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‘I was kind of in a state of shock’ – Narrow Galway loss most painful defeat yet for Sligo skipper Niall Murphy

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Sligo’s footballers haven’t beaten any of Connacht’s top three since 2015 but looked on course for a stunning victory when leading most of the way against the reigning champions. That was until Rob Finnerty’s goal broke their hearts.

“It was a sore one just watching, thinking we should have been out there,” Murphy admits, having seen Galway win the title for the third year in a row in Salthill with a narrow eclipse of old rivals Mayo.

“We had them at arm’s length for a lot of the game. We led right up to the 71st minute and probably one mistake just caught us. But even before that, I know I had an opportunity to put us four ahead with eight or nine minutes left and that would have been an extra bit of breathing space. Look, it was gut-wrenching.

“It was very disappointing. It was a tough couple of days after it just to move along, but I think it’ll give us a bit of confidence that we can compete. We’re not sure if it was a flash in the pan or flukey or whatnot. We hope not, obviously. The next couple of weeks will tell what our performance against Galway was really like.”

Sligo’s immediate focus is a shot at the Tailteann Cup, their campaign starting with a match against Wexford in Markievicz Park on Saturday afternoon.

The Galway loss has been pored over and lessons learned, but shaking off the disappointment took him longer than any other defeat in his career.

“We went out for a few beers after it, but it definitely took me nearly until the Thursday or Friday, there was sort of a cloud over you. I was kind of in a state of shock really, to be honest. I wouldn’t be an emotional fella at all, but over the next couple of days, I just found myself getting emotional about it.

“I don’t know why, but that’s the way it was. Just the shock of it and the opportunity you had that you missed out on. The fact we were beating them up until the 70th minute is just heartbreaking.”

He returned to work in Carrick-on-Shannon, where he is employed at a software company, on Monday, two days after the Galway defeat, but manager Tony McEntee gave them a week off from football.

“It’s been nine years since we beat a Mayo, Galway or Roscommon; 2015 was the last time we did it. I suppose you want to earn the respect. And for Sligo to earn massive respect around the country, it’s taking those teams on and beating them, so it was a chance missed, a huge, huge chance missed.

“I would have had that conversation with myself the day after, the Monday, Tuesday, ‘Will you cop on?’ But then you go back to moments in the game and just thinking, the final whistle would have went and we would have won and how good that would have been. But yeah, it was probably Friday. I actually remember just being at the desk working and going, ‘Right, gone; as best you can, let’s move forward’.”

He says he hopes the near-miss will give them confidence to launch a serious bid for the Tailteann Cup, having reached the semi-finals two years ago.

“I think lads got an opportunity to play in Croke Park for the first time, so that is a huge incentive – to try and get back there as well. I would have loved to have played in the Sam Maguire, absolutely loved to have played in it. I’d take that all day if I had an opportunity, but I think we’ll definitely put the head down for this competition.”

Murphy has been playing with Sligo since 2012 when they reached the Connacht final after beating Galway in Pearse Stadium. They lost the decider by two points to Mayo.

“We were very strong back then,” he reflects, citing the wins over Galway and Mayo in 2010, leading to a one-point Connacht final loss to Roscommon.

Sligo reached last year’s Connacht final, losing by 14 points to Galway, and had the experience of the All-Ireland series, where they drew the opener with Kildare and suffered losses to Roscommon and Dublin, the latter by 24 points. Is a Tailteann Cup run more useful to the county at this stage?

“I think it’s taking off. I was quite sceptical of it at the start, very sceptical of it at the start. I think it’s been a success so far, so hopefully it can continue in that vein.”

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