Sometimes a scoreline can give an unfair reflection as to how a game actually transpired but unfortunately that was not the case in Ballinamore on Saturday last as Cavan dominated Leitrim from start to finish in the opening match of the Hastings Cup.
Given that Cavan are the reigning Ulster U-21 champions and will no doubt be at least looking to retain that crown it was always going to be difficult for Leitrim but the manner in which they were outclassed was alarming. All over the pitch the Cavan players were comfortable in possession and strong in the tackle. Crucially the Cavan forwards were as hard working when not in possession as they were when they had the ball meaning it was very difficult for Leitrim to build any kind of momentum.
While there was no doubting that Cavan, even though they were missing up to nine of their starting team, were much the better team, it is also worth pointing out that Leitrim didn’t appear to have the same level of pre-season work done and it would therefore be unfair to dismiss this team after one game.
The game was played in very difficult conditions with heavy rain making matters difficult throughout for both sets of players and when the second half got underway Ballinamore was descended into near darkness.
The opening exchanges were relatively even but once Paul Graham pointed in the fifth minute Cavan never looked in any real danger.
A perfect illustration of the difficulties Leitrim were experiencing came just a minute later when the home side were dispossessed when trying to work the ball out of defence. Having turned the ball over Cavan immediately pounced and Paul Graham was on hand to find the Leitrim goal from close range.
Further points quickly followed from Karl Duke, Dara McVetty and Paul Graham and with just 11 minutes gone, the game already seemed to be beyond Leitrim.
However, before the result was to be confirmed it was to get much worse for Leitrim as the Cavan players made a point of laying down a claim for a starting jersey for the remainder of the year.
Cavan’s second goal arrived just before the quarter hour mark as Dara McVetty, Chris Conroy and Stephen Murray combined as they made light work of the Leitrim defence and when the ball was played to Conor Madden, the full-forward made no mistake with his finish.
A Shane Moran free gave the home support reason to find their voice but it never appeared as though Leitrim would be able to get back in contention and Cavan continued to dominate the remainder of the half.
Two successful frees from Enda O’Reilly and a Conor Madden pointed free completed the first half scoring with Cavan in complete control as they led 2-7 to 0-1.
Leitrim were better in the second half but the fact that they failed to score from play over the course of the game indicates they never really had Cavan sufficiently worried.
Cian Clinton opened the second half scoring when he converted a free three minutes after the restart but without ever hitting the heights they reached in the first half, Cavan still proved too strong.
Enda O’Reilly, Declan McAntee and Conor Madden (free) extended the Cavan lead during a period in which the game was played in near darkness and with both sides making plenty of substitutions Cavan failed to match the intensity levels they reached in the opening half.
The final 10 minutes of the game saw Cavan move through the gears as they looked to finish the game on a high and points from Enda O’Reilly (two, one free), Chris Conroy (two) and Declan McAntee brought Leitrim’s miserable afternoon to an end.
While last weekend’s outing would suggest the Hastings Cup will not be a happy hunting ground for Leitrim this year it is worth remembering that the team is full of talented individuals and with hard work on the training pitch in the coming weeks there should be a considered improvement when they next take to the field.
Brendan Flynn, Ciaran Gilheaney, Michael McWeeney, Thomas Mulvey, Aidan Flynn, Martin Clancy, Keith Boyle, Conor Guckian, Shane Moran (0-1), Shane Quinn, Donal Flynn, James Rooney, Cian Clinton (0-1), Martin Beirne, John Mulligan. Subs: Gerard Kelly for Guckian (23 mins), Niall Woods for Moran (HT), Felim McHugh for Boyle (HT), Peter McGowan for Clinton (44 mins), Patrick McHugh for Flynn (50 mins).
Conor Gilsenon, Jason McLoughlin, Brian Sankey, Tadhg Morrissey, Ciaran Brady, Adam O’Connell, Paul McEvoy, Karl Duke, Paul Graham, Dara McVetty, Chris Conroy, Daniel Talbot, Stephen Murray, Conor Madden, Enda O’Reilly. Subs: Declan McAntee for Murray (HT), Gerard Smith for McEvoy (44 mins), Michael Argue for Talbot (45 mins), James Galligan for Duke (49 mins), James Bradley for O’Reilly (59 mins).
Referee: John Hughes (Longford)