Connacht SFC Quarter-Final
By Damian Dolan
At McGovern Park, Ruislip
Revenge is a dish best served cold, but Sligo chose a baking hot London day to bury the memory of their 2013 defeat to the Exiles in emphatic fashion on Sunday.
While Cathal Corey’s side now advance to a Connacht Championship semi-final meeting with either Mayo or Galway, for Ciaran Deely’s men it’s the qualifiers, and a degree of soul searching between now and then, after this chastening loss.
Albeit up against a Division 3 side, London would have hoped to have run Sligo a good bit closer than they did.
At times, particularly in the first half, it all seemed just a bit too comfortable for the Yeats county, who but for their final round league win over Derry might have been back at McGovern Park next year and rubbing shoulders with the Exiles in Division 4.
You’d have been hard pressed to guess that on Sunday, however, such was the confident manner in which Sligo went about their business from the outset.
Spreading the ball across the full width of McGovern Park, Sligo’s slick handling, excellent movement and accuracy in everything they did tested the London defence to its maximum. This was definitely a step up from anything the Exiles had encountered in the league.
They gave London a lesson in keeping the ball in the first half, building patiently before exploding into life, and far more often than not finding the target at the end of it.
Gavin McEvoy nearly found himself tested in the opening seconds, but for an excellent block by Marcus Mangan as Kyle Cawley let fly.
Sligo did strike the first blow, however, through Pat Hughes – the man who’d hit the London crossbar five years earlier in the dying seconds.
Mark Gottsche had the chance to level, but his 45 drifted wide. Instead, Sligo doubled their advantage with a cracking point from Niall Murphy.
London captain Liam Gavaghan was fouled and duly popped the ball over the bar to get the Exiles on the scoreboard.
That was cancelled out by a beauty from Murphy, off the outside of his right boot, and when Paddy O’Connor and Adrian Marren pointed Sligo led 0-5 to 0-1 after 11 minutes and already there were concerns.
Sligo had settled all too easily into the game and were bossing matters. London, in that time, had already racked up three wides. That number rose to five before Gottsche landed London’s second score.
The Exiles needed to up it with the home support yearning for their team to give them something to cheer. Sligo just carried on about their business, retaining possession and moving the ball smartly.
Gerard O’Kelly-Lynch’s run set up Cathal Henry to point and Charlie Harrison, who was enjoying the space afforded him, combined with Hughes for Marren to fire over.
Marren then turned provider, fisting the ball into the path of Kyle Cawley, who was then brought to ground by McEvoy, as the London ‘keeper charged off his line. Marren sent McEvoy the wrong way with his penalty and Sligo led 1-7 to 0-2 after 24 minutes.
Henry stretched that lead further, but as much as Sligo were looking comfortable and threatening in attack, their backs were doing an efficient job in snuffing out London’s threat at the other end.
Too often London attacks ended in the ball being stripped or with a loose pass.
London had an appeal for a penalty waved away when Killian Butler was crowded out in the square, after good work from Ryan Elliott.
But after another neat Sligo move had resulted in a score for Marren, the Exiles produced a sublime move of their own, with McMahon playing a neat give-and-go with Elliott to open Sligo up, and McMahon to then almost walk the ball into the net. It was a good move reminiscent of the Exiles’ league campaign.
— the Irish World (@theirishworld) May 6, 2018
The deficit still stood at a hefty seven points at half-time (1-10 to 1-3), but London had a lifeline and it got the crowd involvement.
They had plenty more to cheer upon the restart as Liam Irwin, a half-time introduction, needed just 25 seconds to mark his championship debut for the Exiles with a score with his first touch.
Points from McMahon and Gavaghan followed in quick succession, and suddenly the lead was down to just four. London tails were up and the home crowd had discovered it voice.
Aidan Devaney strode up field to slot a 45, before London were dealt a huge blow when Gottsche was black carded. Man of the match against Sligo five years ago, and a key man in the London engine room, the Exiles would feel his loss.
Marren landed a free and the Exiles then lost full back Ciaran Dunne to another black card. The Exiles hit back, though, through Elliott and Gavaghan to keep the gap to four points with 46 minutes gone.
They wouldn’t get any closer, however. They needed a slice of luck. It nearly came when Gavaghan’s free came back off the post, only for the ball to drop into the grateful arms of Ross Donovan with Irwin poised to pounce.
Sligo had weathered the early second half London storm and rediscovered their first half composure. They were again dominating possession and moving the ball swiftly and with precision.
London just couldn’t stop the Yeats men from keeping the scoreboard ticking over, and Sligo eased away to book their place in the semi-finals.
The Exiles will know they can do better, only showing in patches some of the form that lit up their league campaign. They’ll hope for a favourable qualifier draw, so they can prove it.
It was a big day at McGovern Park for the Carrabine family with brothers Sean (left) playing for @sligogaa and David playing for @LONDAINGAA – not surprisingly they swapped shirts at the end @ConnachtGAA @officialgaa @HSukgaa @castleconnorgaa pic.twitter.com/KDxNxbokPA
— the Irish World (@theirishworld) May 6, 2018
Sligo: Aidan Devaney (0-1, 45); Ross Donovan, Eoin McHugh, Charlie Harrison; Gerard O’Kelly-Lynch, Adrian McIntyre, Neil Ewing (0-1); Kevin McDonnell, Niall Murphy (0-2); Cathal Henry (0-3), Paddy O’Connor (0-1), Pat Hughes (0-1); Liam Gaughan (0-1), Adrian Marren (1-6, 1f), Kyle Cawley.
Subs: Cian Brehany (0-1) for O’Connor (46min), Sean Carrabine (0-2) for Hughes (46min), Stephen Coen (0-2) for Kyle Cawley (54min), Finnian Cawley for Henry (67min), Luke Nicholson for Gaughan (68min), Darragh Cummins for Murphy (70+2min).
London: Gavin McEvoy; Philip Butler, Ciaran Dunne, David Carribine; Michael Walsh, Marcus Mangan, Patrick Begley; Anthony McDermott, Mark Gottsche (0-1); Adrian Moyles, Liam Gavaghan (0-5, 2f), Tom Waters; Ryan Elliott (0-1), Fearghal McMahon (1-1), Killian Butler.
Subs: Liam Irwin (0-2, 1f) for Killian Butler (h-t), Connor Murphy for Moyles (h-t), Martin Carroll for Gottsche (40min – black card), Conor O’Neill for Dunne (43min), Gerard Byrne for Walsh (54min), Eoin Murray (0-1) for Carrabine (64min).
Referee: Barry Cassidy (Derry).