THE signals have been easy for Charlie Harrison to detect. The remarkable uprising experienced by the Sligo footballers has captured the imagination this summer.
A glittering attacking display generated a NFL Division 3 triumph in April, before the month of June saw them fell the traditional ruling classes of Connacht football with clean swipes.
The vibrant play of their side under the cool stewardship of Kevin Walsh has lead to a surge of interest around the Yeats county, and Harrison has soaked in the escalating hype around Sligo football.
“It has gone crazy. I have been getting letters from TDs and everything in the post. I have never seen as many flags, I have never seen as many signs and I have never seen Markevicz Park like I saw it against Galway in the semi-final.
“I grew up in Sligo town and it is a soccer town. But for the last year or two I have seen a change. There are kids going around in schools wearing Sligo jerseys instead of Sligo Rovers jerseys. It is just a big turnaround for the town.
“It’s a whole new thing but you have to enjoy it. It will pass you by so you might as well enjoy it while you are in the middle of it.”
Their route to next Sunday’s Connacht decider has been defined by their giant-killing acts to date but there have been moments of uncertainty and anguish.
In Pearse Stadium in June, they looked a guarantee to craft a success against Galway at the interval but coughed up an eight-point lead by the final whistle. The outcome may have been a draw when David Coldrick brought the action to a halt that afternoon but when the door closed in the Sligo dressing-room, the players wore the devastated look of men who had been defeated.
“I will never forget it when I was coming off the pitch,” recalls Harrison. “A reporter came up and stuck a dictaphone under my mouth and I was stunned. I did not know what to say. I didn’t where it did go wrong. In that dressing-room we were just so gutted.”
The following Tuesday night they held an inquisition after training into that second-half collapse. The meeting was productive as they cleansed the bad vibes of that defeat from their system. By the following Saturday their focus was back on track and Colm McGee’s lofted shot from distance saw them sneak over the line.
“That meeting was really good and got the heads back together. No-one expected us to even push them in the replay. But if you were to script it you would probably write it that way, that’s the way you would want to win it.
“I suppose not many people expected us to beat Mayo and Galway. Especially after the Galway draw, everyone was underestimating us. We knew there was something special in the squad.”
Harrison has experienced several joys in his time with Sligo. In the early parts of this decade, they punched above their weight in Croke Park against Ulster forces Tyrone and Armagh, and in 2007 swept to a momentous Connacht title win over Galway. But the thirst for achievement remains.
Blocking their path to a provincial crown on Sunday is a Roscommon team who would dearly love to fill the role of killjoys. This is a different role for Sligo to fill as they are warm favourites in contrast to the plucky underdog tag that has been attached to them to date. Harrison recognises that they must live with the increased expectations.
“It is a totally different challenge. If we were in Roscommon’s shoes we would love if we were meeting Sligo in a Connacht final. We have knocked out the big two so they are going to think that they have as good a chance as ever to win a Connacht title. We will have to be better prepared than we were for Mayo and Galway because they will to throw everything at us.”
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