Leitrim players, management and officials celebrate after winning the Connacht Hurling League Shield against Mayo on Friday evening
Inspired by goals from Joe Murray and James McNabola, Leitrim hurlers turned in a superb display of fast paced hurling and brilliant scoring to stun Mayo and lift the Connacht Hurling League Shield on Friday night in the NUI Galway Connacht GAA Air Dome.
Mayo, who beat Leitrim by 19 points in last year's Nicky Rackard Cup, would have been expected to brush aside the challenge of a Leitrim team who pushed Roscommon all the way in Wednesday's semi-final but driven by a man of the match display from Joe Murray, who landed 1-15 on the day, Olcan Conway's troops stunned last year's Nicky Rackard Cup winners.
Leitrim actually led by 12 points 20 minutes into the second half, having led by just two at the halftime break but this was no smash and grab raid - it was a performance full of skill and confidence that left an admittedly wasteful Mayo wondering what went wrong on the night.
Mayo may have been without their Toreen contingent but Leitrim made eight changes from the team that lost to Roscommon on Wednesday and were still without Stephen Goldrick and Gavin O'Hagan yet it made little difference to a display full of character and passion with Karl McDermott, Gavin O'Brien, David McGovern, Paul Lenehan and Murray excelling on the night.
Murray, a grandson of Leitrim footballing legend Josie Murray, has made a huge impact for the hurlers, his pace skinning the Mayo defence time and time again while the accuracy of the Round Towers clubman is a massive boost for the county hurlers as they target glory in this year's Allianz NHL Division 3B campaign and the Lory Meagher Cup.
In contrast with Wednesday's encounter with Roscommon, it was Leitrim who got off to the better start despite James Gallagher getting the first score for Mayo from a free. A point apiece from new recruits Joe Murray and Sean Markham got Leitrim going and when Jamie Ward's long delivery found Murray in behind the Mayo defence, the Dubliner made no mistake with a classy finish.
Gallagher and Ryan Butler swapped points with another new boy Senan Keane and Murray but three more points from the Round Towers man had Leitrim six points clear after 14 minutes.
Mayo's response either side of the first water break was impressive and ominous as they fired off eight unanswered points from Adrian Phillips (5), Paul Kirwin, Gallagher and Matthew Walsh as their ability dominate from their halfback line saw Leitrim struggle to win primary possession.
Sean Markham stopped the rot with a point before Murray and Gallagher swapped scores. Murray and Karl McDermott tapped over free to edge Leitrim back in front before Ryan Butler fired over to tie the scores. However, Leitrim were on a roll and despite another Gallagher score, three Murray points before halftime, two from play, gave Leitrim a deserved two point halftime lead on a scoreline of 1-14 to 0-15.
After experimenting in the first half, both sides brought on more established players for the second half with James McNabola, Martin Feeney, Conor Hackett and Cian Mallon coming on for Leitrim and it was McNabola who provided Leitrim with the perfect start after Leitrim turned over the Mayo defence in the corner and the Eslin man soloed in to slam the sliothar to the net!
Leitrim's lead was now five points and despite another James Gallagher free, Leitrim were in flying form as they rattled off points from Murray (3) and McNabola before the Mayo man scored again. It proved a temporary respite as Murray and McDermott both landed two apiece to leave Leitrim 12 points clear with less than 15 minutes of normal time left.
Mayo would rally down the home straight but they could never breach a Leitrim backline where David McGovern, Kevin Clerkin and Paul Lenehan were outstanding. They did outscore Leitrim seven points to one, McDermott Leitrim's only scorer but despite points from Butler, Keith Higgins, Philips and Keelan Gallagher, they were never able to threaten the goal they so desperately needed to rescue the game.
Scorers: Joe Murray 1-15, 9f; Karl McDermott 0-4, 3f; James McNabola 1-1; Sean Markham 0-2; Senan Keane & Conor Hackett 0-1 each
Team: Lorcan Donnellan; David McGovern, Kevin Clerkin, Paul Lenehan; Ethan Clancy, Karl McDermott, Shane Crowe; Senan Keane; Sean Markham, Gavin O’Brien, Jamie Ward, Cian Ffrench, Shane Rynn, Diarmuid Kelleher, Joe Murray. Subs: Martin Feeney, Conor Hackett, James McNabola & Cian Mallon for Keane, Ward, Ffrench & Rynn (HT), Aaron McDermott & Liam Moreton for O’Brien & Crowe (48), Michael O’Brien for A McDermott (65)
Scorers: James Gallagher 0-8, 5f; Adrian Philips 0-7; Ryan Butler 0-4; Keith Higgins, Paul Kirwin, Matthew Walsh, Keelan Gallagher & Danny Hill 0-1 each
Team: Barry Lane, Adrian Brennan, James Lowe, Michael Gallagher, Mark Phillips, Keith Higgins, Jack Trench, Paul Kirwin, James Lyons, Aaron Ketterick, Adrian Philips, Matthew Walsh, James Gallagher, Ryan Butler, Keelan Gallagher. Subs: Alan Ferguson, Darren Murray & Danny Hill for K Gallagher, Trench & Walsh (HT), Darren Murray for Lowe (38), Nicky Carolan & Eoin McGrath for J Gallagher & M Gallagher (64)
Referee: Alan Kelly (Galway)
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