For some fans it had nothing to do with the football on the field, the discussion of ‘was it a free or not’ didn’t even enter the analysis, they believe Leitrim lost the game during the half time break.
Were the speeches in the Laois dressing room louder and stronger? Were their stretches more effective? Or did Leitrim lose their momentum after a few minutes rest?
- “We lost it in the dressing room.”
- “Aye, the half time whistle killed us.”
- “We should never have stopped, never have left the field.”
Nobody was pushing their necks out to predict a win on the way into the “fortress” on Saturday evening, but 15 minutes into the first half you could see a few stretching as the boys in green got into their stride.
When Conlon blasted a goal, there was a slight delay of celebration. Nobody hesitated the validity of the goal, but the realisation of Leitrim scoring a goal in the first half, giving the county a beautiful lead over their opponents - that required a second’s thought - and then the supporters erupted.
‘Cocky’ and ‘brazen’ are not words associated with Leitrim fans but just as the fighting 15 went 1-6 over Laois’ 0-4, a group of Ballinamore kids in front started to discuss the location of Leitrim’s next qualifier. A few names were knocked about until “Breffni Park” in Cavan was agreed upon. “It would be fairest place” they noted, as they contemplated meeting Dublin or Meath.
As a few “soft” (not my words) frees went Leitrim’s way there was a query over the stand-in Fermanagh referee’s homeplace. “He must be close to the Leitrim border” was the consensus, his slight favour to his neighbours was winning smiles around the park.
Just as the fans got comfortable with the sense of winning by a stretch, Laois popped in a goal. The few drops of rain which came with the blast seemed to herald the end of Summer fun.
Leitrim didn’t want to hear the half time whistle, but with it came the biggest roar of approval for the county’s finest as they left the field with a sweet three point lead. It was a proud moment for players & fans.
- “They have not heard a cheer like that since Barney Breen and Geroge Dugdale togged out.” A mild consensus amongst the faithful seemed to confirm this wild statement.
Laois’ consistent wides in the second half helped to keep the Leitrim chants going. But as they started to find target and chip away at the lead, the confidence disappeared on and off the pitch.
- “If he scores this he is a magician” came the call as Emlyn Mulligan lined up to take a free from the right hand side line with about ten minutes to go. Score it he did – and although it was pure skill and talent he relied on, you couldn’t help but feel some magic. Conlon off, Conlon on and McCrann’s quick thinking scoop gave plenty food for thought. But in the end it was a two point defeat.
-“Heading out in Carrick tonight?” Was the big question as the crowd pushed out. It was an obvious yes for some, but for the majority of young Leitrim men filtering out it was a resounding “No.”
The full time whistle in Pairc Sean hailed the start of Leitrim’s Club Championship. The “drinking ban” was in. For many, Leitrim’s loss was not the end of Summer football, but only the start.