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Sligo win Rackard Cup after dramatic comeback

Sligo captain James Weir lifts the Nicky Rackard Cup after the Nicky Rackard Cup Final match between Armagh and Sligo at Croke Park in Dublin. 

Sligo captain James Weir lifts the Nicky Rackard Cup after the Nicky Rackard Cup Final match between Armagh and Sligo at Croke Park in Dublin. 

Nicky Rackard Cup Final

SLIGO 2-14 ARMAGH 2-13

By John Harrington at Croke Park

Sligo came from four points down in the dying minutes to defeat Armagh in dramatic fashion in today’s Nicky Rackard Cup Final.

It’s an incredible achievement by the Yeats County considering they were promoted to this tier of hurling just this year having won the Lory Meagher Cup in 2018.

They finished the match with a flourish and they started with one too, Gerard O’Kelly Lynch scoring a goal after just two minutes.

It was a very sweet strike too, arrowing to the left-hand corner of the net from 20 yards out.

Armagh’s response was impressive – they strung a necklace of four points together to take the lead by the 15th minute.

Full-forward Eoin McGuinness scored two of them, and looked very dangerous whenever the ball entered his orbit.

Armagh were the bigger, stronger team, but when Sligo ran the ball they had a clear edge in pace around the middle third of the field and that began paying dividends for them.

A stretched Armagh defence was being forced to foul, and Keith Raymond punished them every time.

Five converted frees from him had Sligo 1-6 to 0-8 ahead by the 30th minute, and looking good considering they were playing against a stiff breeze.

But they sustained a real sucker punch when goalkeeper Mark Burke allowed a looping overhead strike from Danny Magee to drop into his net for a goal.

By the time the half-time whistle blew it was Armagh who now led by two points, 1-10 to 1-8, with the tie still finely balanced.

There were a couple of close shaves for both teams at the start of the second half.

First, Sligo ‘keeper Burke redeemed himself with a fine diving save from a McGuinness shot, and then O’Kelly-Lynch crashed a pile-driver of a shot off the Armagh cross-bar.

A brace of frees from Raymond levelled the game up, and as the second-half progressed the contest became a real tug of war between two well-matched teams.

When Armagh’s Tiarnan Nevin was given his marching orders on 61 minutes for a second yellow-card offence it looked like a fatal blow for the Orchard county.

But instead it was they who put seized the initiative a minute later when Danny Magee struck for his second goal after a canny pass form McGuinness.

Armagh stretched their advantage to four points when goalkeeper Simon Doherty drove over a free from inside his own half, and at that stage it looked like the Ulster team’s name was on the cup.

Sligo refused to raise the white flag though, and when Connor Griffin pointed on 69 minutes there was just a score between the teams again.

Five minutes of injury-time went up on the board, and by now Sligo were hitting everything in around the square as they went in search of the goal they badly needed.

It arrived two minutes into that injury-time when O’Kelly Lynch won possession and managed to get a shot off even after losing his footing briefly that went low and hard to the bottom left-hand corner.

All the momentum was with Sligo now and it was their substitute Kieran Prior who hit the winner, a fine strike off his left side, in the 74th minute.

It was a tough way to lose for a gallant Armagh side, but you could only admire the character that Sligo showed to dig out a win when all seemed lost.

Scorers for Sligo: Keith Raymond 0-8 (8f), Gerard O’Kelly Lynch 2-1, Ronan Cox 0-1, Joe Starr 0-1, Connor Griffin 0-1, Shane Crowley 0-1, Kieran Prior 0-1

Scorers for Armagh: Danny Magee 2-0, Dean Gaffney 0-6 (6f), Eoin McGuinness 0-2, Nathan Curry 0-2, Patrick Quinn 0-1, Dylan McKenna 0-1, Simon Doherty 0-1 (f)

SLIGO:** Mark Burke; James Weir, Niall Feehily, Kevin O’Kennedy; Kevin Banks, Liam Reidy, Rory McHugh; Ronan Cox, Joe Starr; Gerard O’Kelly Lynch, Conor Griffin, Kevin Gilmartin; Tony O’Kelly Lynch, Keith Raymond, Gary Cadden. Subs: Shane Crowley for Tony O’Kelly Lynch (ht), Mikey Gordon for Kevin O’Kennedy (46), Kieran Prior for Gary Cadden (58)

ARMAGH: Simon Doherty; Caolan Rice, Tiarnan Nevin, Patrick Quinn; Davy Bridges, Ciaran Clifford, Odhran McCann; Odhran Curry, Stevie Renaghan; Shaun Toal, Dean Gaffney, Paddy McGrane; Dylan McKenna, Eoin McGuinness, Danny Magee. Subs: Nathan Curry for Odhran McCann (20), Joe O’Connor for Shaun Toal (55),

Ref: James Connors (Donegal)