If the words Jekyll & Hyde were used once on Saturday, they were probably used a hundred times as a Leitrim team mixed the fabulous with the awful in liberal measure and still came away with a deserved seven point victory over Waterford in round five of the Allianz League Division Four campaign in Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada.
Any day a Leitrim team scores 3-14 is a very good day as the Leitrim forwards, and a very impressive Ray Cox in particular, found their shooting boots in devastating fashion, scoring from a variety of angles and distances to score a real morale boosting victory.
The mood before the start was sombre with wholesale changes as Gary Reynolds, Conor Beirne, Ray Cox, Robbie Lowe and Fabian McMorrow came into the team as Wayne McKeon was ruled out with injury.
And in keeping with a growing belief that this Leitrim team perform best when the pressure is off, the Green & Gold attacked in waves and produced an attacking display full of imagination and vigour, a stark contrast to the nervy display just six days previously against Offaly.
The recalled Ray Cox was at the heart of everything good Leitrim did when this game was alive – the Annaduff man was either the scorer or the creator of all but two points of Leitrim’s opening 1-6 as he ended with a personal tally 2-1, his second goal finally killing off Waterford’s resistance in the second half.
Yet, and the paltry die-hard Leitrim supporters who bothered to show up would be the first to admit this, had Waterford taken any one of four gilt edge goal chances, to go with the two goals they did score, it could very easily have been a very different story.
Defensive mistakes and loss of possession saw Waterford through on four occasions in one-on-one situations with young keeper Brendan Flynn, atoning for a howler in the third minute, making two wonderful goal saving stops as the Munster men wasted two more glorious chances when goals seemed certain.
The defensive frailties were exposed time and time again and had Waterford shown a modicum of the finishing that Leitrim displayed, they would, not could, have won this game and it must be a concern for the Leitrim management.
Attacking does not seem to be a problem when Leitrim’s mind-set is right but when the pressure is there, accuracy suffers badly and it was only when Ray Cox got his second goal that Leitrim were truly safe.
Ray Cox was not the only impressive returnee as Gary Reynolds showed a lot of energy, getting upfield to score a good point, while Conor Beirne showed far more potential and worked his socks off. His brother Tomas did a great job in the middle of the park against a monster Waterford pairing, faring well against the odds.
The start was quite explosive with two points from Ray Cox and a Mulligan free wiped out by a Robert Aherne goal, the full-forward tipping a long ball over the head of a stranded Brendan Flynn on three minutes.
Flynn made instant amends, making a great save from Liam O’Lionain clean through on goal and he made another after Darren Guiry was also clean through four minutes later.
Two Mulligan frees and a Conor Beirne point extended the lead before Gary Reynolds finished off a great move with an 11th minute point. Another intercepted pass led to the game’s second goal, this time Mulligan setting up Ray Cox for a brilliantly finished goal.
After a combined total of 2-6 in the first 12 minutes, the scoring slowed dramatically with Brendan Brennan and Enda Williams swapping points with Gary Hurney (2) over the next 16 minutes but Waterford dramatically revived their hopes when Fabian McMorrow saw a pass intercepted, Robert Darren Guiry smashing the ball past Flynn.
Seconds later, Waterford were through again only for a defender to block a goal bound shot and they missed another gilt edged chance when O’Lionain sped clear after a poor defensive pass and skimmed the outside of the post with Flynn beaten.
Mulligan steadied Leitrim with a soft free awarded for a foul on Ciaran Egan but Shane Aherne replied with a point, leaving the score 1-9 to 2-3 in Leitrim’s favour at halftime. Waterford came out and dominated the early exchanges in the second half but had four bad wides while the goal misses continued, this time Paul Brennan dragging his shot wide after breaking through.
Enda Williams curled a lovely shot over the bar, Paul Whyte replying for Waterford but the game was finished when Ray Cox used all his experience to dummy a defender and blast the ball to the net on 12 minutes.
Confidence flowed through the Leitrim ranks and despite a Tony Grey point, Leitrim scored 1-4 over the next nine minutes with sub Gerry Hickey, Mulligan (2) and Conor Beirne with 1-1, the Eslin’s man goal after a great pass from Paul Brennan.
Waterford keeper Stephen Enright made a good save from Mulligan but Leitrim’s intensity dropped and it was Waterford who finished the game with 1-2, two points from Gary Hurney and a cracking goal from Tony Wall.
Brendan Flynn, Fabian McMorrow, Ciaran Egan, Paddy Maguire, Gary Reynolds (0-1), Enda Williams (0-2), Danny Beck, Brendan Brennan (0-1), Tomas Beirne, Robbie Lowe, Emlyn Mulligan (0-6), Paul Brennan, Brian McDonald, Conor Beirne (1-2), Ray Cox (2-1). Subs: Gerry Hickey (0-1) for Lowe (HT), Shane Moran for McDonald (62 mins), Gavin Reynolds for Gary Reynolds (65 mins), Barry Prior for Beck (67 mins).
Stephen Enright, Conor Phelan, Stephen Prendergast, Maurice O’Gorman, Tony Grey (1-1), Shane Briggs, Tadhg O hUallachain, Shane Aherne (0-1), Sean O’Hare, Paul Whyte (0-1), Liam O’Lionain, Tommy Prendergast, Darren Guiry (1-0), Robert Aherne (1-0), Gary Hurney (0-4). Subs: Patrick Hurney for T. Prendergast (42 mins), John Hurney for Guiry (44 mins), Brian Wall for R. Aherne (53 mins), Sean Dempsey & David Hallinan for O’Lionain & O’Hare (61 mins), Andy Doyle & Kevin Sheehan for Dempsey.
Referee: Eamon McHugh (Tyrone).