A point from Sligo substitute Emma Hansberry in the final breath of Sunday’s Connacht Intermediate Ladies Semi-Final was the difference between success and failure, as Leitrim crashed out of the competition with a narrow 4-14 to 3-16 defeat at Elvery’s McHale Park in Castlebar.
Hansberry, a half-time substitute, shrugged off the attention two Leitrim defenders and bought herself time to kick between the posts to give Sligo the narrowest of victories.
However, controversy reigned as referee Seamus Regan blew the full-time whistle from the following re-start, despite another 90 seconds remaining on the stopwatch while Leitrim supporters felt that top scorer Aine Tighe was denied a clear-cut penalty in the closing stage as she bore down on goal.
Neither were Sligo too impressed with the Roscommon official as they felt that Tighe and Leitrim’s third goal should have been disallowed for a foul on the keeper while the Yeats women also felt that Sinead Fowley should have received a yellow card for a challenge on keeper Emma Cullen that resulted in the Sligo net-minder leaving the field on a stretcher.
Niall Kilcrann’s side flew into a five point lead in the first six minutes courtesy of a point each from Shauna Clancy and Erin Farrell, before Aine Tighe smashed the ball past Emma Cullen in the Sligo goal after the Kiltubrid forward latched on to the end of Clancy’s through ball. The Yeats Ladies had suffered defeat at the hand of the Green and Gold earlier this year and Pat Costello’s side were determined not to let Leitrim run away with things this time.
With seven minutes played, Geevagh corner forward Elaine O’Reilly capatalised on an opportunity to shoot from 25 metres, leaving four scores between the sides before scores from Aine Gormley and Sinead McTiernan put Sligo within two points of Leitrim.
O’Reilly struck again on 11 minutes as she got on the end of an Aine Gormley free, showed two defenders a clean pair of heels and slotted the ball over the bar. Aine Tighe brought the gap back to two two minutes later as she scored her first point of the tie, converting a free which Sinead Fowley won on the 14 metre line.
Tighe and Noelle Gormley exchanged wides in the 18th and 19th minute respectively before an injury to Leitrim keeper Michelle Guckian forced a break in play. Noelle Gormley collided with the St Mary’s stopper, forcing Leitrim into an early change as Patricia Forde came on and Mary Farrell deputised between the posts. Pat Costello’s side reduced the deficit to two shortly after, Karen Maloney on target for the Yeats County.
A 21st minute booking for Shauna Clancy was the catalyst for a short Sligo revival, although despite having plenty of possesion for a reasonable spell, they only had a Noelle Gormley goal to count for it. She fired past Farrell and into the net with 25 minutes played to put Sligo in the lead for the first time.
Four more scores from Aine Tighe along with a point each from Farrell and Niamh Tighe gave Leitrim a four point lead at half time, McTiernan’s point on 29 minutes the only reply for the black and white, leaving the score at 1-10 to 1-6 in Leitrim’s favour.
Sligo ate into Leitrim’s lead early in the second period courtesy of scores from Aine and Noelle Gormley, and half-time substitute Emma Hansberry to leave a point between the teams. Sligo recaptured the lead on 35 minutes when McTiernan was upended by Mairead Stenson inside the square, Nicole Fowley fired the ball into the top corner of the net and past Guckian, who came back on at halftime, to give the Yeats Ladies a two point lead.
Aine Tighe replied before Cullen was adjudged to have fumbled Farrell’s high ball across the goal-line to put Leitrim ahead by two. Sligo were forced to substitute Cullen on 42 minutes when Sinead Fowley’s late challenge on the Geevagh keeper meant she had to be stretchered off after eight minutes of treatment.
The lead changed hands twice more but Sligo delivered what seemed to be killer blows on 55 and 57 minutes when O’Reilly pounced twice, making the most of some slack Leitrim defending. Sligo now lead 4-10 to 2-13 with three minutes of ordinary time remaining. Leitrim pegged the lead back to three points and their good work bore further fruit on in the fourth minute of added time when Aine Tighe bundled the ball over the Sligo line after colliding heavily with the keeper to level the game once more.
Leitrim sub Laura O’Dowd spurned a golden opportunity to send her side into a Connacht Final six minutes into the red when she found herself behind the Sligo keeper. The Ballinamore woman attempted to pick the ball up instead of shooting and in doing so, gave Tracey O’Hara time to get back and nudge the ball out of her grasp and to safety.
Further scores from Sligo from Hansberry and Maloney meant the score stood at 25 points a piece.
Hansberry then broke Leitrim hearts as she dodged her way past several gold shirts, steadied herself and found the posts from 25 metres to leave the score at 4-14 to 3-16. With 38 minutes on the stopwatch, Leitrim thought they had two minutes left to recover, but the Roscommon official called time on the game, much to the frustration of players and management alike.
Michelle Guckian, Mairead Stenson, Enya McWeeney, Mary Farrell, Kirby Gilgunn, Sinead Tighe, Lisa McWeeney, Sinead Fowley (0-1), Deirdre Ward (0-1), Niamh Tighe (0-1), Shauna Clancy (0-1), Kiara Keegan, Lorraine Brennan, Erin Farrell (1-4), Aine Tighe (2-8). Subs: Patricia Forde for Guckian (23 mins), Guckian for Farrell (HT), Laura O’Dowd for Keegan 44 mins).
Emma Cullen, Orla McGowan, Tracey O’Hara, Claire Collern, Siobhan Melvin, Nicole Fowley (1-1), Ethna Flanagan, Bernice Byrne, Sinead McTiernan (0-3), Aine Gormley (0-2), Elisha Codd, Karen Maloney (0-2), Elaine O’Reilly (2-2), Roisin Collery, Noelle Gormley (1-1). Subs: Emma Hansberry (0-3) for Collery (HT), Grainne O’Loughlin for Cullen (46 mins), Sarah Reynolds for Maloney (60 mins).
Referee: Seamus Regan (Roscommon).