Joe Murray attempts to control the ball against Fermanagh Picture: Stefan Hoare
An understrength Leitrim went down fighting to Allianz NHL Division 3B table toppers Fermanagh in Pairc Sheain Ui Eslin in Ballinamore on Sunday but they will regret the missed chances that cost them the chance of a draw.
With Leitrim lining out without Paul Lenehan, Gavin O’Hagan, Cian Mallon, Senan Keane, Kevin Clerkin, Diarmuid Kelleher, James McNabola and David McGovern, this was the sort of game where you’d expect Leitrim to really struggle but inspired by the freetaking of Joe Murray, they pushed Fermanagh all the way to the final whistle.
Olcan Conway’s side did have the boost of Karl McDermott making a quick return from the injury he sustained against Longford while Cathal O’Donovan’s return to the Green & Gold was another huge boost but missing so many first choice players, Leitrim were always going to be up against it.
The fact that Leitrim lined out without their entire full-back line of David McGovern, Kevin Clerkin and Paul Lenehan meant that the county hurlers were never able to establish the sort of defensive solidity they would have wished as Sean Corrigan, Daniel Teague and Luka McCusker caused the defence huge problems.
At the other end, Leitrim lacked the cutting edge they have shown in previous games and while Gavin O’Hagan came on at halftime, the fact that they were relying almost exclusively on Murray’s superb freetaking was just too much of a burden to carry.
In the irony of ironies, an injury time chance to tie the scores was missed as Joe Murray, who had scored 1-11 including 11 points from placed balls, pulled his shot wide and Fermanagh sealed their victory with a late point.
Leitrim now face a meeting with Longford in Longford next Saturday as they seek to set up a return meeting with Fermanagh on the weekend of April 2-3, in the Division 3B Final but if they can get even half of their absent players back in harness, they will be a formidable.
Joe Murray breaks through a tackle against Fermanagh Picture: Stefan Hoare
Leitrim got off to a blistering start with a point apiece from Brendan Delaney, Joe Murray (free) and Cathal O’Donovan in the first five minutes, Sean Markham setting up Delaney’s score while O’Donovan hit the target from the halfway mark.
Daniel Teague pulled back two points, one from a free for Fermanagh, inside 60 seconds before he swapped frees with Joe Murray. However, Fermanagh struck a major blow when Luka McCusker forced home a loose ball after Leitrim keeper Clement Cunniffe had blocked Tom Keenan’s initial shot on 11 minutes.
Murray and Corrigan swapped points but a Karl McDermott free on 17 minutes left a point in it before Leitrim dramatically retook the lead when Brendan Delaney burst through the cover and Joe Murray volleyed Delaney’s pass first time to the Fermanagh net on 19 minutes.
Now it was Fermanagh’s turn to respond - Teague and John Paul McGarry fired over two points to tie the scores and from there to halftime, it was tit for tat with Martin Feeney scoring a brilliant instinctive effort on 24 minutes.
Leitrim almost got in for a second goal but Fermanagh keeper Mark Curry saved Murray’s efforts and the follow-ups. McCusker and Ryan Bogue both fired over to edge Fermanagh in front but Leitrim came back with good points from Tadgh Brannigan and a Murray free.
However, a good point from Ben Corrigan ensured the sides went in level at 1-9 apiece at the end of a very entertaining first half.
After Karl McDermott put an early free wide, Joe Murray edged Leitrim back in front from a fourth minute free only for Teague to punish over-carrying by keeper Cunniffe from a free. Murray edged Leitrim back in front but the next score proved to be the difference at the final whistle.
Liam Moreton was controversially pulled for what looked like a good shoulder and when the resulting free dropped into the area, Sean Corrigan blasted to the net to put Fermanagh two clear.
Liam Moreton under pressure against Fermanagh Picture: Stefan Hoare
The tit for tat continued with Murray swapping frees with Ryan Bogue and Sean Corrigan but the Erne men seemed to have taken control when they went three clear with another Corrigan score.
Leitrim were missing a few chances but when Murray put over two frees with less that five minutes to go, the gap was back to a point. Daniel Teague fired over a free after a Conor Hackett foul but another Murray free got the gap back to a point in the first minute of added time.
Murray had a chance from a placed ball to tie the scores but his effort flew wide at a time when Leitrim had momentum and Fermanagh sealed a hard fought win with another Corrigan point to book their place in the Division 3B Final.
Scorers: Joe Murray 1-11, 11f; Cathal O’Donovan, Karl McDermott, Martin Feeney, Tadgh Brannigan & Brendan Delaney 0-1 each
Team: Clement Cunniffe (Carrick on Shannon), Shane Crowe (Carrick on Shannon), Stephen Goldrick (Carrick on Shannon), Cathal O’Donovan (Arigdeen Rovers), Conor Hackett (Carrick on Shannon), Karl McDermott (Cluainin), Ethan Clancy (Cluainin), Aaron McDermott (Cluainin), Martin Feeney (Cluainin), Sean Markham (Michael Glavey's), Tadhg Brannigan (Carrick on Shannon), Gavin O’Brien (Carrick on Shannon), Brendan Delaney (Carrick on Shannon), Liam Moreton (Carrick on Shannon), Joe Murray. Subs: Gavin O’Hagan (Cluainin) for Clancy (HT), Diarmuid Kelleher (Carrick on Shannon) for O’Brien (54), Cian Ffrench (Carrick on Shannon) for Markham (69)
Scorers: Sean Corrigan 1-4, 1f; Daniel Teague 0-6, 4f; Luka McCusker 1-1; Ryan Bogue 0-2, 2f; John Paul McGarry& Ben Corrigan 0-1 each
Team: Mark Curry, Ciaran Breslin, Rory Porteous, Ciaran Duffy, Aidan Flanagan, Ryan Bogue, John Paul McGarry, Caolan Duffy, Conor McShea, Luca McCusker, Sean Corrigan, Tom Keenan, Ben Corrigan, Daniel Teague, Ronan McGurn. Subs: Ultan O’Reilly for McCusker (HT), Eoin Cleary for McGurn (49), Shea Curran for Duffy (55)
Referee: Aidan McAleer (Donegal)
Subscribe or register today to discover more from DonegalLive.ie
Buy the e-paper of the Donegal Democrat, Donegal People's Press, Donegal Post and Inish Times here for instant access to Donegal's premier news titles.
Keep up with the latest news from Donegal with our daily newsletter featuring the most important stories of the day delivered to your inbox every evening at 5pm.