By Damian Dolan
Lancashire will need to win both of their remaining Div 3B fixtures if they are to be in contention for a place in the league final.
Saturday’s 3-18 to 1-15 defeat to high-flying Sligo leaves Stan Murray-Hession’s side needing to beat Fermanagh (22 February) and Leitrim (1 March), to have a realistic chance of repeating their Div 3B success of 2018.
The Lancashire boss had said before hostilities at Markievicz Park that he’d “be happy” with anything less than a ten-point loss. Goal achieved.
But that was far from Murray-Hession’s mood at the final whistle, as he lamented two soft first half goals and “poor handling errors”, which prevented them from getting even closer.
“We turned over three balls in our half own defence in the second half, and gave away three frees and three points trying to win the ball back,” he told the Irish World.
“You just can’t afford to make those kind of mistakes.”
Having trailed Sligo by 12 points at one stage in the first half, the home side in the end needed a Joe McHugh goal in the 45th minute to finally subdue a stubborn and improving Lancashire outfit.
The visitors reduced the Sligo lead to just six points – mainly through the accuracy of Caimin Quigley – before McHugh struck.
“We were on top; we were the better team and we were hurling better. You take great hope from that,” said Murray-Hession.
The Fullen Gaels’ sharpshooter, in his first year with the county team, finished with an impressive tally of 1-9.
Quigley had replaced Lancashire star man Ronan Crowley in the starting line-up, with Crowley unable to travel due to a chest infection.
Lancashire were also forced to line out without captain Greg Jacob after his red card in the match with the Breffini men.
Last Saturday at Markievicz Park was the first time in a very long time that Lancashire had taken to the field without either Crowley or Jacob.
The visitors opened the scoring through a Quigley free against a Sligo side playing their first game of the league, having received an opening weekend ‘bye’.
And despite playing into a strong wind, Lancashire more than held their own in the opening ten minutes. Scores from Edmond Kenny and another Quigley free had the visitors still ahead (0-3 to 0-2).
But Daithí Hand’s side then began to make the elements tell to their advantage, rattling off the next six points without reply.
The home side then struck their opening goal through Keith Raymond.
The Yeats men led by 1-9 to 0-3 and were threatening to run away with proceedings.
But after 16 scoreless minutes, Lancashire were given a lifeline, albeit a tentative one, as Quigley found the back of the Sligo net from a free.
A strong finish to the half saw the Exiles close the gap to just five points, but all of that good work was undone just before the break, as Gerard O’Kelly Lynch claimed the home side’s second goal.
Allianz Hurling League Rd2 Roinn 3b
Lancashire : 0-0(00) pic.twitter.com/vE4RO3XWCm
— Sligo GAA (@sligogaa) February 1, 2020
Sligo led by 2-12 to 1-7 at the short whistle.
“Coming back from that physiologically is very hard work, but the lads dug in,” said Murray-Hession.
“It would have been very easy for us to have found ourselves 15 or 16 points down, if we’d rolled over. But they kept going to the end.”
Lancashire more than held their own in the third quarter – reducing the gap to six points – until McHugh’s goal gave the home side some much needed breathing space, and finally took the sting out of a tiring Lancashire.
With the visitors “out of puff” in the last 15 minutes, Sligo punished silly Lancashire handling errors and poor decision-making.
Considerably behind Sligo in their preparations, for Lancashire this was still a “great workout” and they can only improve by playing against a “much better calibre” team.
Murray-Hession hopes to have Ronan and Darren Crowley back for the crucial trip to Fermanagh, as well as Trevor Lee. While Jacob will also be available.
“They’ll improve us and we’ll be stronger as a result of having fellas like those around,” he said.
“I’m hopeful that once we get them together and we all get fit, we might actually do something.”