The dream turned into a nightmare for Sligo at Croke Park this afternoon when they were comprehensively beaten by a superior Dublin team 3-17 to 0-12. Although there was little to separate the sides at the interval, Dublin turned in one of their Jekyll and Hyde performances by producing a stunning display of skill and determination in the second half to brilliantly secure a quarter-final spot in the All-Ireland Football Championship.
Two early goals from the Dubs in the second-half killed off any hope Sligo had of winning this tie and as their heads dropped, Dublin took advantage of their opponents' disappointment to extend their lead further and ensure a comfortable victory.
However, Dublin looked far from comfortable in the opening half as Sligo matched everything they had to offer. Although the Leinster side did look more dangerous in front of the posts, with Declan Darcy and Dessie Farrell particularly impressive, Sligo looked lively with Gerry McGowan and Dessie Sloyane contributing effectively in the full-forward line.
McGowan opened the scoring in the first minute with a good point but it was to be the only time Sligo would lead in this tie. Dublin replied two minutes later from a free by Declan Darcy and he added another free in the eighth minute. Paul Curran made it 0-03 to 0-01 seconds later but Sligo reduced the deficit through Sloyane. Dessie Farrell put his name on the scoresheet after combining well with Jason Sherlock to leave the score at 0-04 to 0-02 with 15 minutes gone.
However, Dublin pulled ahead with points from Darcy and substitute Seanan Connell, who came on for Darren Homan in the 24th minute. Paul Durcan, McGowan and Karol O'Neill reduced Dublin's advantage to just a single point before Farrell kicked over again in the 32nd minute for the Dubs. Sligo finally levelled matters for only the second time in the match when Sloyane struck over a wonderful free after Durcan had pointed two minutes earlier. However, a third point for Dessie Farrell gave Dublin a slim lead going in at the break but it in no way reflected what would happen when the game resumed for the second half.
Sligo must have felt optimistic as they ran out for the second period but when Dublin struck within seconds of the re-start their game-plan began to unravel at the edges. A Dublin player's effort for a point rebounded off the post and it looked to be heading into the hands of Gallagher but he fumbled, allowing Farrell to blast home from close-range. This marked a turning point in the match as Sligo's inexperience began to show as they allowed their heads to droop.
Darcy extended Dublin's lead with an excellent solo run down the left wing and a good execution. However, even Dublin couldn't believe their luck when two minutes later they hit the back of the net for a second time. A beautiful move involving Sherlock and Ciaran Whelan resulted in the latter bearing down on goal and he made no mistake to put Dublin further ahead 2-09 to 0-07.
With just 38 minutes on the clock, this match was well and truly over. Although Sloyane and McGowan did their best to inspire their team to fight back, it proved too great a mountain to climb for the Connacht men. They needed to slow down the tempo of the game and upset Dublin's momentum but it proved too big a task as substitute Enda Sheedy fired home the Dubs' third goal in the 47th minute. Dublin outscored Sligo 3-09 to 0-05 in the second period of play as the visitors were swept away by Dublin's ability to kill off the tie at a crucial stage of play and Darcy, Whelan, Farrell, and Wayne McCarthy among others fired over points with ease as they cantered to victory.
Although the scoreline would suggest there is a gulf in the standard between these two teams, it was more Sligo's inexperience in such unfamiliar circumstances that allowed Dublin to take control in the manner which they did. Dublin are all too aware that it won't be so easy next time around as they await the outcome of this evening's All-Ireland Football quarter-final draw. For Sligo, they'll be hoping that next time around they can put to good use everything they've learned from today's encounter.
Filed by Amanda Fennelly