Leitrim fans came in their droves dreaming of a Connacht Final but left a drenched Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada dampened not only in person but in spirit too as a clinical Roscommon handed the Green & Gold their biggest Connacht Championship defeat in ten years, crushing the home team in devastating fashion.
CONNACHT SENIOR FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP SEMI-FINAL
By John Connolly
High on excitement after the victory over Sligo just three weeks previously, Leitrim fans defied the weather and grumbles about high ticket prices to turn out in force, a crowd of 13,567 buoyed up with the thought of a first victory over the Rossies in three consecutive years.
That remarkable surge in optimism among fans that Leitrim could reach their first Provincial Final since 2000 following the victory in Markievicz Park was punctured quickly and cruelly as a clearly focussed Roscommon set the tone for last Sunday’s encounter right from the first whistle.
Tackling as fiercely as if they were facing Galway or Mayo, Roscommon’s strength & mobility was used to devastating effect, halting Leitrim’s precise short passing game by pressurising the Green & Gold players into turn-overs and mistakes.
Whatever about Leitrim’s record in Pairc Sean against the Rossies, last Sunday was not even a case of ‘unlucky Leitrim’ or one that got away but a chastening defeat at the hands of a Roscommon team who continue to grow in the promise they first showed two years ago in Pairc Sean.
The expectation that this would be another typically close and tension filled derby was strong among the supporters from both counties but the reality was crushingly different as Fergal O’Donnell’s side scored their biggest championship victory over Leitrim since 1970.
The twin towers of Senan Kilbride and Donal Shine both had a point on the scoreboard within two minutes and even at that early stage, Leitrim were chasing a Roscommon side who emphatically proved that last year’s Connacht championship triumph was no fluke.
On a wet day, Roscommon’s obvious strength and height advantage was a real problem but the two areas that really separated Leitrim from their neighbours was Roscommon’s ability to force turn-overs and to win primary possession.
Fergal O’Donnell had obviously done his home-work well, analysing Leitrim’s performance against Sligo in minute detail and instructing his troops to surround their Leitrim ball carrier and not allow Mickey Moran’s side to swing the ball around or build the momentum that had run Sligo ragged in Markievicz Park.
With a wall of Primrose & Yellow across the field, Leitrim players were quickly surrounded, the off-load pass being cut out time and time again as Roscommon managed to both pressurise the man in possession and cut off his options.
With the channels clogged and clean possession so hard to find, Leitrim’s movement was stopped in its tracks, the Green & Gold never able to develop their game-plan of short, quick passing that could punch holes in the Roscommon rearguard and create the over-laps that led to so many scores against Sligo.
The decision to play against the wind in the first half was another that back-fired and attracted quite a deal of negative criticism in the aftermath but the initial reasoning behind the decision was sound, if a little risky.
With the weather expected to deteriorate as the game progressed and the wind to get even stronger, Mickey Moran backed the work-rate and discipline of his charges to keep Leitrim in the game against the wind during the first half and then exploit the gale force wind down the centre of the field and Leitrim’s extraordinary fitness during the second.
To read the full story see this week’s Leitrim Observer.