After suffering a humiliating 33 point loss against Fermanagh in the final round of the League, Leitrim served up an altogether more impressive performance in last Saturday’s Lory Meagher Cup Semi-Final in Maguiresbridge despite a seven point loss.
Leitrim 2-12 Fermanagh 3-12
Leitrim have endured a torrid year in terms of results but they belied that form by taking the game to Fermanagh in the opening quarter and stunning a home side that seemed to be expecting a repeat of their Ballinamore stroll.
With Clement Cunniffe tormenting the Fermanagh full-back, Leitrim roared into a six point lead by the 12th minute, a well deserved lead that rewarded their hard work in the middle of the field and one that had the home team stunned.
But a quick substitution that saw Eoin Morrissey replace the full-back and the growing dominance of the Ernesiders in the middle of the field turned the game on its head and an unanswered 2-3 in the final eight minutes before halftime effectively sealed the contest.
Leitrim fought manfully for the entire second half but with Fermanagh seemingly content to hold what they had and making a few switches, the half never touched the heights of the first even if Cunniffe came very close with two late frees to grabbing the goal that might have made the game a lot more interesting.
The improvement in Leitrim’s fortunes is due, in no small part, to three or four games in quick succession – Fermanagh who won in the first round encounter had to wait for a further two weeks while Leitrim played intense matches against Warwickshire and Longford.
The improvement in stick-work and ball striking was impressive over those games while the introduction of young players like Niall McLoughlin, Mark O’Donoghue & Kevin Clerkin gave Leitrim real options off the bench.
Where Leitrim really struggled, however, was dealing with Fermanagh’s immense physical strength and superiority around the field and their ability to retain possession in tight situations – time and time again, Leitrim lost the sliothar in contact and Fermanagh had the ability to break through.
Upfront, Fermanagh also had a definite edge – once Cunniffe’s influence was curbed at full-forward, Leitrim lacked inside penetration while at the other end, Sean Corrigan, Shea Curran and Paul McGoldrick were all highly dangerous.
Leitrim started brightly with two Cunniffe frees and a fine David Poniard effort on the run after eight minutes. Sean Corrigan and Cunniffe swapped points before Leitrim suffered what appeared to be a mortal blow when Tommy McLoughlin batted down a long delivery and Corrigan pounced for a goal on 11 minutes.
But Leitrim’s reply was devastating – two long passes from Zemaku Moradi and Michael Poniard were brilliantly fielded by Cunniffe who turned and drilled two great shots to the Fermanagh net in the space of a minute.
Fermanagh hit back with three quick fire points but a point apiece from Cunniffe and Moradi, the second finishing a great move from defence, left Leitrim five points clear with eight minutes to go. But from then on, the game changed drastically.
A short Morgan Quinn free was intercepted and after a long ball into Declan McGarry was missed rather easily, the Fermanagh man soloed in to goal. McGoldrick and Andrew Breslin added points before Corrigan produced another brilliant finish for a goal, a devastating 2-2 in just three minutes.
Curran, McGoldrick and Corrigan all added points before halftime to leave Leitrim trailing 3-9 to 2-6 at the break. Fermanagh started with two points before Cunniffe replied from a free on seven minutes. Curran tapped over for Fermanagh while Moradi went very close to a goal after Fermanagh lost the ball.
Tommy McLoughlin did brilliantly to tip a McGoldrick effort destined for the top corner over the bar but Michael Poniard hit a lovely point. John Duffy replied before three Cunniffe points, two from frees and the third after he hit a long ball into the corner and then raced onto the clearance, cut the gap.
That left six points between the teams with eight minutes to go and with Fermanagh starting to worry slightly, Corrigan and Francie McBrien added points. Cunniffe twice tried for goals from frees but the defence held firm to bat them clear with an injury time Morgan Quinn 65 the only return.