THREE Mayo footballers have helped the IT Sligo FC first team win the Rustlers CFAI Plate title with victory over GMIT Galway by three goals to one.
Mayo players Michael Guilfoyle (from Foxford), Gary Higgins (from Ballyhaunis) and Darren Murray (from Balla) joined the rest of squad in spirited celebrations after the match on Tuesday last, March 6.
The team will also play against Limerick IT in the Rustlers Division 1 final next Monday, March 12, at the FAI headquarters in Abbottstown, Dublin. A win in that match will see IT Sligo FC return to the College & Universities Football Premier League.
The team made the Division 1 final after beating Blanchardstown IT 5-4 on penalties after a 1-1 extra-time draw in the semi-final playoff.
Many of IT Sligo’s players in the squad, including Gary Higgins, are on the Institute’s sports scholarship programme, which helps talented student athletes reach their sporting potential. Up to 20 new scholarships and bursaries are awarded each year under the scheme and students who are rewarded scholarships receive mentoring support, training guidance and other value-added support.
The overall aim of the scheme is to recruit, manage and develop players/athletes with exceptional ability to position IT Sligo as a premier centre of sporting performance.
The Rustlers CFAI Plate final was played at Mervue United's grounds in Galway city. After a bright start by both teams, IT Sligo took the lead on 13 minutes when a cross into the box fell to the feet of Darren Somers who blasted home from inside the area.
On 22 minutes GMIT got their equaliser when a diagonal ball was played to the right winger who connected brilliantly on the volley, sending it to the top corner.
Both teams pushed for a second goal but it remained 1-1 at the break. However, Sligo IT re-establised their lead two minutes into the second half when soccer scholar Gary Higgins latched on to an excellent through ball and finished across the 'keeper to the far corner.
GMIT piled the pressure on and had plenty of dangerous set pieces cleared from the Sligo defence. Yet Sligo played some fine football too and had some half-chances before substitute Jack Hever wriggled his way through the GMIT defence and unleashed an unstoppable drive into the bottom corner that gave the goalkeeper no chance.
There were still 15 minutes left and GMIT piled the pressure on but Sligo IT stood tall and ran out worthy winners in the end.
Assistant coach Darragh Healy said: “We are absolutely delighted with the win. We played against a really good GMIT team today and managed to come out on top. It is no more than the squad deserve.
“We have had a small squad of players who have worked tirelessly all year. They are such a talented group and it is a pleasure for myself and Colm Jinks (head coach of IT Sligo FC) to guide them along the way.
“We also owe a lot to the Sligo IT soccer committee who have provided us with everything we have asked for, and a special mention to Colin Feehily who organises everything for us on a daily basis. We look forward to the league final next Monday against Limerick IT.”