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02 Jul 2022

LEITRIM GET THE JOB DONE

LONDON 2-11 LEITRIM 3-12

LEITRIM GET THE JOB DONE

Leitrim captain David Bruen attempts to offload the ball under pressure from London's Matt Moynihan in McGovern Park in Ruislip Picture: Sam Barnes Sportsfile

Mission accomplished, job done - whatever way you want to term it, Leitrim footballers came through a ferocious examination from London last Sunday in McGovern Emerald Park in Ruislip to book their place in the Connacht Senior Championship Semi-Final.

With enormous pressure bearing down on Andy Moran's charges, Leitrim looked at times as if they were going to run away with the contest but were left hanging onto a one point lead in six plus minutes of added time as London came searching for the score that would send the game to extra-time.

It was then that Leitrim showed their ice-cool nerve and superb fitness as a superb length of the field move ended with Ryan O'Rourke sealing a four point victory that was greeted with great celebrations and no doubt long sighs of relief!

London will look back on this game with regret as Michael Maher’s side had Leitrim pinned to the ropes in the closing stages but just couldn’t deliver the final knock-out blow and even Leitrim fans wouldn’t deny the Exiles deserved a shot at extra-time.

When Donal Wrynn popped up at the far post to fist home Leitrim’s second goal, Andy Moran’s side had one foot in the semi-finals as they led 2-12 to 0-10. But an instant response from London via Sean Hickey’s goal prompted a ferocious London fightback.

Liam Gavaghan breaks past the challenge of Leitrim's Conor Reynolds Picture: Sam Barnes Sportsfile

That fightback looked destined for glory when sub Fearghal McMahon’s stunning first time strike brought London to within just two points with four minutes of normal still to go. It was all London mow, as it had been for the previous ten minutes or so to be fair, and the home side were given further fillet when Evan Sweeney picked up a straight red card.

Cue frantic and frenetic scenes as London threw the proverbial kitchen sink at the visitors. James Hynes fired over to close the gap to the minimum as we entered a nerve-jangling six minutes of additional time.

Composure was the order of the day, but that’s easy to preach and far harder to practice when the stakes are so high. Moments before the board showing six additional minutes was hoisted high into the sky, Conall Gallagher blasted wide.

But extra-time, and perhaps even more, still seemed London’s for the taking. There was plenty of time left. Liam Gavaghan had a chance to level it up but was off target, and then James Gallagher just couldn’t stretch high enough to get a hand to the London’s captain’s curling ball towards the far post. It dropped wide.

With the final few seconds ticking down, Hickey then saw his shot drop into the arms of Darren Maxwell, from which James Rooney played a peach of a ball out to Emlyn Mulligan to start a sweeping Leitrim move downfield.

With London having committed bodies forward, Leitrim worked it well for Ryan O’Rourke to link with Donal Casey before beating Noel Maher in the London goal.

It was the last act of this pulsating game and sent Leitrim through to a semi-final meeting with either Mayo or Galway.

No one did more to get Leitrim over the line than Pearce Dolan, who reeled in a couple of Darren Maxwell’s kick-outs in those closing ten minutes or so when London were rampant, while Emlyn Mulligan brought all of his experience to bear in those closing moments.

London, by contrast, head to the new Tailteann Cup competition which gets underway on 28 May. A few welcome weeks to lick the wounds. But make no mistake this was far, far closer than the final four-point margin will ever show in the history books.

Staging its first Connacht Championship match since Galway escaped with a four-point victory in 2019, Ruislip looked a stunning picture on the glorious West London afternoon.

Home advantage for the Exiles, coupled with their two-point win over Leitrim in the league, and the absence through suspension of the visitors’ top-scorer in the league, Keith Beirne, suggested that this was going to be a tight one. The Mohill clubman had racked up 2-44, but Moran wouldn’t have his services at Ruislip.

Leitrim manager Andy Moran shakes hands with London's Stephen Dornan after the game Picture: Sheila Fernandes

For London, this was a real opportunity to register a first championship win since 2013, but it was the visitors who should have been a goal to the good inside the opening minute.

Mark Plunkett surged through only to send a low shot across the face of Noel Maher’s goal and wide. It was left to Darragh Rooney’s free to open the scoring in the third minute.

It was then London’s turn to go close to raising a green flag as Henry Walsh went through only for Maxwell to get down smartly to his right to save well. Leitrim survived the ensuing scramble.

Chris Farley nearly got on the end of a lucky break to burst clean through but the ball just wasn’t quite running for the home side.

From nothing, Plunkett’s route one ball into the London goalmouth was well claimed by Shane Moran, before he fell to the ground in a heap in between two London jerseys.

Martin McNally consulted with his umpires before awarding a penalty. It seemed a harsh decision on the Exiles; it appeared just to be players competing for the ball.

Although Noel Maher guessed correctly, Ryan O’Rourke’s penalty was stroked effortlessly right into the bottom corner. That gave Leitrim a 1-2 to no score lead.

It didn’t stay that way for long as Henry Walsh finally got London on the board in the 15th minute. Farley followed that with a brace of frees with the game becoming increasingly open. Plunkett had time and space to send a booming strike sailing over the London crossbar, and Conor Dolan added another to seemingly quell London’s mini revival.

