Shane Moran palms the ball to the Sligo net at the start of extra-time - the goal was disallowed Picture Willie Donnellan
If only gaelic football could be like this all the time as Leitrim and Sligo produced a wonderful, epic, thrilling Tailteann Cup Quarter-Final that was loaded with drama, controversy and even the dreaded penalty shootout with the Yeatsmen breaking Leitrim hearts from the penalty spot in Avant Money Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada.
Few games ever seen in the famous Carrick venue can have matched this game for sheer excitement - even the penalty shootout itself was far more thrilling than anything we saw in four provincial finals as four superb Sligo spot kicks booked them a place in the showpiece Tailteann Cup Semi-Finals in Croke Park, breaking the hearts of a vociferous, partisan and energetic Leitrim fanbase.
Ryan O'Rourke with the very first kick in the shootout and Emlyn Mulligan with what turned out to be the last were the unfortunate duo to see their efforts beaten away by Sligo keeper Aidan Devaney, the Fenagh man particularly unlucky as the ball hit the post and rebounded clear.
It wouldn't be an inter-county game if there wasn't some controversy and as images of Shane Moran's disallowed goal seconds into extra time starting to circulate, it felt as if Andy Moran's troops were robbed of the scores that could have taken this game away from Sligo.
Honestly, at the time, I thought the Ballinamore man had strayed into the square ahead of the ball but in images shared on social media, it appears as if Moran was outside the square. Referee Maurice Deegan seemed to think it was a goal but the umpires felt differently and after consulting with his team, the goal was wiped off the scoreboard.
Leitrim were robbed of a perfect goal there 8 secs into extra time.— Tommy Rooney (@TomasORuanaidh) June 5, 2022
Shane Moran at the back post clearly outside the square - the pass to him is out of Dolan’s hands at this screenshot, brutal call. #GAA pic.twitter.com/owbSu1BUQi
A goal at that juncture, with the crowd in serious voice, would have given Leitrim an enormous lift starting added time and put Sligo on the back foot in a big way - who is to know what might have happened but the images suggest it was a good score.
For much of this game, Sligo looked the better team but they couldn't finish off a dogged Leitrim who had good reason to be thankful for a blistering start that saw them score 1-2 without reply in the first six minutes. But then Sligo took over and despite seven first half wides and three shots dropped short, they led 0-9 to 1-4 at the halftime break.
The Yeatsmen stretched that lead out to four before Jordan Reynolds scored a stunning goal to tie the scores and now it was Leitrim looking the most likely, opening up a two point lead midway through the second half.
But then lady luck shone on Sligo in a big way - sub Mark Walsh charged through and shot at the Leitrim goal. His shot appeared to be rising with keeper Brendan Flynn making a superb effort to stop the shot, leaping high into the air and getting his fingertips to the ball.
Unfortunately, that touch took the power from the shot and ball fell almost in slow motion into the Leitrim net and now Sligo were back in front. They quickly stretched that lead to four points and they seemed home and hosed.
But nobody told Leitrim that and as Sligo's attacking yips returned, Leitrim fired over four great points from Dean McGovern, Ryan O'Rourke, Jordan Reynolds and an other wordly effort from Keith Beirne to tie the scores. Leitrim were on the attack looking for a winner but couldn't force the opportunity to snatch the win as the game went to added time.
Brendan Flynn gets his finger tips to Mark Walsh's shot but the ball fell to the Leitrim net Picture: Willie Donnellan
Leitrim opened brightly with a Keith Beirne point inside the first minute and it got even better a minute later when the home team broke through only to see keeper Aidan Devaney make a good save from Keith Beirne. The ball looped high up into the air and Beirne showed great awareness to flick the ball over his head into the Sligo net.
It was a perfect start for Andy Moran’s men but with Domhanill Flynn and Keith Beirne missing shots and Alan Reilly leaving an effort short, it wasn’t until Evan Sweeney’s snap shot on six minutes put Leitrim 1-2 to no score and off to a flying start.
Sligo, however, were beginning to win a lot of possession but had missed chances from Reilly, Sean Carrabine and Pat Hughes while Shane Moran saw an effort blocked by the Sligo defence.
The Yeatsmen got off the mark when a long ball to Pat Hughes saw him offload the ball to a charging Carrabine who blasted the ball over the bar when a goal was briefly on after ten minutes.
