It was a case of so near and yet so far for Leitrim who staged a and heroic second half comeback but were ultimately denied victory in the Connacht Vocational Schools final as the Mayo goalkeeper and corner back made excellent goal line saves in the dying stages to ensure it would not be Leitrim’s day.
By PJ Leddy
Mayo dominated the exchanges in the first half at the Connacht GAA Centre of Excellence’s Astroturf pitch at Bekan, Ballyhaunis and went in leading by three points at the interval but Leitrim raised their game from the restart and put the home side to the pin of their collars to hold out for victory. Leitrim did not cope well with the tricky, cross field, strong breeze in Bekan in the first half and perhaps the bounce of the ball as well on a few occasions on the Astroturf pitch.
It also took Leitrim a long time to settle into the game, perhaps due to a slight degree of anxiety on the occasion of contesting a Connacht final. A total of 27 minutes had elapsed before Leitrim’s first and only first half score was registered at which stage Mayo had built up a comfortable lead.
Mayo had been so dominant for much of the first half that it looked like Leitrim might be over ran at times. The Leitrim backs had to withstand wave after wave of Mayo attacks in the opening half, which they did valiantly and in doing so kept their side in the game.
In contrast Mayo looked quite vulnerable from the 36th minute on after Nicholas Moore shot over from play and initiated the Leitrim fight back. Following that Mayo experienced quite an anxious time for the next 15 minutes when Leitrim whittled down the green and red side’s lead to the minimum.
Perhaps if Leitrim had been able to get on level terms at the end of this surge Mayo might have capitulated. But it was not to be as midfielder Robbie Fadden threw Mayo a lifeline by hitting over a point, nine minutes from the end that gave his side enough breathing space to just hold out for the narrowest of winning margins at the end.
Mayo established a four point lead in the opening 25 minutes of the first half in a period when Leitrim failed to convert a number of good chances. Liam Irwin opened Mayo’s account with the game’s first score in the third minute when he tapped over a free after a foul on Kevin Carey.
Leitrim had a chance to equalise four minutes later but Kevin Shanley just failed to put a 30 metre free on target. Alan McLoughlin was the recipient of a yellow card in the following minute.
The home side increased their lead to three points by the 11th minute after Diarmuid O’Connor and Conor Finnerty both shot over from play. Leitrim again failed to get their account opened when Pádraig Gallagher drove a 14th minute 13 metre free wide.
Two minutes later Mayo’s Conor Finnerty hit his side’s first wide in the contest while Leitrim’s Cathal McCauley also failed to find the target when his 18th minute effort from 20 metres went outside the upright.
Two minutes later Finnerty registered another Mayo wide while Pádraig Gallagher was yellow carded in the 22nd minute. After a gap of fourteen minutes in the game without a score Liam Irwin put Mayo further ahead with a 25th minute point from play.
Leitrim eventually managed to raise a white flag three minutes later when Kevin Shanley tapped over a free after Nicholas Moore was fouled. After that, Thomas Mulvey hit the post and then shot wide with another effort. Had those efforts been successful Leitrim could have reduced Mayo’s lead at the interval to the minimum.
To read the full story see this week’s Leitrim Observer.