Keith Beirne scores a first half point for Leitrim. Photo by Willie Donnellan
Threatened with humiliation midway through the second half, Leitrim footballers show real mettle to hit three second half goals in a game that left fans as frustrated and bewildered as both teams in Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada on Sunday.
Laois dominated the opening 55 minutes at their ease, kicking some bad wides but seemingly well in control as they led 3-12 to 0-6 when the game entered its final 15 minutes of the second round of the Allianz League Division 4 clash.
But an incredible glut of goals that saw sub Darragh Rooney net twice and Ryan O’Rourke add another in a bewildering six minute spell brought Leitrim back into contention and when the final whistle sounded, it was Leitrim fans who were left wondering what might have been.
Laois keeper Graham Brody dives to save Keith Beirne's first half penalty. Photo by Willie Donnellan
A missed first half penalty from Keith Beirne and a blocked Jack Heslin goal chance three minutes from the end of normal time had Leitrim fans wondering what if but, in truth, that would be clutching at straws as Laois dominated this contest for long spells.
Laois did most of the damage in two scoring bursts, 1-5 in the first 15 minutes of the first half and another 2-4 in the first 13 minutes of the second and were it not for some criminal shooting, the midlanders would have been much further clear as they wasted two good goal chances.
Leitrim deserve great credit for fighting back but with a 15 point lead, the goals came too late to truly rattle the visitors and it leaves Brendan Guckian’s team with a daunting trip to unbeaten Carlow next Saturday for the third round of the League.
Laois got off to a blistering start with Evan O’Carroll firing over just 30 seconds and Gary Walsh scoring two frees inside four minutes. Leitrim halted the Laois avalanche temporarily when a foul on Ryan O’Rourke led to a successful Keith Beirne free on six minutes.
But the relief was only temporary as Leitrim were caught out on the right wing, a ball into space finding wing-back Trevor Collins in complete isolation and he strode through unopposed for fire a great low shot to the bottom left corner of the Leitrim net.
Paul Kingston fire over a point on nine minutes when a goal was very much on the cards for Laois and Leitrim got a little relief when Dean McGovern’s run ended in a heap but a Laois defender touched the ball on the ground, Keith Beirne putting over a free on 12 minutes.
The visitors were also hitting some poor wides with corner-forwards O’Carroll and Eoin Lowry missing five chances between them. Lowry and Beirne swapped points while another Beirne free got the gap down to four points.
Gary Walsh and Kingston would fire over good points to leave Laois 1-7 to 0-4 in front but it could have been so much closer at the break, Keith Beirne pulling back a free but only after the Mohill man missed a penalty, won after Ryan O’Rourke cut inside his man but was taken down by a falling Laois defender.
Unfortunately, Beirne struck the spot kick poorly but made amends by converting a 45 yard free to leave Leitrim five in arrears at the break.
Keith Keegan and Colm Moreton try to stop Laois' John O'Loughlin. Photo by Willie Donnellan
Leitrim needed a big start to the second half but it was Laois who would kill the game as Darragh Rooney was introduced for Colm Moreton at the break.
Two Walsh points, one from a free and the second after Laois butchered a great goal chance when Alan Farrell beat the cover, cut inside the backline and passed across the face of the goal, fortunately for Leitrim, too high for his team-mate Lowry. The ball, however, was worked back to Walsh for a score.
Unfortunately, Laois didn’t have too long to wait for a second goal as, six minutes into the half, Laois cut in along the other line. A pass across to Gary Walsh saw a challenge which referee Barry Judge believed worthy of a penalty. It looked soft but the decision stood and Lowry confidently dispatched the ball to the corner of the net.
Laois would continue to pound the overworked Leitrim defence and points from Walsh and O’Carroll extended the lead. Brendan Gallagher scored a fine effort on 13 minutes but barely had the cheers elapsed and Laois struck for a third goal, a thrilling break seeing Laois cut their way through for an easy Gary Walsh goal.
Laois now led by 14 points, Walsh adding another from a free as the game looked dead and buried.
Strangely, it was a Laois mistake that changed the game - keeper Graham Brody had been making runs up the field all game but this time, his venture inside the Leitrim fifty saw Laois lose the ball.
Now it became a foot-race with Brody desperately trying to get back as Leitrim cleverly and patiently worked the ball up the field, Darragh Rooney particularly effective. The ball went to the right wing and Jack Heslin put a high ball across the face of the goal where Rooney arrived to punch the ball to the net.
The cheers and jeering of Brody seemed to be nothing more than the dying sting of a wasp, particularly as Walsh put over a free but whatever happened, it seemed to wake up Leitrim who started running more with the ball. Ryan O’Rourke did just that, cut inside his man but was pulled back by Laois full-back Shane Nerney, referee Judge pointing to the penalty spot.
In a change of penalty takers, Darragh Rooney stepped up and although Brody got his hand to the ball, there was too much power as it ended up in the net for Leitrim’s second goal.
Keith Beirne fired over a good point but sub Ross Munnelly hit a good point for Laois with eight minutes to go.
Jack Heslin is challenged by Laois keeper Graham Brody. Photo by Willie Donnellan
Incredibly, Leitrim would then hit a third goal in just six minutes, Jack Heslin’s pass find Ryan O’Rourke for a good goal and when Keith Beirne fired over a minute later, a 15 point gap was now down to just six points.
Laois steadied themselves with an Evan O’Carroll point but Leitrim almost broke through for a fourth goal but Brody redeemed his earlier mistake with a fine save from Jack Heslin with less than three minutes to go.
Munnelly pounced on a poor kickout to point when Laois could have gone for a goal but it was a huge score and despite Darragh Rooney and Keith Beirne landing injury time points, Laois securing their six point win.
Scorers: Keith Beirne 0-8, 4f, Darragh Rooney 2-1, 1 pen; Ryan O'Rourke 1-0; Brendan Gallagher 0-1
Team: Diarmuid McKiernan; James Mitchell, Michael McWeeney, Matthew Murphy; Keith Keegan, Donal Wrynn, Oisin Madden; Dean McGovern, Colm Moreton; Conor Gaffney, Ryan O'Rourke, Brendan Gallagher; Aidan Flynn, Keith Beirne, James Rooney. Subs:
Scorers: Gary Walsh 1-8, 6f; Eoin Lowry 1-1, 1 pen; Evan O'Carroll 0-3; Trevor Collins 1-0; Paul Kingston & Ross Munnelly 0-2 each
Team: Graham Brody; David Holland, Shane Nerney, Ruadhri C Fennell; Trevor Collins, Colm Begley, Graham Brody; John O'Loughlin, Danny O'Reilly; Alan Farrell, Paul Kingston, Brian Glynn; Eoin Lowry, Gary Walsh, Evan O'Carroll. Subs:
Referee: Barry Judge (Sligo)
SEE THIS WEEK’S LEITRIM OBSERVER FOR ANALYSIS & REACTION