have gone short with them.
“The penalty brought us back into the game and once we started to get on top in the second-half, that was it. The two boys in midfield took over. Cathal drove on and took some great points and Gary was excellent. Once we got ahead we kept going. I am delighted for the players], they are a tremendous bunch.”
Sligo failed in their bid to reach the All-Ireland’s last 12 for the third year in succession and one feels that their year was left behind at Hyde Park last month when they let slip an eight-point half-time lead against Roscommon in the Connacht semi-final.
Sligo manager Niall Carew was upset at how the campaign crumbled, having declared that Sligo had identified the All-Ireland quarter-finals as their year’s goal.
The Kildare native said: “I’m very disappointed with our second-half performance. We played for 10 minutes [after half-time] and had four or five opportunities that would have given us a cushion.
“If we were further ahead it would have asked more questions of them but we struggled. The Clare penalty was certainly a big turning point. Clare were deserving winners and we struggled, again, with players running at us from midfield, especially.”
Scorers for Sligo:
P. Hughes (1-0); A. Marren (0-3, 2 frees); M. Breheny (0-3, 2 frees); N. Murphy (0-3, 1 free); Brian Egan (0-1); Kyle Cawley (0-1); A. McIntyre (0-1); C. Henry (0-1).
Scorers for Clare:
D. Tubridy (1-3, 2 frees, 1-0 pen); E. Cleary (0-5, 2 frees); C. O’Connor (0-4); K. Sexton (0-3); G. Brennan (1-0); P. Lillis (0-1); S. McGrath (0-1).
A. Devaney; D. Maye, K. McDonnell, E. Flanagan; Keelan Cawley, G. O’Kelly-Lynch, Brendan Egan; J. Hynes, A. McIntyre; A. Marren, M. Breheny, N. Ewing; Brian Egan, N. Murphy, Kyle Cawley.
P. Hughes for J. Hynes (47); C. Henry for A. Marren (66) (black card); N. Gaughan for G. O’Kelly-Lynch (66).
J. Hayes; D. Ryan, K. Harnett, M. McMahon; C. O’Dea, G. Kelly, S. Hickey; G. Brennan, C. O’Connor; J. Malone, S. Collins, P. Lillis; E. Cleary, D. Tubridy, P. Collins.
K. Sexton for P. Collins (30) (black card); S. McGrath for D. Tubridy (65); E. Coughlan for P. Lillis (67); P. Burke for J. Malone (66); S. Malone for E. Cleary (68); D. Nagle for S. Collins (70).
Anthony Nolan (Wicklow).
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