After morale sapping losses in their first two games, Leitrim secured their first Allianz League Division Four victory of 2013 with a well deserved and high scoring victory over a previously undefeated Carlow last Sunday in Dr Cullen Park.
This was a game Leitrim could not afford to lose. From a Carlow point of view, this third round Division Four game in Dr. Cullen Park on Sunday was a gilt edged opportunity.
With defeats to Limerick and Clare, the Connacht FBD champions have run out of wriggle room. If Carlow could take a vital home win here, they could have removed one of their opponents from the promotion race and put themselves right up there as serious contenders. There was a lot at stake.
With soaring confidence, the Barrowsiders started ever so well. Brian Murphy pointed within 30 seconds of the throw-in and followed up with a third minute free. Inevitably Ray Walker with number 14 on his back patrolled the half-back line just like he did in previous games.
It released Derek Hayden to go forward which he did at every opportunity. It was a ploy which had worked in previous games and Leitrim were the third side to struggle against this tactic.
At that stage, it was easy to see which side was playing with a spring in its step. It didn’t last. Carlow early dominance wasn’t transferred into scores and suddenly, with one almighty blow and out of nothing, Leitrim turned their whole season around.
The home defence was carved apart when Emlyn Mulligan picked out Kevin Conlon who transferred to the unmarked James Glancy. Trevor O’Reilly had no chance as the full-forward tapped the ball home.
A minute later the keeper should have been picking the ball out of the back of the net once more but got a reprieve when Glancy fired over. In a minute, the league table was turned on its head.
Leitrim grew in confidence and were helped by their opponents who squandered possession with a succession of wides while long hopeful balls into a full-back line easily were easily dealt with by Danny Beck, Paddy Maguire and Enda Williams.
Approaching the break, a point by Carlow’s most effective player, Eoghan Ruth, reduced the margin to the minimum but Emlyn Mulligan and Paul Brennan’s strikes gave Leitrim a 1-6 to 0-6 interval lead.
The Connacht side could have been further in front as Danny Beck’s run should have produced a goal after he was put through by Brian McDonald. If he gets a chance to look at the video, he will surely regret not taking possession, side-stepping the keeper and planting in the empty net. He had all the time in the world.
He was not the only player who allowed good chances to go abegging. Carlow’s Paul Reid will just have to look at it as one of those days when, having done all the hard work, he somehow contrived to punch wide from the edge of the small square. He missed other chances as well which could have kept Leitrim in their box.
The main talking point of the first half was the dismissals of Colm Clarke and Derek Hayden in two seperate incidents. On 22 minutes, Eoghan Ruth took a heavy and illegal hit from Colm Clarke while, just before the break, Derek Hayden went after referee, Neil Ward, consulted his linesman. Many felt both players were unlucky in a game which was generally played in good spirits.
Carlow started the second half as they started the first. Shane Redmond and Darragh Foley white flags which edged them within a point of the visitors. Those strikes were counteracted by a brace from Mulligan. Just as in the first half, Carlow continued to allow Leitrim build from the back.
In the abscene of Hayden, Mulligan grew even more into the game. He was helped by the unselfish running of Gerry Hickey and James Clancy who both featured on the score-board in both halves.
The home side couldn’t break down the Leitrim defence who worked so hard to make sure their league season didn’t all but end in Carlow.
The Connacht side made time for themselves on the ball and the forwards were able to pick off scores just when they needed to. Even when Carlow brothers, Brendan and Brian Murphy, in almost identical situations, was through on one and one for goal scoring chances, it was keeper, Brendan Flynn who spread himself bravely to maintain his clean sheet.
Trevor O’Reilly also saved from Paddy Maguire but he may count himself lucky not to have had to face a penalty as it appeared as if sub Ray Cox was fouled by a defender in the big square.
It probably wouldn’t have mattered at that stage as Leitrim slowly but surely turned the screw and suddenly it is all to play for once more in this teak tough and ultra competitive league.
Next up for Leitrim is Offaly next Sunday in Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada and a win there would reignite Leitrim hopes in the Division after Offaly and Waterford both lost last weekend, a win would keep the outside hopes alive as teams are taking points off each other.
Brendan Flynn; Danny Beck, Ciaran Egan, Paddy Maguire; Colm Clarke, Enda Williams, Paul Brennan (0-1); Wayne McKeown, Brendan Brennan (0-1); Kevin Conlon, Emlyn Mulligan (0-8), Gerry Hickey (0-2); Cian Reynolds (0-1), James Clancy (1-2), Brian McDonald. Subs: Ray Cox (0-1) for Reynolds (51 mins), Conor Beirne for Conlon (67 mins).
Trevor O’Reilly; Shane Murphy, Shane Mernagh, Benny Kavanagh; Kieran Nolan (0-1), Derek Hayden, Tony Bolger; Darragh Foley (0-2fs), Brendan Murphy (0-1); Shane Redmond (0-1), Paul Reid, Eoghan Ruth (0-2); Brian Murphy (0-5 2fs), Ray Walker, Willie Minchin. Subs: Martin Doyle for S. Murphy (h/t), Alan Kelly for Minchin (HT), Ciarán Moran for Reid (54 mins), John Murphy for Foley (67 mins).
Referee: Neil Ward (Westmeath).