U20 footballers win first ever Connacht championship in dramatic finale

Back 25/04/2022 @ 02:34 | mainnews | U20 footballers win first ever Connacht championship in dramatic finale

Sligo’s U20 footballers came from behind with time up to secure a spectacular victory and the county’s first ever Connacht U20 championship in an intense and dramatic finish to the province’s U20 final played in Markievicz Park on Wednesday evening (Apr 20).

It was a victory fashioned from an unlikely position as the home side had found themselves suddenly five points behind and down a player with just eight minutes to go in a game that up to then had been nip and tuck on the scoreboard.

It was a night that proved the old adage that ‘goals win games’ and Sligo were certainly clinical in taking their chances in front of goal against a Mayo side that dominated possession but failed to take advantage with a string of wides and ball kicked away.

After Mayo had notched the first score, Sligo had settled well with two early points from a Lee Deignan free and a neatly taken point from James Donlon after Luke Marren had intercepted the resultant kickout.

Mayo though had gradually asserted themselves in midfield and had equalised in the twelfth minute through the lively Paddy Heneghan who would emerge as their top scorer and to have a major role in proceedings as the evening played out.

Sligo reclaimed the initiative a minute later with their first goal of the evening when a good move involving Matt Henry and Lee Deignan released Jack Davitt inside the Mayo defence and the St Molaise clubman made no mistake to find the net.

With Mayo dominating the middle of the field where Frank Irwin and Dylan Thornton were particularly prominent, they clawed back that lead with three unanswered points before Davitt struck for goal again following an exquisite pass from Deignan to restore Sligo’s three point advantage.

Mayo continued to chip away at the lead and had pulled back to level on the stroke of half time  when James Donlon finished a move up his right wing to send Sligo into the half time break with the most slender of leads – 2-3 to 0-8.

The second half resumed along a similar pattern to the first with Mayo dominating possession and territory but struggling to score.

They equalised through a Frank Irwin free and then created one of their few goal opportunities which Rory Morrin put over the bar, much to the relief of Sligo goalkeeper Kyle Davey and his defence but giving the green and red the lead for the first time since the opening minutes of the game.

That lead stood until the 20th minute when the Sligo defence batted down a hanging Irwin free which fell to Heneghan whose speculative attempt at a point over his shoulder dipped into the far corner of the net to give Mayo an unlikely four-point lead.

Sligo’s prospects then took another blow when a Shane Molloy attempt to dispossess Tom O’Flaherty was deemed to be dangerous play, earning the unfortunate corner back a red card and Irwin the opportunity to convert his fourth free of the day to put his side five up with eight minutes to play.

While they hadn’t played much football to that point, Sligo were not about to give up the fight and aided by the introduction of Brian Byrne at midfield, the 14 men took the game to Mayo and drove back up the field.

Their pressure bore dividends when an attempted punched clearance fell short to Sligo full forward Eoghan Smith who despite being well shackled all evening still had the strength and composure to drive the ball to the back of the net and give his side hope. He followed that up almost immediately with his first point of the day and suddenly with two minutes to play it was a one point game and Sligo were right back in the hunt.

Mayo briefly broke back downfield to give themselves some breathing space but Sligo were not to be denied and with wing forward Dylan Walsh, and replacement defenders Carian O’Reilly and Luke Casserly running directly at their defence the visitors were now very much on the back foot.

Sligo’s turnaround was complete just as normal time elapsed when captain Jack Lavin floated the ball over the goal area where Byrne went in to compete between the Mayo full back and goalkeeper and proved enough of a distraction for Lavin’s ball to find its way directly to the net.

The added time was now all about Sligo keeping the ball which they managed to do successfully, paving the way for raucous celebrations.

For further images of the game and the aftermath - go to https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?vanity=SligoGAA&set=a.4986163131459902

Sligo: K Davey; S Molloy, M McGowan, C Johnston; J Donlon (0-2), J Lavin (1-0), C Mulligan; F O’Donnell, J Keaney; M Henry, L Deignan (0-1 (f)), D Walsh; L Marren, E Smith (1-1 (1f)), J Davitt (2-0).

Subs: O Flynn for Henry (40), G Duffy for Marren (49), L Casserly for O’Donnell (49), B Byrne for Donlon (58), O Gorman for Deignan (60+2).

Top of Form

Bottom of Form

Mayo: B O’Flaherty; A Morrison, R Keane, C Dawson; F Kelly, D McHugh, A Cosgrove; F Irwin (0-4 (3f)); J Fallon (0-1); T O’Flaherty (0-1), D Thornton, S Morahan; R Morrin (0-2), P Heneghan (1-3), C O’Connell.

Subs: B Tuohy for Dawson (37), C MacHale for O’Connell (41), N Treacy (0-1) for Fallon (53), C Reid for Morrin (60+1).