Third defeat leaves Sligo in troubleLiam Maloney
It isn’t for the lack of trying. It is not as if they don’t want to win. It is not like they are up against Kerry, Cork or Dublin. But Sligo, now beaten three times in four of this year’s Allianz Football League games, are mired in quicksand.
Sinking fast? There are three games remaining to find a lifeline but right now they’re perched precariously above the two relegation spots in Division Three.
Only two counties Sligo have yet to face, Tipperary and Offaly, both winless, sit below Kevin Walsh’s stumbling charges.
It is not as if the sporting gods have any reason to lower Sligo a peg or two – last year’s relegation from Division Two took the shine off successive promotions when Sligo jumped up through two Allianz Football League sections and were full value for this progression.
Sligo’s latest setback was last Sunday’s eight-points home loss (1-16 to 1-8) to table-toppers Longford, who, with four wins from four games, appear hell-bent on promotion and organised accordingly.
Losing by eight points and conceding 17 scores (1-16) in front of their own fans at Markievicz Park was probably worse than the away losses against Antrim and Cavan.
In those floodlit games Sligo were, even in stoppage-time, scrambling for at least a draw; against the promotion-chasing Longford they never looked like patching a revival together, especially once full-back Johnny Martyn, who had his hands full keeping the burly Brian Kavanagh in check, picked up a second booking.
Four points down when Martyn walked, 1-9 to 1-5, the 14 men managed three further points, all token gestures given the overall predicament, as Longford’s relentless machine spat out seven more scores.
Sean McCormack, who supplied 10 of the winners’ 16 points, should have netted a goal with his seventh effort in the 57th minute but from a favourable position he fisted the ball over rather than test Philip Greene.
The free-taker’s seventh pointed free with three minutes of normal time to go was the prompt for some Sligo fans to skip the venue prematurely – they would have missed Sligo’s last two scores, a booming point by Tony Taylor and Stephen Coen’s dipping free that just cleared the crossbar.
Whatever about the view that these supporters should have stayed until Sligo’s slow death was completed, even they knew from early on in this fixture that their county is being hounded by bad luck.
Injuries are biting manager Kevin Walsh’s plans – midfielder Eugene Mullen sat out this fixture and David Kelly, originally named at No.15 in the match programme, was a non-starter as his ongoing ankle knack becomes a topic of concern on Facebook, Twitter and all the Sligo parishes in between.
Even when Sligo goaled, Longford, who struck a crossbar with Niall Mulligan’s deceptive shot after three minutes, had an immediate answer.
Adrian Marren’s clinical close-range finish after 14 minutes, following industry from midfielder-turned-forward James Clarke, put Sligo ahead for the only time at 1-1 to 0-3.
But Longford, all bustling intent, were level within a minute and Paul Barden’s 16th minute goal – a simply extraordinary strike – took the sting out of Sligo’s brief statement of intent.
Down by four at the interval, 1-7 to 1-3, Sligo’s present malaise was later highlighted when a potential match-turning goal was denied by Longford goalkeeper Damien Sheridan’s outstretched left leg.
Shane McManus’ pass put Alan Costello through on goal and his precise shot was heading goalwards until Sheridan’s foot got in the way.
It wasn’t all bad luck – Sligo cursed themselves, again, with frequent turnovers, mishandling, underhit passes.
Still, there were some encouraging performances. Shane McManus, at midfield alongside Tony Taylor, was diligent, Johnny Martyn, although sent off, made one notable first-half interception to snuff out a Sean McCormack-led initiative, while Neil Ewing and Mark Quinn, both given starting roles, also tried.
Substitutes Stephen Coen, Johnny Davey, Alan Costello were lively, especially Costello, and Adrian Marren’s status at this team’s main scorer – he chipped in with 1-3 – was reinforced.
Best for Sligo: Adrian Marren
Sligo: Philip Greene, Charlie Harrison, Johnny Martyn, Ross Donovan, David Rooney, Mark Quinn, Neil Ewing, Shane McManus, Tony Taylor (0-1), Brendan Egan, Mark Breheny (0-1, 1f), Pat Hughes, Colm McGee (0-1, 1 ’45′), James Clarke, Adrian Marren (1-3, 1f)
Subs used: Stephen Coen (0-2, 1f) for Colm McGee, 32; Alan Costello for Mark Breheny, h-t; Johnny Davey for David Rooney, 43; David Maye for Pat Hughes, 47; Keelan Cawley for Brendan Egan, 64
Wides: 6 (3/3)
Longford: Damien Sheridan, Dermot Brady, Barry Gilleran, Declan Reilly, Shane Mulligan, Michael Quinn, Colm P Smith, Bernard McElvanney, John Keegan, David Barden, Paul Barden (1-1), Niall Mulligan (0-1), Donal McElligott (0-1), Brian Kavanagh (0-3), Sean McCormack (0-10, 7f)
Wides: 5 (4/1)
Subs used: James Givney for John Keegan, 49; Peter Foy for Shane Mulligan, 61; JJ Matthews for Niall Mulligan, 63; Noel Farrell for David Barden, 65; Martin Brady for Paul Barden, 68
Referee: Martin Sludden (Tyrone)