Leitrim produced their best display of the year to retain the TG4 Connacht Ladies Intermediate title but they owe a large debt of thanks to keeper Michelle Guckian for ensuring victory.
TG4 Connacht Ladies Interemdiate Championship Final
After three defeats this year, Leitrim turned the tables on Sligo in spectacular fashion as they set the tempo early on and made the Division 3 champions chase the game, allowing a very mobile and hard working Leitrim attack hit them effectively on the break.
Leitrim raced into an early six point lead after just 12 minutes but Sligo fought back to level just before the break but the Green & Gold ladies struck for a crucial breakaway goal from Dearbhaile Beirne which gave Leitrim a huge boost for the second half.
And in that tension filled second half, Leitrim managed to reply to everything Sligo threw at them, two late Aine Tighe frees sealing a hard fought and well deserved win.
With young forwards Beirne, Carla Le Guen and Aileen Maguire making huge impacts in the wide open spaces of McHale Park and Aine Tighe leading the line with real verve and panache and Sarah McLoughlin and Anna Conlan edging the midfield battle, Leitrim were good value for the win.
Yet all that would have been for nought had Michelle Guckian not produced an epic display that saw her save a penalty and make three fantastic saves in one-on-one situations that simply won the game for Leitrim.
The final match-winning save was incredible - Katie Walsh got behind the defence and fired a ferocious shot that seemed destined to put Sligo ahead with time running out but Guckian got a hand to the ball, diverting it over the bar.
Guckian should have got the Player of the Match award and that is not taking away from a great contribution from Letirim’s secret weapon of Dearbhaile Beirne who produced a great first half and took advantage of real hesitation in the Sligo defence.
You can understand why the award, judged by the match officials, went to Beirne, she made a vital contribution and on any other day, she would have been the Leitrim star but Guckian, for the second year in a row, was the decisive factor in the Gift of Life Cup coming back to Leitrim last Sunday.
A fast opening saw the teams share four points in the first three minutes, Aine and Niamh Tighe on target for Leitrim with Stephanie O’Reilly scoring two for Sligo. But Leitrim took over with a devastating spell of attacking football.
But it came after Michelle Guckian made a great save to deny O’Reilly a certain goal on four minutes and Leitrim took advantage with a long range Le Guen point on four minutes. Aine Tighe added a free on eight minutes before Dearbhaile Beirne cut loose with three points in a three minute spell, Deirdre Ward adding a point as well.
Leitrim were completely dominant but the danger signs that were there were not heeded as long ball out of defence was gathered by Denise McGrath who soloed through from 40 yards to goal. Almost immediately, Guckian made a great save to deny Elaine O’Reilly a second Sligo goal.
Aine Tighe hit back with a free but Sligo hit a potent spell with O’Reilly blazing a goal chance wide before Katie Walsh (2) and McGrath added points. Leitrim were also missing chances and Sligo drew level when Rachel Monaghan pointed with less than two minutes left in the half.
However, Leitrim struck a huge blow when a long ball into the corner saw Beirne round her marker and slot a fantastic curling shot to the far left corner from a tight angle on the right.
Sligo should have drawn level when Sinead McTiernan was fouled for a penalty almost immediately but Guckian saved well from a poor spot-kick from Walsh, Leitrim making the most of the miss when Beirne dodged a defender to fire over.
That left Leitrim 1-10 to 1-6 in front at the break but the free-flowing football was repeated in the second half, both sides missing chances and Sligo driving another goal chance inches wide but they did close the gap with points from Walsh and Monaghan after six minutes.
Sligo keeper Noelle Gormley intercepted well ahead of Aine Tighe but the Kiltubrid woman finished a great move out of defence after great work from Sarah McLoughlin and Carla Le Guen.
The tit for tat continued when Elaine O’Reilly and Walsh pointed either side of great scores from Aileen Maguire and McLoughlin but Leitrim were missing chances, Beirne hitting an upright and the keeper again intercepting before Walsh swapped points with Le Guen after Gormley made a huge interception ahead of Dearbhaile Beirne.
O’Reilly cut the gap once more after a short free but good work from Tighe and Le Guen resulted in a clever point from Maguire.
However, Sligo were coming strong and Walsh added a free before a ball over the top in the last minute of normal time put Walsh clear through on goal - Walsh held off Sharon Kerrigan and unleashed a powerful shot but Michelle Guckian stuck out her hand to brilliantly deflect the ball over the bar to leave just a point between the teams.
But Leitrim refused to buckle and two frees were twice moved in, somewhat controversially by the referee, with Aine Tighe converting what were virtually tap overs to seal the victory.
Still Sligo came and Leitrim had what looked like an escape when Sinead McTiernan appeared to be taken down just on the edge of the square but referee Francie Keane waved play on and Leitrim held on for the victory.
Leitrim: Michelle Guckian (St. Mary’s), Claire Beirne (Mohill), Sharon Kerrigan (St. Joseph’s), Roisin McHugh (Sean O’Heslin’s), Aine Heslin (St. Joseph’s), Lorraine Brennan (Cloone), Melissa Hewitt (Glencar/Manorhamilton), Sarah McLoughlin (Sean O’Heslin’s) 0-1, Anna Conlan (Dromahair), Deirdre Ward (Mohill) 0-1, Niamh Tighe (Kiltubrid) 0-1, Aileen Maguire (Aughawillan) 0-2, Dearbhaile Beirne (Mohill) 1-4, Aine Tighe (Kiltubrid) 0-6, Carla Le Guen (Aughawillan) 0-2.
Sligo: Noelle Gormley, Orla McGowan, Grainne O’Loughlin, Colley Casey, Jacqui Mulligan, Elise Codd, Ruth Goodwin, Denise McGrath 1-1, Bernice Byrne, Sarah Reynolds, Stephanie Reilly 0-3, Elaine O’Reilly 0-1, Laurann Laffey, Katie Walsh 0-6, Rachel Monaghan 0-2. Subs Sinead McTiernan for Laffey (21), Louise Brett for Reynolds (45).
Referee: Francie Keane (Roscommon)