Contrasting emotions were the order of the day last Saturday in Dublin’s Parnell Park as Leitrim fought back from the dead to snatch a draw in the Bord Gais Energy Ladies NFL Division 3 Final yet spurned a glorious chance to snatch a famous last gasp victory.
Leitrim 1-11 Westmeath 2-7
The disappointment was all too evident when Aine Tighe, who hit an immaculate eight points on the day, put a free wide with ten seconds of normal time while sub Laura O’Dowd hit the wood-work with a shot that seemed destined to go over.
Yet there was also more than enough relief as an extremely wasteful Westmeath dominated the second half and really should have been out of sight going into the final ten minutes, the midlanders wasting two great scoring opportunities in the final stages to seize the title.
Aine Tighe might rightly garner the plaudits for another inspired attacking display but in reality, it was the defensive side of Leitrim’s game that won the day as Westmeath caused the Leitrim full-back line all manner of problems.
Time and time again, Westmeath looked as if they were going to rip through the Leitrim defence or make a killer pass, particularly in the second half when playing with the strong wind, but time and time again, Leitrim’s defence came up with blocks, tackles and interceptions.
Central to the performance was Sinead Tighe who was a colossus in the centre of defence – the Kiltubrid player made a series of vital interceptions and held her line together as Leitrim’s tactic of playing Lorraine Brennan and others deep in defence to help out clogged up Westmeath’s lines of attack.
In space, Westmeath’s attack looked dangerous and had they a free-taker of Aine Tighe’s calibre, the game would have been well out of Leitrim’s reach well before the final quarter.
Boss Niall Kilcrann will be happy with the resilience his players showed under pressure in the second half but he will know that Aine Tighe will need much more support in attack and that his defence will need to up their performance far more for the replay.
Referee Michael Henry came in for criticism for awarding 56 frees over the game but if the Monaghan official had penalised every foul, there should have been many more and a few players in the sin-bin too and both sides received some more than favourable decisions in relation to frees over the game.
Leitrim started brightly with Aine Tighe and Lorraine Brennan both on target in response to Maud Annie Foley’s point but Westmeath hit back when a series of quick passes cut open the Leitrim defence and Laura Walsh drilled home a goal on six minutes.
Fiona Claffey drilled over the bar when a goal was on but Leitrim hit back with three Aine Tighe points, two from frees, to level by the 11th minute. However, the midlanders were a real threat in attack and Michelle Guckian made a good save to deny Karen Hegarty.
A goal did come when Elaine Finn fisted a deflected shot to the Leitrim net on 16 minutes. Guckian had to make two further stops, one from a fisted effort as both sides missed some good chances.
It was from a missed Westmeath free that Leitrim grabbed their goal. A long clearance to Niamh Tighe saw her play repeated 1-2s with Sinead Fowley before blasting an unstoppable shot to the net on 23 minutes.
Leitrim finished the half with a few wides before an Aine Tighe free ensured the game would be level at halftime, 1-6 to 2-3.
With the strong wind very much against them, Leitrim got a good start with an Aine Tighe free after just 45 seconds. But Westmeath looked to have established a match winning lead with two Foley frees and a Ciara Blundell point, scored after a Leitrim kick-out was intercepted.
With Leitrim struggling, Tighe converted a very fortunate free after Kiera Keegan lost the ball on 17 minutes and the same pair combined with the same result two minutes later to tie the scores.
The introduction of subs Shauna Clancy and Laura O’Dowd with ten minutes to go had an instant impact with Clancy doing well in a scramble to score before setting up O’Dowd for a point, both in the space of a minute.
Westmeath replied with an instant Claffey response and a brilliant Walsh score from a tight angle with three minutes to go. Both teams had chances to win it – Laura O’Dowd saw a shot hit the post, Walsh hit a poor wide for Westmeath while Michelle Guckian did well to save a goal-bound shot from Karen Hegarty.
But the best chance fell to Aine Tighe, a free from a scoreable position with less than 10 seconds to go but unfortunately for Leitrim, the effort went wide.