Sligo notch late goal to avoid upset in New York in All-Ireland football championship opener
By Ronan O'Brien
Last Updated: 09/05/17 1:30pm
Kyle Cawley struck a late goal to help ensure Sligo a 1-21 to 1-13 victory and survive a shock in New York after denying the home side a first Connacht championship victory in 19 attempts at Gaelic Park in the Bronx.
Niall Carew's side needed a big finish after New York took the lead 19 minutes from time following Eugene McVerry's goal, but three points from Adrian Marren and Cawley's goal send Sligo through to the Connacht quarter-final against Mayo in a fortnight's time.
However, the loss of Pat Hughes, Brendan Egan and Mark Breheny to injury on the slippy artificial surface could be significant ahead of that Mayo game.
There was good news before the throw-in for New York as their experienced Mayo defender Tom Cunniffe came through a late fitness test, but it was Sligo that got off to a flying start when captain Neil Ewing kicked his side ahead after 22 seconds.
New York were keen to make a mark again this year though, and after they came so close to beating Roscommon last year, Monaghan native Daniel McKenna soon had them level with a point on the turn.
With referee David Gough taking a hard line on all infringements, Mark Breheny and Eugene McVerry added pointed frees for their sides, before Keelan Cawley fisted Sligo ahead, while McVerry levelled it again after six minutes.
But Sligo's pacy attack began to make inroads with the likes of Kyle Cawley, Stephen Coen and Johnny Kelly to the fore and they added the next four points of the game. Marren, Johnny Kelly, Paddy O'Connor and Coen all found the target to make it 0-7 to 0-3 - all seven points for Sligo came from different scorers.
Sligo were well on top at that stage, but they were guilty of some missed goal chances, with Hughes and Breheny failing to find the net before the interval.
A free from McVerry steadied the home side after 18 minutes, but Sligo's response was impressive and Breheny and Kyle Cawley found the target to work a five-point lead for their side.
The introduction of Sligo native Eoin Flanagan at the back for New York had a massive impact though as he solidified their defence after 21 minutes, although Sligo were hit with a double injury blow as they lost full-forward Hughes and centre-back Egan.
Crucially New York finished the first half powerfully with five of the last seven scores, including two 45s from Conor McGraynor and a couple of McVerry frees, but Marren and Breheny helped Sligo into a 0-11 to 0-9 lead at the break.
Sligo were quick out of the blocks in the second half and O'Connor kicked his second point after just 15 seconds, but New York refused to lie down and a driving score from David Culhane was followed by a 46th-minute goal from McVerry which drew the North Americans level.
Five minutes later the lead was New York's when Ross Wherity landed a super point, but two Marren frees and David Kelley's first point put the Yeats men back in charge with a 0-17 to 1-12 advantage.
Those scores relaxed Sligo and Coen and goalkeeper Aidan Devaney (free) stretched their lead to three points, while Cawley's goal five minutes from time clinched the win.
Sligo are to remain in the USA until Wednesday on a training camp as part of their build-up to the clash with All-Ireland finalists Mayo on Sunday week in Castlebar, but for now they are just relieved to survive this tricky test against a much changed New York side from last year.
Sligo: A Devaney (0-1, 0-1f); R Donovan, C Harrison, E McHugh; K Cawley (0-1), B Egan, N Ewing (0-1); P O'Connor (0-2), A McIntyre; J Kelly (0-1), M Breheny (0-5, 0-3f), K Cawley (1-1); S Coen (0-3, 0-3f), P Hughes, A Marren (0-5, 0-3f).
Subs: D Kelly (0-1) for Hughes (25), S Gilmartin for O'Connor (47), C Breheny for Kelly (50 black card), C Henry for M Breheny (57), D Cummins for K Cawley (68).
New York: V Cadden; T Cunniffe, D Cunnane, P Witherow; G McCartan, D Culhane (0-1), K Quinn; B Gallagher, S Hogan (0-1); D Sutcliffe, C McGraynor (0-2, 0-2'45), R Wherity (0-1); D McKenna (0-1), S O'Connor, E McVerry (1-5, 0-5f).
Subs: E Flanagan for Cunnane (21), P Boyle (0-1) for McCartan (h-t), K Connolly (0-1) for McGraynor (43), E Ward for O'Connor (64).
Referee: David Gough (Meath).