Roscommon's Diarmuid Murtagh (14) watches as the ball flies over keeper Diarmuid McKiernan into the Leitrim net. Photo by Willie Donnellan
Debuts were the order of the day but for Leitrim, it was a steep learning curve in the opening round of the 2018 FBD Insurance Connacht League as Connacht Champions Roscommon crushed the Green & Gold on Wednesday evening.
An estimated 1,000 strong crowd at the superb Leitrim GAA Centre of Excellence saw Kevin McStay’s side cruise to a 14 point victory as a new look and inexperienced Leitrim were unable to match the clinical efficiency that Roscommon displayed.
Playing against the wind in the first half, Roscommon scored two goals through Finbarr Cregg and the excellent Diarmuid Murtagh and it was the execution of scores that best illustrated the difference between the sides.
Leitrim packed the defence and tried to compress the space for Roscommon but it meant that when Leitrim did break out, the moves became ponderous and broke down while Roscommon, facing at least 11 outfield players, patiently worked the ball over and back across the field waiting for the an opportunity to score.
Nobody will read too much into this game by the time the championship comes around but Roscommon fans can justifiably appear confident as they appear to have moved on a step or two from last year.
An inexperienced Leitrim got a rough introduction to 2018 as the 22 players used featured no less than eight debutants as Melvin Gaels' Liam Ryan, Leitrim Gaels duo Colm Moreton and Aidan Flynn, Carrigallen's Eoin Ward, Ballinamore Sean O'Heslin's Donal Feely, Cloone's Darren Carberry, Annaduff's Conor Reynolds and Mohill's James Mitchell.
Unfortunately, some of that may be enforced with the departure of Glencar/Manor’s Paddy Maguire, Mohill’s Ronan Kennedy and Ronan Gallagher, Carrigallen’s Gary Reynolds and the absence of Dean McGovern, Conor Cullen, Ryan O’Rourke, Oisin Madden and Darragh Rooney through injury.
Leitrim's Keith Keegan tries to get his shot away as he is surrounded by Roscommon players. Photo by Willie Donnellan
It is an enormous turnover and doesn’t include the likes of Mark Plunkett and Pearse Dolan and makes Brendan Guckian’s task all the harder ahead of the Allianz League opener on January 28, against Antrim.
Roscommon were quickly off the mark as indiscipline in the Leitrim full-back line was punished by two Diarmuid Murtagh frees inside the first three minutes while debutant Eoin Ward from Carrigallen received a yellow for a late hit on Ciaran Murtagh that stopped a Roscommon break.
Diarmuid Murtagh scored a wonderful point from the right corner on eight minutes but Leitrim raised a little bit of hope when a long ball found Darren Carberry in space and the Cloone clubman and Longford native marked his Leitrim debut with a fine point.
With Leitrim playing very deep, Roscommon were quite content to play the ball over and back and probe for openings, the game entered a lull but Roscommon managed to crack the Leitrim defensive structure on 18 minutes for the game’s opening goal with a textbook example of how to break the massed defence.
Conor Devaney’s long ball was fielded well by Ciaran Murtagh and his off-load to Finbarr Cregg saw the Western Gaels man break the line at speed and plant a shot past the helpless Diarmuid McKiernan for the game’s first goal.
Roscommon were hitting wides but Leitrim broke and Carberry set up Brendan Gallagher for a well-taken point on 22 minutes. Unfortunately, Roscommon only increased their dominance before the break despite playing against the wind.
An Eoin Ward foul, walking a tightrope after his yellow card, saw Diarmuid Murtagh pop over the first of two frees in the space of a minute.
Leitrim suffered a blow when captain Donal Wrynn was forced from the game with a back complaint with Damian Moran coming on and the Bornacoola man shot a wide after Colm Moreton, also on his debut, blasted a long range free, that had the distance but not the accuracy, wide.
Leitrim's Brendan Gallagher drives his spot-kick to the Roscommon net. Photo by Willie Donnellan
Murtagh hit his fifth free of the first half after Eoin Ward dragged down a Roscommon man, referee John Gilmartin of Sligo exercising a leniency not to dismiss him that he later also showed to Roscommon’s Ian Kilbride in the second half.
With the game in added time, Murtagh completed a devastating first half when another wonderful move saw a quick free into Ciaran Murtagh. A lofted ball across the face of the Leitrim goal saw the full-forward rise highest to fist the ball to the net and with that game over.
