Leitrim ladies maintained their winning start to the Tesco Homegrown National League Division 3 campaign on Sunday afternoon last in Ballinamore when they defeated Sligo in what proved to be an absorbing encounter. The game appeared to be over within nine minutes as Leitrim opened a commanding lead but Sligo refused to accept defeat and more than played their part in what was a very enjoyable contest.
Four goal hero Roisin Fowley was the star of the show for the home side but there were a number of impressive performances throughout the pitch. Aine and Niamh Tighe were both hugely influential while the trio of Deirdre Ward, Sinead Fowley and Anna Conlan worked tirelessly all over the pitch and it was their workrate that laid the foundation for Leitrim’s success.
A yellow card for goalkeeper Michelle Guckian and the concession of two penalties meant Leitrim were not as sure of victory as they would have liked and a 12 point lead was reduced to just 4 with a little more than 10 minutes of the game remaining. However, some solid displays at the back from the likes of Mairead Stenson and Kirby Gilgunn helped steady the nerves before Roisin Fowley scored her fourth goal of the afternoon and Niamh Tighe scored Leitrim’s sixth and arguably best goal in the closing stages to put the victory beyond doubt.
The dominant manner in which Leitrim finished the game was similar to the way they began the game as Sligo were particularly sluggish in the opening stages and found it very difficult to cope with the threat posed by Aine Tighe and Roisin Fowley. In fact the game was just 30 second seconds old when the two players combined and Fowley scored the game’s opening point.
The good start was about to get even better as the same players combined again and this time Aine Tighe found the Sligo goal. Showing no sign of relenting Leitrim added to their tally with points from Aine Tighe and Sinead Fowley after a fine catch in midfield by Deirdre Ward.
Although Leitrim were causing the Sligo defence all manner of problems, little seemed to be done to contain the threat posed by the Leitrim forwards and with the game barely eight minutes old Roisin Fowley was presented with a clear sight of goal after a Sligo defender misjudged a bouncing ball and with only goalkeeper Noelle Gormley to beat the Dromahair forward slotted the ball to the Sligo goal.
Less than a minute later the game seemed to be all but over as Roisin Fowley once again found her way behind the Sligo defence, this time after a Deirdre Ward pass and after sidestepping her way past the goalkeeper Fowley found the empty net to give Leitrim a commanding 3-3 to no score lead after less than 10 minutes of action.
To their credit Sligo showed no signs of panic and after they reorganised their defence they suddenly looked much more competitive and Lauren Boles opened her side’s account before Aine Tighe replied with a pointed free.
As the half progressed Sligo seemed to grow in confidence and three points from the impressive Elaine O’Reilly (two frees) increased their tally while the only addition to the Leitrim tally was an Aine Tighe point. While Sligo were certainly playing better and coming more to the fore in the game, the feeling was that Leitrim were doing more than enough to keep their opponents at arms length.
Having been slowly building their way into the game, Sligo marked their arrival in fortuitous circumstances as a harmless shot from Lauren Boles seemed as though it would be easily gathered by Michelle Guckian but rather than arrive safely into her arms the ball took a wicked bounce and landed in the net.
Leitrim replied with an Aine Tighe free but it was Sligo who finished the half the stronger with two further Elaine O’Reilly pointed frees and with half nearing its end Leitrim were dealt another blow when goalkeeper Michelle Guckian was issued with a yellow card for a trip on a Sligo forward.
As the sides left the field at half time with Leitrim leading 3-6 to 1-7 there was every reason for the home supporters to be optimistic that Leitrim would be able to register their fourth successive win, but Sligo’s form at the end of the first half and the fact that Michelle Guckian still had nearly 10 minutes to spend in the sin bin suggested the game was far from over.
Although they had a numerical advantage and were trailing, Sligo began the second half very cautiously as they had seven defenders keeping a close eye on Leitrim’s five forwards. That defensive attitude seemed to confuse the Sligo players and benefit Leitrim as Aine Tighe pointed twice and that was followed by an Aine Heslin point as Leitrim took control once again.
It got even better for Leitrim when Elaine O’Reilly was issued with a yellow card following a high tackle and shortly afterwards Deirdre Ward pointed. However, Sligo refused to throw in the towel and after Nicole Fowley converted a penalty the Leitrim supporters had reason to be nervous once again.
Those nerves were soon settled when Sinead Fowley pointed moments later before Sligo’s Nicole Fowley came agonisingly close to finding the Leitrim goal once again. On this occasion she was unable to find her way past Mary Farrell, who spent 10 minutes between the posts while Michelle Guckian was in the sin bin. That save proved to be significant as the next score of the game was Leitrim’s fourth goal of the game as Roisin Fowley pounced her third.
Once again it seemed as though Leitrim were in complete control but again Sligo showed no sign of giving up and after Roisin Fowley and Nicole Fowley (free) exchanged points Sligo were awarded their second penalty of the game. Nicole Fowley effortlessly converted the penalty and just a minute later Sligo struck again. Bernice Byrne was the player on hand on this occasion to find the Leitrim goal and with just four points separating the sides and 12 minutes remaining it was difficult to guess how this pulsating encounter would finish.
To their credit the Leitrim players showed great composure in the closing stages as they bossed matters to such an extent that Sligo didn’t add to their tally in the remaining minutes. Leitrim were ruthless in attack as Aine Heslin and Roisin Fowley both pointed before the green and gold struck for two goals in as many minutes with Roisin Fowley and a thunderbolt from Niamh Tighe finding the Sligo goal.
With victory now finally secured there was an air of relief around Ballinamore as Leitrim ensured their fourth win of the league and consolidated their place at the top of the table. next game, however will present Leitrim with their toughest challenge to date as they host Armagh on Sunday, March 24.
Michelle Guckian, Mary Farrell, Enya McWeeney, Sharon Kerrigan, Clare Owens, Mairead Stenson, Kirby Gilgunn, Anna Conlan, Deirdre Ward (0-1), Niamh Tighe (1-0), Sinead Fowley (0-2), Aine Helsin (0-2), Roisin Fowley (4-4), Joyce Cunningham, Aine Tighe (1-6). Subs: Roisin Curneen for Cunningham (43 mins).
Noelle Gormley, Grainne O’Loughlin, Ruth Goodwin, Ethna Flanagan, Tara Doddy, Nicole Fowley (2-1), Jackie Mullligan, Bernice Byrne (1-0), Siobhan O’Sullivan, Sinead McTiernan, Lauren Boles (1-1), Karen Maloney, Elaine O’Reilly (0-6), Roisin Colleary, Louise Brett. Subs: Rachel Monaghan for O’Loughlin, Aisling Ewing for Flanagan, Siobhan Melvin for Doddy, Claire Colleran for Mulligan, Aisling Molloy for Boles, Aine Gormley for Brett.
Referee: PJ Rabbitte