Markievicz Park is fast becoming a happy hunting ground for Leitrim as the County’s Senior footballers lifted their first silverware since 1994 when deservedly defeating Sligo in the FBD League “Home” Final last Sunday, cementing a great start to 2013.
With uncanny parallels to the championship victory over the same opposition two seasons ago, Leitrim produced an excellent first half display, had their backs against the wall for a long spell in the second but once the finish line was in sight, produced the goods once more to deservedly claim the victory and only the fourth piece of silverware at Senior adult level won by the county, a truly historic win.
Four wins on the trot probably hasn’t been achieved in a calendar year since P.J. Carroll was the Senior team manager but two of the Cavan’s man former star players, Brian Breen and George Dugdale, had continued their impressive leadership of this burgeoning side.
Breen & Dugdale have installed discipline, tactical nous and a harder edge to this Leitrim team but nothing has been more important to their charges than the confidence currently coursing through this team, the four wins bringing belief that was evident in the final minutes of Sunday’s testing ties.
The fact that three of the wins were by a point and that Sunday’s game was in the balance right up to the final whistle demonstrates the inner resolve and self belief that could yet be the key to a genuine breakthrough for the Green & Gold.
In the large scale of things, the FBD League doesn’t mean a hell of a lot but back in 1990, the All-Ireland B Championship didn’t mean a lot either. But victory 23 years ago was the first tangible reward for a golden era for Leitrim football and who knows, the 2013 FBD League Home Final may yet be the start of something special.
That future may yet involve Sligo later this year with a potential meeting in a Connacht Semi-Final, provided both overcome New York and London but such is Leitrim’s comfort in Markievicz Park, you wonder if the Green & Gold would rather the potential Semi-Final be played there rather than Pairc Sean.
Sunday’s game was a return to the tempo and desire of previous games and for Cathal McCrann, of whom there were many whispers after one mistake in the GMIT game, it was great vindication – his first half save and confident fielding one of the main planks of Leitrim’s triumph, his save in particular thwarting Sligo’s ambitions.
Wayne McKeon too was mightily impressive, his leadership and work-rate a corner-stone of Leitrim’s defensive resistance and deserving of the Man of the Match award. Ray Cox too continues his Indian summer, his partnership with an equally impressive James Glancy in the full-forward line causing Sligo no end of problems.
Yet Breen & Dugdale, with Limerick next Sunday and the Allianz League in mind, will stress that it was far from a perfect performance, that there are plenty of areas that need work but strangely, that is almost comforting as Leitrim have a lot of scope for improvement in the months ahead.
As strange as it is, focus must turn immediately to the Division 4 campaign – the FBD League served a purpose and probably more than many hoped is done and dusted and a much sterner test awaits as anyone looking at the results of Wicklow, Offaly, Tipperary and Limerick in their provincial leagues will have noted.
What it has done is instil winning habits, breed confidence and raise expectations – all of which are more than welcome as Leitrim face a devilishly tough assignment against Limerick next Sunday.
Leitrim had the first chance when there appeared to be a push on James Glancy as he contested a breaking ball but the Glencar/Manor forward was instrumental in the vital first two scores, his low ball setting up Ray Cox for a fine point before a foul on him allowed Emlyn Mulligan to convert a free.
Both sides traded missed chances but Leitrim had cause for greater regret when Brian McDonald’s high ball broke behind the defence and Ray Cox saw his shot go agonisingly wide with the keeper beaten on 14 minutes.
Cathal McCrann advanced smartly to claim a long ball before Emlyn Mulligan almost claimed a goal, his free dipping sharply only for Sligo keeper Aidan Devanney to make a flying save to keep it out of the top corner. The Leitrim captain made no mistake from the resulting fifty, his effort probably good enough to clear the bar from 70 yards!
Sligo, however, showed they could be a threat when Brian Egan converted a 40 yard free, Kenneth Sweeney had a shot blocked before Mark Brehony hooked a high shot over the bar on 22 minutes.
The turning point came with five minutes left in the half – Sligo put together a patient move, spraying the ball from side to side before a perceptive pass put Francis Quinn clear on goal. However, Cathal McCrann proved equal to the task, brilliantly diverting the goal-bound ball to safety.
Leitrim took heed of the warning and Mulligan tapped over a free after a foul on Danny Beck before Beck himself atoned for an earlier miss with an injury time score, leaving Leitrim three clear on a 0-5 to 0-2 halftime lead.
In such conditions, a three-point lead was a match winning margin and Leitrim seemed intent on defending it in the second half as an increasingly dominant Sligo began to pressurise more and more. However, they had little to show for it as another Mulligan fifty actually stretched the lead to four after ten minutes of the half.
With Kevin Conlan replacing a frustrated looking Adrian Croal, Brian Egan pointed on 13 minutes for Sligo’s first score of the half, followed less than a minute later by an Adrian Marren free after Alan Wynne was penalised for an off-the-ball foul.
That cut a comfortable four point Leitrim lead in half and Sligo upped their intensity, forcing Leitrim back but not breaking. Four poor Sligo wides to two for Leitrim cemented the feeling that Sligo were coming but a crucial break-away free from Brian McDonald found sub Cian Reynolds in space for his first score in a Leitrim jersey.
Sligo hit back again with a Marren free but with the home team needing every score, they couldn’t find their way through, Colm Clarke hitting a very bad wide before another breakaway to sub Conor Beirne saw him sweep the ball out for Brian McDonald to the insurance point.
Cathal McCrann, Alan Wynne, Ciaran Egan, Paddy Maguire, Daniel Beck (0-1), Paul Brennan, Colm Clarke, Wayne McKeon, Paddy McGowan, Gerry Hickey, Emlyn Mulligan (0-4), Brian McDonald (0-1), James Glancy, Ray Cox (0-1), Adrian Croal. Subs: Kevin Conlan for Croal (43 mins), Cian Reynolds (0-1) for Hickey (49 mins), Conor Beirne for Cox (52 mins), Brendan Brennan for McGowan (56 mins).
A Devaney; C Harrison, J Martyn, B Kennedy; N Ewing, M Quinn, B Curran; S Gilmartin, A McIntyre; B Egan (0-2), J Clarke, F Quinn; M Breheny (0-1), K Sweeney, B Egan. Subs: Adrian Marren (0-2) & Shane McManus for Sweeney & Clarke (HT), Keelan Cawley for Martyn (43 mins), Niall Murphy for Brehony (54 mins),
Referee: Jerome Henry (Mayo).