When the Leitrim and Sligo teams took to the field in Pearse Park on Wednesday evening last for the Fr Manning Shield Final it was immediately evident that Sligo held the upper hand in terms of physical size but nearly everywhere else on the pitch Leitrim were dominant.
The concession of three goals meant Sligo were in contention until the end of the game but with Evan Ward and Mark Plunkett dictating matters from the middle of the field and the likes of Liam Ryan, Francis McNabola and Gary Fowley all in fine form, Leitrim secured the victory their overall performance deserved.
The one part of the game in which Sligo enjoyed the upper hand was the opening 10 minutes as the Yeats county opened up a four point lead with scores fro Ciaran Stenson, Aaron O’Flynn, and a Dillon Kilgannon point before Stenson scored his second point of the game in the seventh minute.
Seemingly struggling to get a foothold in the game, Leitrim needed a moment of inspiration to kick start their challenge and that arrived courtesy of Mark Plunkett who converted a free from the sideline.
Leitrim took a lot of belief from that score and it was quickly followed by a Francis McNabola point and another excellent Plunkett score. Although Sligo hit back through Dessie Perry, Leitrim were beginning to take control and they took the lead for the first time with three points in as many minutes from McNabola, Conor Gaffney (free) and Gary Fowley.
However, the lead was not to last long and Sligo hit back with a free from Kilgannon before Dessie Perry struck for the game’s opening goal. Stephen O’Connell played a dangerous low ball behind the Leitrim defence and Perry used his pace to get to the ball before shooting past Jason Farry.
The concession of that goal didn’t appear to phase the Leitrim players as they responded with three fine points courtesy of Ward, Gaffney and Plunkett to level matters with just six minutes of the half remaining.
Just as it seemed that Leitrim had regained the momentum they were undone by yet another Sligo goal as Dillon Kilgannon fired the ball to the roof of the Leitrim net.
Once again the Leitrim players showed great character to bounce back from the concession of a goal and they finished the half with points from Gaffney (free) and Plunkett as Sligo enjoyed a slender half time lead of 2-6 to 0-11.
Leitrim began the second half in the same determined manner they displayed for most of the opening half and Francis McNabola’s excellent point levelled matters once again. Shortly afterwards Leitrim took the lead when Mark Plunkett showed great awareness to deliver a quick free into the path of Gary Fowley who emphatically finished his shot to the Sligo net.
There was only a point apiece scored over the next eight minutes with scores from Francis McNabola and Stephen O’Connell cancelling each other out.
With just eight minutes of the contest remaining Sligo were back on level terms when they struck for their third goal of the game through Dessie Perry but once again Leitrim responded well and ensured a deserved victory with late points coming from Gary Fowley and Evan Ward.
Jason Farry, James Mitchell, David Mulvey, Jerome Maguire, Philip Dolan, Liam Ryan, Shane McGowan, Evan Ward (0-2), Mark Plunkett (0-4), Francis McNabola (0-4), Conor Gaffney (0-3), Enda Moreton, Gary Fowley (1-2), Dean McGovern, Luke Murphy. Subs: Oisin Madden for Moreton (47 mins), Michael Gallagher for Farry (47 mins)
Luke Walsh, Rian O’Sullivan, Gavin McGowan, PJ Farrell, Aaron O’Flynn (0-1), Stephen O’Connell (0-1), Brian Morahan, Cian Gilmartin, Paul McNamara, Gerard Kelly-Lynch, Luke Nicholson, Kieran Tighe, Ciaran Stenson (0-2), Dessie Perry (1-1), Dillon Kilgannon (2-2). Subs: Matthew Cullen and Daniel Cafferky.