Daire Greenan tries to stop a Mayo player from advancing with the ball Picture: Mayo GAA
The final scoreline may have flattered Mayo but there was no doubting that they were deserving winners of this first round Connacht U17 championship match at James Stephens Park last Friday evening.
A large crowd turned out in Ballina for the opening round of the campaign as late Mayo goals from joint captains Ronan Clarke and Diarmuid Duffy put a large sheen of gloss on the final margin of victory.
Leitrim’s efforts deserved more than a 16-points defeat but the dismissal of defender Eoghan Ridge midway through the second half proved to be a key moment as Mayo outscored the visitors by 2-3 to no score from there to the finish.
Mayo tried to play a fast and positive brand of football from start to finish and in the likes of Rio Mortimer, John MacMonagle, Jack Keane, Cathal Keavny and Niall Hurley they had players who looked comfortable in their surroundings.
Full-forward Ronan Clarke, who finished with 1-8, also showed flashes of his potential but on another evening could have racked up an even bigger tally.
From a Leitrim perspective most of the damage was done in the opening half. The underdogs opened the scoring through Naoise McManus in the fourth minute but they failed to score again until the 31st minute when impressive midfielder Ben Guckian converted a free.
In between, Mayo shot nine points with lively corner-forward Niall Hurley kicking three superb scores from play in quick succession. Jack Keane, James Maheady and Dylan Gallagher also hit the target with Ronan Clarke converting two frees and adding a lovely point from play.
Mayo lost Paul Gilmore to a black card late in the half, but it didn’t impact them unduly, at least not before the break, but Leitrim did make some inroads after the restart.
Adrian Dockery’s side hit the ground running in the second half and rattled off three of the first four points as Tom Plunkett, Eoghan Moyles and Paul Honeyman (free) all raised white flags.
This purple patch cut Mayo’s lead to five points but Seán Deane and his management team took evasive action as their team started to ease off the throttle.
The arrival of Oisin Cronin brought fresh energy and intent to the Mayo attack and he was centrally involved in some of their best work. Cronin’s point eased Mayo ahead by 0-12 to 0-5 and Paul Honeyman’s free in the 46th minute turned out to be Leitrim’s last score of the evening.
They battled bravely to the end with captain Ben Guckian leading the charge and getting the most help from Jack Foley, Gerard Murtagh, Darren Cox and Josh Maye.
But once they went a man down they were fighting a losing battle, and well-taken goals from Ronan Clarke and Diarmuid Duffy rounded off a good first evening’s work for Mayo.
Mayo manager Seán Deane felt Leitrim were better than the scoreline suggests: “Leitrim battled very hard and were probably unlucky on a number of occasions. I think the gap of 16 points probably doesn’t do Leitrim justice, to be honest.
“We’re happy that we got the two points, that’s what we set out to do. But we set high standards for ourselves and we didn’t achieve them this evening. I’ve spoken to the guys there and I don’t have to say it to them, they’re not happy with the standard of performance tonight.
“We know there's a lot more in us and lots of things we need to work on next week, because it will not be good enough when we play Roscommon next Friday night, and we know that.”
Scorers: Ronan Clarke 1-8, 5f; Niall Hurley 0-3; Diarmuid Duffy 1-0; Jack Keane, Dylan Gallagher, James Maheady, Oisin Cronin & Oliver Armstrong 0-1
Team: D. Dolan; R.Mortimer, J. MacMonagle, L. Silke; L. Maloney, C. McHale, P. Gilmore; J. Keane; L. Feeney; C. Keavney, D. Gallagher; D. Duffy; J. Maheady; R. Clarke; N. Hurley. Subs: O. Cronin for Maheady; C. Lydon for Silke; O. Armstrong for Keane; T. Lydon for Hurley; R. Conway for Feeney
Scorers: Paul Honeyman 0-2, 2f; Eoghan Moyles, Ben Guckian (f); Tom Plunkett & Naoise McManus 0-1 each
Team: Shaun Sheridan; Eoghan Moyles, Eoin Duignan, Eoghan Ridge; Daire Greenan, Jack Foley, Gerard Murtagh; Ben Guckian; Liam Chandler; James Gilheany, Paul Honeyman; Tom Plunkett; Darren Cox, Josh Maye, Naoise McManus. Subs: Darragh Gardiner for Cox; Fionn Curley for Gilheany; Harry Wilson for Honeyman; Matthew Murphy for McManus; Aaron Gethins for Guckian
Referee: A Clogher (Roscommon)
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