Leitrim progressed to the Division 3 final of the Bord Gais Ladies National Football League on Sunday afternoon with a well deserved seven point win over Down at St Tiernach’s Park in Clones.
Five points from this year’s top scorer Aine Tighe along with a goal and a point from Mohill’s Kiara Keegan helped Niall Kilcrann’s side to a 1-11 to 0-7 win, setting up a meeting with All-Ireland Intermediate champions Westmeath in this year’s Final on Saturday, May 12, in Parnell Park.
Leitrim had already faced the women from the Mourne county on the first weekend of the league campaign in Ballinamore in February, coming away with a comprehensive 5-9 to 1-5 win over Brendan Ward’s team. But as expected, Sunday’s clash was a tighter affair, with Down pushing a hard working Leitrim team to the final whistle.
Like their previous meeting, it was Leitrim who took the early initiative as they bolted into a three point lead in the opening 12 minutes courtesy of two Aine Tighe set piece kicks and a Lorraine Brennan point from play. Tighe’s opener with two minutes played, came about after her shot was blocked away by a Down defender for a 45 after the Kiltubrid forward received a pass from captain Sinead Fowley.
Tighe had no problem converting the kick. Fowley was supplier again three minutes later when she found Brennan 15 yards from goal. The Cloone woman finding the posts to double Leitrim’s advantage.
Tighedoubled her tally for the afternoon when she scored her team’s third point on 12 minutes, the opposition struggling to deal with Leitrim’s quick attacking plays.
Down did have opening chances through Kathryn Boden and Kyla Trainor, but both girls were unable to register their side’s first point until 15 minutes had elapsed. Trainor finding Boden with a quick catch and pass move, the latter shooting over from close range.
Down had net minder Katie Farrell to thank on 17 minutes when Deirdre Ward found Kiara Keegan in front of the square. The Mohill forward went in search of the top corner of the Down net, but Farrell, from the Rostrevor club, did enough to push the ball over her crossbar to restore Leitrim’s three point lead.
A strong breeze swept across the Clones field and certainly assisted Leitrim in the first half as Clara Fitzpatrick’s free to the left of the goal looked to be going between the posts but for a gust of wind to drag the ball to the right of Michelle Guickan’s posts on 19 minutes.
Seconds later, Aine Tighe had an opportunity to put clear daylight between the two sides when Eliza Downey mis-controlled a pass from a team mate. Tighe capatalised on the mistake and had only Farrell to beat in the Down goal, but the Kiltubrid forward couldn’t keep her shot down and ball crashed against the crossbar and back into play.
Leitrim were well on top at this stage and two more Tighe scores on 23 and 25 minutes put Leitrim five ahead before Down cut the lead to three with points from Kate McKay and Natasha Ferris before Kiara Keegan’s goal a minute before the break left Leitrim six clear at half time.
Captain Sinead Fowley’s fist pass finding the Mohill forward and she had no problem in driving the ball past Farrell and into the net, leaving the score at 1-6 to 0-3 at half time.
Niall Kilcrann’s team were first out of the dressing rooms for the second period but it was the Ulster side who racked up the first score of the half. Trainor again on hand, converting a free from 20 yards moments before Jess Foy doubled Down’s second half tally on 34 minutes to leave a four point gap.
Leitrim then showcased their sharpness and predatory instinct on 37 minutes as some good counter attacking play resulted in Kiara Keegan winning a free only 15 yards from goal, Aine Tighe restoring a five point lead. Points from Sinead Fowley and Erin Farrell on 40 and 46 minutes respectively, restored Leitrim’s half time lead.
Niamh Tighe putting eight scores in the tie on 48 minutes.
Leitrim were then reduced to 14 players on 51 minutes when Mairead Stenson was sent to the bench for ten minutes as she fouled a Down player on her way to goal. The Ulster women failed to really capatalise on their numerical advantage, but Kyla Trainor did eventually end her side’s barren spell nine minutes from time, scoring a wind assisted free from the angle 30 yards out.
Down battled well for the majority of the second half, but the sheer energy and graft of Leitrim’s midfield and back lines shunned the majority of their attacks. Leitrim introduced Shauna Clancy to the forward line on 56 minutes and she was only seconds on the field when she scored the final point of the game, effectively ending Down’s challenge.
The Drumkeerin woman stealing the ball off Kyla Trainor as the Down forward worked back to assist her defence. Clancy only needed to gauge her position on the field as she fired over from a difficult angle, giving Leitrim a seven point lead.
Aine Tighe could have put the proverbial cherry on the cake as the game ran into injury time, but her side-footed penalty dragged wide of Katie Farrell’s goal.