Sligo were starting to find their feet and Carrabine set up Reilly for a point before the Curry man sped by a defender on 15 minutes to score. Two Patrick O’Connor points, one from a free, had the sides level at 19 minutes while Leitrim were starting to miss chances.
Shane Moran brilliantly flicked on a kickout to a charging Jack Heslin but the Gortletteragh man overran the ball and the chance was lost. Paddy Maguire went into the book for a foul on Keelan Cawley with Carrabine putting Sligo in front on 24 minutes.
Conor Reynolds was also booked for an off the ball clash with Alan Reilly but Leitrim were ruing a missed chance when Donal Wrynn grabbed a long ball into the Sligo area, turned but saw his shot blocked by Sligo wing-back Keelan Cawley with Riordan O’Rourke hooking his follow-up wide on 28 minutes.
Sligo made the most of the escape with Pat Hughes and O’Connor, from a mark, edging the visitors two points clear. Andy Moran made his first change with Jordan Reynolds replacing Cillian McGloin and Leitrim ended a 27 minute spell without a score when Keith Beirne made a great catch from a Sweeney pass and turned sharply to fire over the bar.
After two Sligo wides, Riordan O’Rourke cut the gap back to one with a fine point but a lovely point on the run from Alan Reilly left Sligo with a 0-9 to 1-4 halftime lead.
That lead was quickly extended with two quick fire points from Carrabine and Alan Reilly inside the first two minutes and suddenly Leitrim were four points down. A long ball to Sweeney and a quick offload to Keith Beirne led to a fine point.
Sligo were threatening to strike a killer blow with Carrabine very close to a goal after Patrick O’Connor cut in along the endline. Beirne was then overwhelmed by the Sligo defence and Andy Moran made his second change, Ryan O’Rourke replacing Conor Reynolds who appeared to get a warning from referee Maurice Deegann after a foul.
But suddenly Leitrim were right back in it a minute later when Pearce Dolan did well to keep a slightly errant kickout in play. A long delivery down the wing found Riordan O’Rourke, his pass released Jordan Reynolds and the Mohill man took off on a run before blasting a great shot to the Sligo net from a tight angle.
That tied the scores and suddenly Sligo were rattled, kicking a couple of wides while Evan Sweeney saw his effort go over the bar, despite pretty adamant protests from the Sligo defence that the ball had gone wide. Keith Beirne claimed a mark and converted to put Leitrim two clear as Sligo were now looking flustered, Pat Hughes dragging a shot wide as he bore down on goal. Pat Spillane won a Leitrim kickout and that led to a Reilly point on 15 minutes.
Paddy Maguire clears Mikey Gordon's shot off the line Picture: Willie Donnellan
Mark Plunkett replaced Jack Heslin before Beirne played a good one-two to re-establish Leitrim’s two point lead. Both sides were missing chances but Sligo were missing more of them, none seemingly more vital than when Paddy Maguire made a wondrous goal line clearance from Mikey Gordon’s shot which had goal written all over it.
O’Connor did tap over the free and after Darragh Rooney replaced Sweeney, the game swung drastically once more.
Sligo sub Mark Walsh burst through and fired goalward. The shot seemed to be rising but keeper Brendan Flynn got his hands to it. Unfortunately that killed the momentum of the ball stone dead and what looked to be a point then turned into a goal as the ball fell into the Leitrim net.
Sligo sub Donal Conlon left a shot into Flynn’s hands, Domhnaill Flynn did brilliantly to cut inside the Sligo defence but dragged his shot wide and after passes from Darragh Cummins and Reilly, Carrabine edged his team three points clear.
Three became four with six minutes left when Cummins finished off a patient move. Beirne pulled back a fine point but when Peter Laffey burst through the middle to score with less than two minutes to go, it looked all over bar the shooting as Sligo led by four.
From the kickout, Dean McGovern won the breaking ball and charged forward to score. Almost immediately Ryan O’Rourke added a point and less than a minute later, good work from Ryan O’Rourke, McGovern and Darragh Rooney released Jordan Reynolds for a fine point.
Sligo had the chances to kill off the game with sub Nathan Rooney leaving two good opportunities short. That led to the score of the day, Leitrim working the ball to Keith Beirne who curled a magnificent shot over the bar.
