It’s Monday so the countdown to our opening fixture in this year’s championship is on in earnest. Forget the Dubs, forget Kerry, Roscommon or Galway or any other potential opponents in this year’s championship: the only opposition that matters for us right now is the team we face this coming Sunday. That team is Sligo and the ball is set to be thrown in, by ref Seán Hurson from Tyrone, at MacHale Park next Sunday at 2pm.
It’ll be our first meeting with the Yeatsmen in the championship since the 2015 provincial final, when we overwhelmed them at Hyde Park. Aidan O’Shea banged in three goals on a day where we completed a provincial five-in-a-row. Since then, though, we’ve only won one match in Connacht – over in Ruislip against London last May.
Prior to that 2015 final our most recent encounter with Sligo was the 2012 decider, also at Hyde Park, we were emerged with a very nervy two-point win. The Magpies won the time we met before that, in a preliminary round tie at Markievicz Park in 2010.
Looking back at the archives it’s obvious that the Magpies have done best against us on home turf. As well as that win seven years ago, they also bested us in the shadow of Ben Bulben back in 2000. Aside from those two wins, however, the last forty years have seen a slew of wins for us. You have to back as far as the 1975 Connacht final replay (I remember it well) for the most recent time that Sligo beat us in Castlebar.
We beat them at Markievicz Park in 1980 (preliminary round), at MacHale Park in 1981 (final), at Markievicz in 1983 (semi-final), at MacHale in 1987 (semi-final – a right paddling that was), at Markievicz in 1988 (semi-final – another thumping), at MacHale in 1992 (semi-final – a one-point win), at Markievicz in 1993 (semi-final), at MacHale in 1994 (semi-final), at Hyde Park in 1997 (final, an extremely nervous one-point win), at MacHale in 2001 (semi-final, another one-pointer), at Markievicz in 2003 (semi-final) and at MacHale in 2008 (semi-final).
That latter one, nine years ago, was also the most recent time we faced them in the championship on home soil. David Clarke, Colm Boyle, Keith Higgins and Tom Parsons all featured for us that day and my report for the blog on proceedings is here.
Looking at Sligo’s more recent form, they come into Sunday having successfully negotiated a tricky enough preliminary round tie over in New York two weekends ago. Many were predicting their demise over in the Big Apple but it’s clear that they trained diligently for that one – frequently on the astro at Bekan, as I learned last week – and when the pressure came on at Gaelic Park, Niall Carew’s charges were well capable of upping their game and securing the win.
Their spring form was, no more than ourselves, a bit all over the shop. Their finished fourth in Division Three of the League on seven points but it was noteworthy that they beat both of the promoted counties – Tipperary and Louth – and drew with Armagh, who finished third. It was the results against the counties who finished below them that proved costly: they lost three of these four games, including to relegated Antrim.
Last year’s championship campaign was also a so-so one for the Yeats County. Leading by eight points at half-time in their semi-final against Roscosmmon, they appeared well on their way to inflicting a provincial beating on the uppity Sheepstealers for the second successive year. Instead, outscored in the second half by 4-10 to 0-5 they ended up losing by nine. They then beat Leitrim in Round 2 of the qualifiers before bowing out tamely in the following round to a rising Clare team.
Right, then, that’s all the back story to this one, a match where we’re clear favourites to advance. The bookies have us at 1/14 to prevail, with the handicap at nine points – odds from Paddy Power here. Let’s finish with a poll, though, who do you reckon will do it on Sunday?
How will we do against Sligo?
- Win (88%, 529 Votes)
- Lose (10%, 61 Votes)
- Draw (1%, 8 Votes)
Total Voters: 598