Leah Fox scores Leitrim's goal against Roscommon in Tuam Picture: Willie Donnellan
Inspired by the heroics of Michelle Guckian and Michelle Monaghan at opposite ends of the field, Leitrim retained their TG4 Connacht LGFA Intermediate Championship crown on Sunday in St Jarlath’s Park in Tuam as they weathered an early storm to deservedly take victory.
Roscommon had gone into the final on the back of winning the Division 3 League title and seeking revenge for two consecutive losses to Hugh Donnelly’s side and while they enjoyed a lot of possession, they simply lacked the cutting edge that Leitrim possessed at both ends of the field.
Michelle Guckian was an easy choice as Player of the Match, the Kiltubrid woman picking up her second consecutive award in the Connacht Final as she hit ten points, six from play, and was generally unremarkable by the Roscommon defence.
Aisling McCaulifee did as well as anyone has on the Leitrim star but Roscommon’s decision not to double team the Kiltubrid player backfired spectacularly as Guckian was scoring from anywhere and everywhere.
With Guckian and Leah Fox effectively operating as an independent unit in attack, allowing Leitrim to drop players back to frustrate Roscommon’s attack, the two players came up with huge scores in both halves.
Fox’s goal was a simple score that Roscommon were unable to emulate - they had the chances and that was when Michelle Monaghan made a huge contribution to Leitrim’s victory, making two spectacular saves to deny Jenny Shine and Laura Fleming certain goals early in the second half.
Those two saves proved absolutely vital because Roscommon never gave up but they were unable to penetrate a ferocious Leitrim backline where Ailish Cornyn stood out as Leitrim foiled a Roscommon attack that looked as if they would cause huge damage in the first half.
Roscommon's Laura Fleming can only watch as her shot is saved by Leitrim keeper Michelle Monaghan Picture: Willie Donnellan
But the introduction of subs Mary Alice Maguire and Bronagh O’Rourke helped steady Leitrim’s ship and with so many bodies back and so many players working so hard, Roscommon grew increasingly frustrated as the game wore on.
With the game on a knife’s edge ten approaching the three-quarter mark, Guckian delivering a blistering two minute spell that saw her land four points, one from a free, to all but shatter Roscommon’s challenge.
That meant the Division 3 champions had to chase the game but with Leitrim flooding players back in front of their goal, they never got the openings they needed against a voracious defence that worked themselves to a standstill in the blistering heat.
Roscommon started at blistering pace and really should have goaled inside the opening 30 seconds when Jenny Shine’s strong run led to a goal chance for Mikaela McHugh but she shot high over the Leitrim bar.
Niamh Feeney added a point before a block on Roise Lennon forced her to hit the follow-up wide but from the kickout, Roscommon won the ball back with Fiona Tully firing over. Another intercept on a Leitrim move led to a point for Jenny Shine as Roscommon led 0-4 to no score after just over five minutes.
Leitrim’s first attack gave notice of their potency as the simple tactic of a long ball up to an isolated Michelle Guckian led to an easy point.
Roscommon were still pressing with Michelle Monaghan doing well to hold a shot from Tully but Guckian tapped over a free after a foul on Elise Bruen on nine minutes. Despite a bad wide, Roscommon increased their lead with points from Laura Fleming and Natalie McHugh.
Both teams were missing good chances but Roscommon were the far morse wasteful and Leitrim almost made them pay a huge price when Leah Fox’s strong run saw her release Laura O’Dowd but her shot cannoned off the post, the ball worked back to Michelle Guckian for a good point on 24 minutes.
Roscommon had their warning but didn’t take action and a long clearance from Ailish Cornyn found Fox again one on one and she left her marker for dust before sidestepping a helpless keeper Helena Cummins to put the ball in the net.
With that, the sides were level and all of Roscommon’s dominance was for nought and you could see the doubt creep into their play. Laura Fleming put a free badly wide before Laura O’Dowd got on the end of a good move to point in added time.
Roscommon had time to tie the scores, Roise Lennon from a free as the scores stood at 1-4 for Leitrim to Roscommon 0-7 at the break.
The Rossies again started powerful from the throw-in with Michelle Monaghan making a wonderful save to deny Jenny Shine a certain goal. The lively Roisin Wynne worked a good score for herself as Roscommon went back in front on three minutes.
Michelle Guckian scores a point for Leitrim during the second half Picture: Willie Donnellan
Leitrim’s goal was leading a charmed life after a long range shot came off the woodwork and fell right into the arms of Laura Fleming. The Roscommon keeper only had to beat Monaghan in the goal but the Leitrim keeper sprinted off her line and got her foot to the shot, the ball cleared to safety.
The value of those saves was magnified when Megan McGovern took matters into her own hands as it appeared that a Leitrim attack was getting bogged down, the Ballinamore player firing over from long distance.
Roscommon were now missing chances and Leitrim were hitting them on the break, two excellent Leah Fox points in as many minutes putting the Green & Gold two clear. Sub Mary Alice Maguire even ventured up from defence but was unlucky to see her shot hit the post and drop wide.
From the kickout, Roscommon got the ball to Natalie McHugh who fired over to leave a point between the sides but then we had the Michelle Guckian show as the Kiltubrid player hit four unanswered points in a blistering two minute spell and suddenly, midway through the second half, Leitrim were five points clear.
Sub Lauren Shanagher and Natalie McHugh replied with good points to get the gap back down to a goal but Leitrim kept the pressure on with a free from Guckian after a foul on Leah Fox. Aisling Hanley and Fleming both tapped over frees to leave two between the teams with less than five minutes to go.
Guckian kept Leitrim three in front before a Roscommon turnover led to another point from Hanley and the gap was back at two as Roscommon threw everything at Leitrim, sub Ellen Irwin seeing a shot blocked that looked destined for a score.
However, Leitrim made sure of the victory when Guckian fired over after three minutes of added time but there was one last scare when Niamh Shanagher almost got to a long ball on the edge of the Leitrim square but Leitrim were able to clear the danger to seal their victory.
Scorers: Michelle Guckian 0-10, 4f; Leah Fox 1-2; Laura O’Dowd & Megan McGovern 0-1 each
Team: Michelle Monaghan, Eimhin Quinn, Ailish Cornyn, Siobhan McCartan, Charlene Tyrell, Clare Owens, Carla Le Guen, Megan McGovern, Niamh Tighe, Laura O’Dowd, Michelle Guckian, Elise Bruen, Roisin McHugh, Leah Fox, Shaylyn Ward. Subs: Bronagh O’Rourke for McHugh (25), Mary Alice Maguire for E Quinn (28); Siomha Quinn for Tighe (34); Aisling Quinn for McGovern (54)
Scorers: Natalie McHugh 0-3; Laura Fleming (f) & Aisling Hanly (f) 0-2 each; Niamh Feeney, Roisin Wynne, Jenny Shine, Mikaela McHugh, Roise Lennon (f), Fiona Tully & Lauren Shanagher 0-1 each
Team: Helena Cummins, Sinead Kenny, Rachel Fitzmaurice, Rachel Brady, Roisin Wynne, Niamh Feeney, Aisling McCaulifee, Caroline Conway, Laura Flemming, Jenny Shine, Mikaela McHugh, Natalie McHugh, Roise Lennon, Aisling Hanley, Fiona Tully. Subs: Lauren Shanagher for Lennon (36); Niamh Shanagher for Conway (48); Ellen Irwin for Tully (52); Sarah McVeigh for Shine (60)
Referee: Kevin Corcoran (Mayo)
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