If Leitrim thought it would get any easier in the second half, Roscommon quickly disabused them of that notion when Enda Smith entered the fray along with Sean Mulooly and Shane Dowd while Keith Beirne and Keith Keegan replaced Darren Carberry and Donal Feely at the break.
Keith Beirne dropped his first shot into the keeper’s hand and Roscommon quickly put their seal on the game with Finbarr Cregg, Ciaran Murtagh, Donie Smith and Ciaran Murtagh again all scoring from play in the first five minutes, Murtagh’s second a thing of beauty from deep in the right hand corner.
Leitrim fought hard but saw Beirne drop a free short while Jack Heslin had a wide and a shot blocked while Colm Moreton, Keith Keegan and Niall McGovern all missed good chances over a 16 minute spell that saw neither side raise a flag.
Donie Smith, Ciaran Lennon and Finbarr Cregg fired over a point each in a four minute spell as it started to look as if Leitrim might not get a score, they finally got a breakthrough.
Colm Moreton tackles a Roscommon opponent at the Leitrim GAA Centre of Excellence. Photo by Willie Donnellan
A clever ball put debutant Conor Reynolds from Annaduff through on goal and although his shot was well saved by keeper Colm Lavin, the referee judged that the Leitrim man had been fouled after his kick and a penalty awarded. Brendan Gallagher stepped up and smashed the ball to the net for a confident kick.
Roscommon replied with another Donie Smith point, their last of the game with seven minutes of normal time left. Leitrim managed just one more score, a free from Keith Beirne on 68 minutes as the game petered out.
Scorers: Brendan Gallagher 1-1, 1 pen; Keith Beirne (f) and Darren Carberry 0-1 each
Team: Diarmuid McKiernan (Allen Gaels), Liam Ryan (Melvin Gaels), Donal Feely (Ballinamore Sean O’Heslin’s), James Rooney (Glencar/Manorhamilton), Eoin Ward (Carrigallen), Shane Quinn (Mohill), Donal Wrynn (Fenagh St. Caillin’s), Colm Moreton (Leitrim Gaels), Conor Gaffney (Drumreilly), Brendan Gallagher (Lucan Sarsfields), Jack Heslin (Gortletteragh), Aidan Flynn (Leitrim Gaels), Niall McGovern (Ballinamore Sean O’Heslin’s), Darren Carberry (Cloone). Subs: Damien Moran (Bornacoola) for Wrynn (27), Keith Beirne & James Mitchell (Mohill) for Carberry & Feely (HT), Keith Keegan (Mohill) for Rooney (47), Conor Reynolds (Annaduff) for Heslin (50), Conor Gallagher (Lucan Sarsfields) for Ward (62), Matthew Murphy (Ballinamore Sean O’Heslin’s) for Ryan (67)
Scorers: Diarmuid Murtagh 1-6, 5f; Finbarr Cregg 1-2; Donie Smith 0-3; Ciaran Murtagh 0-2; Ciaran Lennon 0-1
Team: Colm Lavin; Peter Domican, Niall McInerney, Ross Timothy; Tadhg McKenna, David Murray, Ronan Daly; Tadhg O Rourke, Ian Kilbride; Niall Daly, Conor Devaney; Padraig Kelly; Ciaran Murtagh, Diarmuid Murtagh, Finbarr Cregg. Subs: Donie Smith for Devaney (29), Enda Smith, Sean Mulooly & Shane Dowd for Timothy, Kelly & Murray (HT), Henry Walsh on for Murtagh; Ciaran Lennon on for O’Rourke (54), Philip Neilan on for McKenna
Referee: John Gilmartin (Sligo)
The Leitrim team who were defeated by Roscommon in the opening round of the FBD Insurance Connacht League. (Back, from left) Colm Moreton, Micheal McWeeney, Donal Feely, Diarmuid McKiernan, Niall McGovern, Aidan Flynn, Conor Gaffney. (Front) Darren Carberry, Jack Heslin, Shane Quinn, Donal Wrynn, James Rooney, Liam Ryan, Brendan Gallagher. Photo by Willie Donnellan
The Roscommon team who defeated Leitrim in the opening round of the 2018 FBD Insurance Connacht League. Photo by Willie Donnellan