Niall Murphy looks forward to making up for lost time.
By Eanna O’Reilly
New Sligo manager Tony McEntee received a huge boost at the beginning of 2021, with the news that Niall Murphy is re-joining the Sligo senior panel. The Coolera/Strandhill clubman spent 2020 away from the county set-up, as he embarked on a year of travelling. The 2020 season ended up being a controversial one for Sligo. An outbreak of Covid 19 in the panel saw them having to pull out of their Connacht semi-final fixture against Galway last Summer. Manager Paul Taylor stepped down from the role in January, with Armagh All-Ireland winner Tony McEntee appointed to lead the Yeats county this year.
The return of Sligo’s 2019 captain is a welcome development for McEntee, as he looks to improve a squad who have really struggled in recent years. Relegation to Division 4 of the national league was a major blow last season, while their championship campaigns in recent years have seen Sligo struggle to compete in Connacht. Speaking to The Backdoor GAA Podcast, Niall Murphy pointed to the loss of a number of experienced players as being a major setback.
‘‘We lost some of our biggest leaders in the group, some of our most experienced guys, all in a short space of time. The likes of Charlie Harrison, Ross Donovan, Mark Breheny. To lose players like that in the space of just a couple of years was a massive blow. We’ve had to try and develop a young team and I suppose, management were forced to bring a lot of young lads into the side. Hopefully, that will stand to them in the long run, we’re looking to the future now with the players we have.’’
Murphy believes that Sligo have the potential to achieve a big improvement and is ambitious about the future for Sligo football. The new management team has brought a new level of excitement within Sligo, with All-Ireland winners among the set up. McEntee, along with Donegal All-Ireland winner Paul Durcan and Sligo stalwart Mark Breheny, signal the ambitions of the county to look for a big improvement in their fortunes. Their first aim, as Murphy points out, is promotion from Division 4.
‘‘To do ourselves justice as a group, we have to get promoted from the division. We really feel that we should be competing at a higher level. I’ve no doubt Tony and the management will be aiming to do that and as players, we have to drive it on now. I’m eight years playing for Sligo and I’ve never won promotion in that time. So, we have to aim for that at least. The bigger picture for us, is to get a level of consistency in our game. We just haven’t done that in recent years. We want to be able to compete with likes of Galway, Mayo and Roscommon, but we have to get that consistency in our performances and our results.’’
Having returned from travelling abroad, Murphy is focused on sharpening up his football skills, which he believes are more important at the highest level than strength and conditioning. ‘‘I’ve been up at the club (Coolera/Strandhill) since I came home, kicking ball of both feet, working on my left foot and catching the ball. You can catch up on the strength and conditioning side of things on your own, we’re all training on our own at the moment obviously. But you can see it’s the skill level of the top teams at the highest level, that sets them apart. Lots of teams have focused hugely on strength and conditioning and I would have done that myself as well. You can fall into the trap of neglecting your football skills, but I think the focus has changed on that in recent years.’’