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Sheridan reacts to shock defeat

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GOLDEN GOAL Sligo and Mayo players react after Jack Lavin (not in picture) scores his side's fourth goal during last Wednesday's EirGrid Connacht Under 20 Football Championship Final at Markievicz Park in Sligo. Pic: Sportsfile

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Mike Finnerty

THE morning after the night before and Sligo’s fairytale story was the talk of the GAA world.
Except in Mayo, of course.
Sligo may have written the history by snatching their first ever Connacht Under-20 championship title victory from the jaws of defeat with a fortuitous 59th minute goal from Jack Lavin, but in Mayo the mood was very different last Thursday morning.
A match that seemed to have been won when Frank Irwin’s free put the hot favourites five points up in the 53rd minute, was instead lost when Sligo struck for 2-1 in the last 10 minutes.
A huge opportunity to win Mayo’s first Connacht Under-20 title since 2018 had also been lost and it was obvious from Maurice Sheridan’s tone the following morning that the defeat had hit the Mayo manager and his players hard.
“We played quite well for the majority of the game and put ourselves in a position to win the game,” he told The Mayo News.
“But we fell asleep against Galway and Leitrim in the last eight minutes and it was the same again last night — the goals they got at the end were a bit lucky.
“But you just have to give the credit to Sligo, it’s their evening, there was a lot of emotion there and they deserved it.
“Our lads were shell-shocked afterwards, there wasn’t a whole lot said.
“They were devastated. I’ve been involved in defeats like that in the past, and it’s hard to legislate for what happened. We should have won it, but we didn’t.
“We went forward with our own plan,” he added.
“There’s no doubt that Sam [Callinan] was a huge loss. We knew that Sligo would be behind the ball and I felt our lads executed the plan for the most part.”
The match was full of turning points and plot-twists and unexpected drama.
Two Jack Davitt goals in the first half left Sligo ahead by a point at half-time, but Sheridan admitted that he wasn’t unduly worried at that stage.
“The two goals that Sligo scored early on, one of them was definitely against the run of play,” he recalled.
“The ball had gone out over the sideline, it was our ball, and then one of our lads pushed a Sligo guy in the back and they got then free in that led to the goal.
“We had dominated around the middle in that first half, pressed them well and were in a good position,” he added.
“Then they got their second goal and, again, we responded well. We showed good resolve.
“Going in at half-time a point behind, with the breeze that was in it, I thought we weren’t in bad shape.”
The third quarter saw Mayo take the game to the homeside, against the breeze, but they struggled to make inroads and it took them just over 10 minutes to fashion an equaliser from a Frank Irwin free.
“After half-time they pulled everybody behind the ball so we had to hold on to possession,” said Maurice Sheridan.
“If we didn’t, if we gave the ball away, that was only going to give them oxygen.
“But we found it hard to break them down.
“The lads worked hard though and we put ourselves in a great position with Paddy Heneghan’s goal. It was a bit lucky but I thought we deserved it for the way we were playing. “We also had another goal chance when Rory Morrin, who played really well, put a shot over the bar.”
That 50th minute goal put Mayo four points up and when Sligo defender Shane Molloy was sent off a minute later, just before Frank Irwin’s free looked to have broken Sligo’s resistance, the die seemed cast.
Or so we thought.
“The sending-off really should have worked in our favour, having the extra man, but it seemed to give Sligo a new lease of life,” admitted Sheridan.
A few minutes after going down to 14 men, Sligo came roaring back into contention when two long balls into the Mayo goalmouth caused consternation.
“Their third goal came off a sideline ball — the Sligo guy closed his eyes really and just hit it but it was a cool finish from their number 11 [Eoghan Smith],” said Sheridan.
“We had another goal chance that Niall Treacy, who did well when he came on, blazed over the bar.
“Their final goal, you couldn’t write it really,” he continued.
“We left a man unmarked out on the left wing, there should have been more pressure on him, out the field, but he was allowed to launch in a ‘Hail Mary’ that ended up in the net.”
In terms of the bigger picture, Maurice Sheridan is hoping that some of this year’s Under-20 squad go on play senior inter-county football.
“Ultimately, it’s all about the players and it’s about some of them going on to play senior for Mayo.
“For us, it’s about improvement and enjoyment and if they are going to end up in the senior team, then that’s part of it too.
“They’re an honest bunch of lads who worked extremely hard. And they will learn about resilience from the experience.
“Some of the lads on the field are only 17 years of age, in fifth year in school, the likes of Seán Morahan and Tom O’Flaherty,” he said.
“They’re young lads who will learn from this experience.
“Ultimately it just a bit of maturity that was probably lacking in those last few minutes.”

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