Another win and another nervous finish for the County Under 16 footballers as keeper Jason Farry and defender Shane McGowan combined deep into injury time to ensure that Leitrim secured a deserved victory in the Fr Manning Cup last Wednesday in Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada.
Farry stuck out his leg to block a Darren Giles shot heading straight for the net two minutes into added time but the ball looped up and looked destined to loop into the net, McGowan to sprint across the goal-line to punch the ball to safety, ensuring a three point win for the Green & Gold.
In truth, it was a victory that should have been more easily achieved as Leitrim led by eight points with 13 minutes of the second half gone and missed a succession of goal chances late on as a weakened Westmeath team ramped up the intensity but couldn’t deliver the scores they needed.
Central to Letirim’s early dominance was vibrant displays from Mark Plunkett, Dean McGovern, Conor Gaffney, Luke Murphy and Liam Ryan but when the pressure went on in the closing stages, it was the likes of Farry, Shane McGowan and David Mulvey who came up with the big interceptions.
A full strength Westmeath team would have been a different test, the midlanders are involved in a playoff next week in the Gerry Reilly Tournament, having beaten Dublin already, and their focus may be a little distracted as they came to Carrick without seven players.
The early exchanges with tit for tat with the teams swapping three points apiece, Mark Plunkett (2) and Luke Murphy on the mark for Leitrim with Aaron Farrell, Darren Giles and Liam Cassidy hitting the mark for Westmeath before Leitrim struck for a goal.
Evan Ward’s long run showed persistence and strength as his first shot was blocked and he followed up well to drive home from closer, although the Leitrim was lucky the referee didn’t spot a handling infringment in the build-up.
The goal filled Leitrim with confidence as McGovern, Francis McNabola, Murphy and Ward all added points before the break as Westmeath added two in reply to leave the home team leading 1-7 to 0-5.
The early stages of the second half followed the first with Leitrim points from Conor Gaffney (2), Ward and Plunkett but there were also two missed goal chances from Gary Fowley and Oisin Madden while Ward might have nabbed a second goal when taking his point.
That left Leitrim eight points to the good but Westmeath started to dominate in the middle of the field and quick points from Cassidy and Giles increased the pressure. Westmeath missed a few good chances but Leitrim were also guilty of some bad misses.
Jason Farry made a great block on Cassidy to deny him a goal as the game entered injury time but Westmeath worked the ball back to sub Daniel Loughrey who fired the ball to the net for a goal. Suddenly Westmeath had a chance and they came chasing an unlikely equalising goal.
And Westmeath almost got it, Jason Farry sticking out his foot to send a goal bound Giles shot into the air with Shane McGowan completing his club-mates heroics with a fantastic clearance off the line.
Jason Farry, James Mitchell, David Mulvey, Jerome Maguire, Philip Dolan, Liam Ryan, Shane McGowan, Dean McGovern (0-1), Mark Plunkett (0-), Francis McNabola (0-1), Conor Gaffney (0-), Oisin Madden, Gary Fowley, Evan Ward (1-), Luke Murphy (0-). Subs: Keith Keegan for Madden (49 mins).
Darren Cassidy, Peter Murray, Matthew Darling, Boidu Sayeh, Gavin Glennon, Ciaran Shanley, Gavin Murray, Conor O’Brien (0-1), Ruairi Cunningham, Kenny Dolan, Alan Hughes, Aaron Farrell (0-1), Liam Cassidy (0-2), Darren Giles (0-4), Darren Keena. Subs: Daniel Loughry (1-0) for Farrell (43 mins), Jack Carroll for Glennon (49 mins).