Conor Byrne tries to make a flying catch against Sligo. Photo by Willie Donnellan
Leitrim suffered their third defeat of the Allianz NHL Division 3B campaign at the hands of a Sligo team who took control of this tie in the second half.
LEITRIM 1-15 SLIGO 3-16
After a close and exciting first 45 minutes, Sligo struck for a second goal through the deadly Keith Raymond and after that they never looked back, hitting an uchallenged 1-5 as Leitrim’s challenge fell apart.
It was a dramatic transformation as up to that point, Leitrim had matched the Sligo men almost score for score, the only difference being a first half goal from the deadly Raymond who struck just before the halftime break.
To their credit, Leitrim looked as if they were going to be blown away but they staged a mini-rally in the final ten minutes, outscoring the Yeatsmen 1-4 to a solitary point but unfortunately, the earlier damage was just too much to overcome.
Clement Cunniffe opened the scoring a monster point from inside his own half before a David McGovern foul, for which he was yellow carded, saw Keith Raymond open his account from a 70 yard free.
Conor Griffin (Sligo) and Colm Moreton swapped fine points before a fine take and score from Alan Markham edged the visitors in front. Leitrim surged back with two points over four minutes, Karl McDermott scoring nicely from distance while Kevin O’Connor scored a nice point.
Sligo’s Tony O’Kelly Lynch managed to point after solid Leitrim defensive pressure while Leitrim made an early change, Conor Byrne coming on after he arrived late down from Dublin. And he almost made an immediate impact when his free from his own half was batted out by the Sligo keeper.
Raymond and Cunniffe traded points from placed balls but just before halftime, the first breakthrough came when Raymond made a fabulous catch from a long low delivery, turned and ran in before driving a rocket of a shot to the net.
Cunniffe responded with a free but Conor Griffin scored a nice point on the run to leave the halftime score at 1-6 to 0-6 in favour of Sligo.
Leitrim were determined to keep the pressure on and with Zak Moradi, another late arrival, introduced at halftime, the Green & Gold were hopeful and it was tit for the tat for the first ten minutes.
Raymond and Byrne swapped points, Byrne pouncing on a poor clearance, while Karl McDermott rewarded good work from Moradi & Cunniffe with a fine point. Cunniffe cut the gap but O’Kelly Lynch responded quickly and effectively.
Byrne again cut the gap to two points with a fine point on the run but a sweet strike from the left wing saw Daithi Collins leave three points between the teams.
But the game took a turn for the worse when a poor puc-out was sent straight back low to Raymond, he shuffled, skipped one way and then the other before blazing a bullet of a shot to the back of the net.
Sligo moved up another gear as Leitrim simply fell apart in most sectors of the field. Cormac Behan fired over a great point from play, sub Eamon Kilgallon added another while Raymond added a free.
Cunniffe did stop the rot with a free but Sligo ensured victory when Kilgallon got away with a push on the back of a defender, broke free and buried the sliothar in the Leitrim net.
Raymond would add a free before Leitrim started to find their feet once more with Cunniffe pointing another monster free, from 85 yards. His second from play was a beauty with a great catch under pressure, a run and a score.
The third came when the ball broke in the middle of the park and Cunniffe reacted quickest with a fine point. Sligo almost had a fourth goal but Conor Griffin was denied with an expertly timed hook as the sliothar was cleared.
A goal did come when Cunniffe lofted a free from deep in his own half into the Sligo goalmouth where Colm Moreton did extremely well to get his stick to the sliothar, diverting it past a helpless keeper for a Leitrim goal.
Cormac Behan hit back with a lovely point from play and despite another Cunniffe free to complete a good scoring display, Sligo and Keith Raymond had the last word with an injury time free to seal a seven point victory.
Leitrim will face Fermanagh in their final game in the competition in Enniskillen on March 26.
GAME AT A GLANCE
Main Man: Clement Cunniffe was outstanding throughout for Leitrim and not just from placed balls, his workrate was excellent. But the outstanding individual was Keith Raymond who lit the game up with two fabulous goals worthy of any game.
Talking Point: Leitrim were without a number of key players and it certainly showed as they were unable to sustain what had been a substantial challenge up to that point. You'd also have to question the new rule adopted by the GAA limiting the number of outside players coming into weaker counties as the likes of Leitrim will be lost without the imports.
Turning Point: Keith Raymond's second goal, coming after a poor puc-out, transformed the game and suddenly Sligo went into over-drive as they added an unanswered 1-5 over the next 12 minutes.
Highlight: The quality of Clement Cunniffe's long distance striking and an entertaining and exciting first half was certainly a highlight for the approximately 100 fans who were present in Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada last Sunday. And you also have to highlight the quality of Keith Raymond's two goals, real rockets that nobody could keep out.
Lowlight: Leitrim's capitulation after the second goal of the game must surely worry the Green & Gold management, particularly as the game had been so close and so well contested up to that point.
TEAMS & SCORERS
Scorers: Clement Cunniffe 0-9, 7f; Colm Moreton 1-1; Karl McDermott & Conor Byrne 0-2 each; Kevin O’Connor 0-1
Team: Declan Molloy, Enda Moreton, Vincent McDermott, Kevin McGrath, Kevin O’Connor, Thomas Glancy, Morgan Quinn, Colm Moreton, Karl McDermott, Declan Ryan, Liam Moreton, David McGovern, Patrick Clerkin, Clement Cunniffe, Alan McSharry. Subs: Conor Byrne for McSharry (23), Zak Moradi for Clerkin (HT), Kevin Clerkin for O’Connor (60), Conal McGuire for McGovern (66), A. McSharry for Moradi (68)
Scorers: Keith Raymond 2-7, 4f; Eamon Kilgallon 1-0; Daithi Collins, Tony O’Kelly Lynch, Cormac Behan & Conor Griffin 0-2 each, Alan Markham 0-1
Team: Declan Loughman, Eoin Comerford, Aidan Morrison, Ronan Redmond, Cormac Behan, Sean O’Connor, Liam Reidy, Tom Brennan, Tony O’Kelly Lynch, Conor Griffin, Daithi Collins, Patrick Burke, Keith Raymond, Alan Markham, Eoin McDonagh. Eamon Kilgallon for P. Burke (47), Rory Brennan for O’Kelly-Lynch (65), Kevin Banks for McDonagh (67), Gavin Feely for Markham (68)
Referee: Aidan Ferguson (Fermanagh)