It was tit-for-tat after that. Thomas Lenihan with a fine effort for London and Rooney with a cracking score from beneath the shadow of the McGovern Stand. But it was the Exiles who would finish the half the stronger, rattling off four unanswered points to close the gap to the minimum at the short whistle (1-6 to 0-8). They came courtesy of Henry Walsh - from another lung bursting Liam Gallagher run - Gavaghan (two frees) and Stephen Dornan (mark).

Ryan O'Rourke celebrates after scoring Leitrim's third goal Picture: Sheila Fernandes

Fulham Irish’s Matthew Walsh had done as much as anyone to get the home side back into the game. Having been five points down after 13 minutes, and searching for their first score, the Exiles would have been the happier as the teams disappeared down the tunnel.

Half-time probably came at the wrong time for London, whose tails were up, and it was Leitrim who made the most of the break to strike twice upon the resumption, though the excellent Pearce Dolan and a confident Donal Wrynn free. Pearce Dolan somehow then turned away from three white jerseys, in the area the size of a London phone box, before striding forward to plant the ball over the bar.

The dangerous O’Rourke then turned his man and bore down on Noel Maher’s goal, before fisting over and taking his point. It put Leitrim up by 1-10 to 0-8. While in the first half Leitrim had shown a liking for going direct, Andy Moran’s side were now keeping the ball and showing patience in abundance.

Gavaghan (free) curled over London’s first score of the second half in the 46th minute, as Michael Maher rang the changes. Wrynn’s 45 restored the visitors five-point buffer, though. Another Liam Gallagher carry produced a free which Gavaghan converted, but more patient Leitrim build up play ended with Evan Sweeney pointing.

London just couldn’t close the gap, and the visitors were looking increasingly comfortable. And then the moment in the 57th minute that looked like taking Leitrim through to the semi-finals. Pearce Dolan ate up the Ruislip pitch before releasing Jack Heslin, and his fisted ball to the far post was palmed home by Wrynn. It sent Leitrim into a 2-12 to 0-10 lead.

But two minutes later it was game on again as Matthew Walsh, Gavaghan and McMahon combined for Hickey to goal from close range. A sweet moment for Hickey after he’d come within a toe-end of scoring a late goal against Galway at the same end three years ago, which would have levelled the game.

It got even better for the Exiles in the 66th minute when James Gallagher – making a nuisance of himself – saw his shot blocked by a scrambling Leitrim defence. The ball rebounded to McMahon who struck the ball first time on the volley, and it flew past Maxwell and into the top corner.

Ruislip was now rocking and all the momentum was with the home side – aided by the sending off of Sweeney for an off-the-ball incident. And so to the unbearable drama. Hynes brought London level, but try as they might the Exiles just couldn’t fashion a leveller, or even a winning goal. They weren’t without their chances, though.

LEITRIM

Scorers: Ryan O’Rourke 2-2, 1-0 pen; Donal Wrynn 1-3, 1f, 1 50; Darragh Rooney (f) & Pearce Dolan 0-2 each; Mark Plunkett, Conor Dolan and Evan Sweeney 0-1 each

Team: Darren Maxwell (Ballinamore Sean O’Heslins); Mark Diffley (St Mary’s Kiltoghert); Donal Casey (Leitrim Gaels); Paddy Maguire (Glencar Manorhamilton); James Rooney (Glencar Manorhamilton); Shane Quinn (Mohill); David Bruen (Leitrim Gaels); Pearce Dolan (Aughawillan); Donal Wrynn (Fenagh St Caillins); Domhnaill Flynn (Mohill); Mark Plunkett (Aughawillan); Conor Dolan (Glencar Manorhamilton); Ryan O’Rourke (Fenagh St Caillins); Shane Moran (Ballinamore Sean O’Heslins); Darragh Rooney (St Jude’s Dublin). Subs: Evan Sweeney (Glencar Manorhamilton) for S Moran (53); Jack Heslin (Gortletteragh) for C Dolan (56); Conor Reynolds (Annaduff) & Riordan O’Rourke (Fenagh St Caillins) for Maguire & D Rooney (65); Emlyn Mulligan (St Mary’s Sligo) for D Bruen (73)

LONDON

Scorers: Liam Gavaghan 0-4, 4; Fearghal McMahon & Sean Hickey 1-0 each; Chris Farley (2f) & Henry Walsh 0-2, 2f; Stephen Dornan (M), James Hynes & Thomas Lenihan 0-1 each

Team: Noel Maher; Eoin Walsh, Matt Moynihan, Nathan McElwaine; Ronan Sloan, Cahir Healy, Evan Wynne; Stephen Dornan, Thomas Lenihan; Conal Gallagher, Matthew Walsh, Liam Gallagher; Chris Farley, Liam Gavaghan, Henry Walsh. Subs: Enda McCormick for Farley (28), James Gallagher for Henry Walsh (46), James Hynes for Lenihan (47), Fearghal McMahon for McCormick (53), Sean Hickey for Healy (58)

Referee: Martin McNally

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