Sligo had one late chance to snatch victory but Alan Reilly left his shot inches wide, some fans believing it had gone over but the sides remained level and the game went to extra-time.
Extra-time was where the game’s big controversy took place - Pearce Dolan took off on a surging run after Leitrim won the throw-in and played a ball across the face of the goal to where Shane Moran palmed the break to the net to set off wild Leitrim celebrations.
Donal Wrynn sees his shot blocked by Keelan Cawley Picture: Willie Donnellan
My initial reaction was it looked like a square ball, pictures on social media suggest it wasn’t and even the officials weren’t sure - referee Maurice Deegan seemed to think it was a goal but with his umpires not putting up the green flag, he went in to consult and the goal was ruled out for a square ball.
Sligo went back in front when O’Connor fired over after a good move but Mark Plunkett ensured it would be level at halftime of extra time when he scored after seven minutes.
The scoring in the second period started early - Nathan Rooney put over a first minute free, Emlyn Mulligan replied a minute later from a tight angle, the ball skimming the post as it went over. Rooney then provided the final pass for Alan Reilly to score and Sligo were back in front.
With Keelan Cawley and Brian Egan both being booked, the game became tense, Beirne dropping a shot into the hands of the keeper but the Mohill man made amends when Tom Prior set him free for a score on six minutes. There were still time for chances at both ends - Shane Quinn’s shot went well off target but Leitrim kept it in only for Tom Prior’s shot to roll into the hands of the keeper. Nathan Rooney had a chance from a free in the corner but he put the shot well wide as the game headed to penalties.
With immense tension and excitement, a thrilling game saw the stakes rise to the nth degree! Ryan O’Rourke was first up, his well struck shot heading for the corner until keeper Aidan Devaney got his hands to it, the ball bouncing off the post and rebounding clear.
Nathan Rooney drilled home his shot as did Keith Beirne for Leitrim. Brendan Flynn made a great effort for Alan Reilly’s kick, getting his hand to the ball but it squirmed underneath him and up into the net to the stifled groans of Leitrim fans. Darragh Rooney and Shane Quinn for Leitrim, Donal Conlon and Brian Egan for Sligo were all successful with their kicks although Devaney did get a good hand to Rooney’s effort, the ball sliding off his hands into the net.
That left Emlyn Mulligan with a sudden death kick - score and Sligo would have to convert their last effort but unfortunately, Devaney dived the right way to make an excellent save and book Sligo’s place in the Tailteann Cup Semi-Finals in Croke Park.
Scorers: Keith Beirne 1-8, 1M; Jordan Reynolds 1-1; Evan Sweeney 0-2; Mark Plunkett, Riordan O’Rourke, Dean McGovern, Ryan O’Rourke & Emlyn Mulligan 0-1 each
Team: Brendan Flynn; Paddy Maguire, Mark Diffley, Conor Reynolds; Jack Heslin, David Bruen, James Rooney; Pearce Dolan, Donal Wrynn; Cillian McGloin, Keith Beirne, Shane Moran; Domhnaill Flynn, Evan Sweeney; Riordan O'Rourke. Subs: Jordan Reynolds for McGloin (32); Ryan O'Rourke for Reynolds (42); Mark Plunkett for Heslin (50); Darragh Rooney for Sweeney (57); Dean McGovern for Flynn (65); Emlyn Mulligan & Conor Farrell for Diffley & Riordan O’Rourke (70; Shane Quinn for J Rooney (74); Tom Prior & D Flynn for Bruen & Moran (79)
Scorers: Alan Reilly 0-6, Patrick O'Connor 0-5, 1m, 2f; Sean Carrabine 0-4; Mark Walsh 1-0; Darragh Cummins, Peter Lafey, Pat Hughes & Nathan Rooney (f) 0-1 each
Team: Aidan Devaney; Nathan Mullan, Evan Lyons, Paul McNamara; Luke Towey, Darragh Cummins (0-01), Paul Kilcoyne; Peter Laffey, Seán Carrabine; Keelan Cawley, Patrick O'Connor, Mickey Gordon; Alan Reilly, Pat Hughes, Pat Spillane. Subs: Donal Conlan for Hughes (55); Mark Walsh for Towey (58); Conan Marren for Spillane (62); Nathan Rooney for Carrabine (67); Spillane for Laffey (79), Brian Egan for O'Connor (80)
Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois)
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