Ryan O'Rourke sees a shot blocked by a Laois defender. Photo by Willie Donnellan
How to make sense of a game that was dominated by Laois yet left optimistic Leitrim fans feeling as if they had taken something out of a six point loss?
Favourites for promotion, Laois played like a team who expect to go up, turning Leitrim's defence inside out for more than three quarters of Sunday's Allianz League Division 4 game in Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada and, honestly, who were good value for their six point victory.
Yet three goals in six minutes from Leitrim raised a huge cheer among the young fans gathered for the Go-Games exhibition at halftime and got the Leitrim crowd excited, leaving one wondering what might have been.
What might have happened had Leitrim played like that for more than ten or 12 minutes of Leitrim's first home game of the League campaign? And what might have happened had Keith Beirne scored a first half penalty. Or had Jack Heslin not seen a close range shot saved by the Laois keeper three minutes from the end of normal time.
But as heartwarming as Leitrim's late goal blitz was and as helpful as it is to a young team desperately trying to build up confidence, it was a bit like closing the barn door after the horse has long bolted!
It might have lifted the spirits but ultimately, the damage was long done by then and Laois had the victory more than secured. The visitors had started to run their bench, their job was done and Leitrim, to their credit, kept battling and were rewarded with three well executed goals.
Darragh Rooney's two goals and another from Ryan O'Rourke came from Leitrim running at the Laois defence, throwing caution to the wind and playing with an abandon that caused a previously unflustered Laois problems.
Matthew Murphy is held up by two Laois players. Photo by Willie Donnellan
Much like Leitrim's fightback against Galway in last year's U21 Championship, the damage was already done and no matter how much Leitrim fought back, you never got the feeling that Laois were ever in any true danger.
You cannot give a team, let alone one of Laois's ability, a 15 point lead and playing with abandon and intensity when there is nothing to lose is ultimately self-defeating - you've got to play with the same intensity and abandon when the game is on the line!
I'd certainly give credit to Leitrim's players for not dropping their heads but the task now is to deliver when the pressure is on, when the game is in the melting pot. At times, it looked as if Brendan Guckian's team were starting to drop their heads but they hung in there and kept battling away.
The problems that afflicted Leitrim against Antrim were even more ruthlessly exposed by Laois, their full-forward line ripping the last line of defence to shreds and truth be told, if Laois had their accuracy truly dialed in, they would have put this game to bed long before halftime.
Laois dominated the middle of the park and, apart from when Leitrim utilised the pace of Rooney, Heslin and O'Rourke, dealt fairly easily with anything Leitrim threw at them. And, for the most part, their defence did a solid job on Leitrim's attack.
Leitrim did score 3-10, a remarkable total for a losing team but 3-4 of that came when the game was over as a contest and the concession of 3-16, along with 15 points against Antrim, show that the defence is in real bother.
How to tighten that up is hard to know - when Leitrim went defensive against Antrim, the forwards struggled but the defence was cut to shreds by Laois - finding a solution ahead of the trip to Carlow next Saturday is not easy.
Jack Heslin and Darragh Rooney, whose pace made such a difference, may get a start but Carlow are equally pacy and their physicality was what made the difference in the Qualifier game next year.
Few teams come back from losing their first two League outings to gain promotion so Saturday's game becomes even more important. Promotion is probably gone, particularly with the strength of Laois, Carlow and Antrim but statements have to be made with the trip to New York for the Championship to be considered.
The conundrum is producing those spells of good play on a more consistent basis. And until we do that, the wins will not come.
Darragh Rooney attempts to tackle a Laois defender. Photo by Willie Donnellan
GAME AT A GLANCE
Main Man: Keith Beirne was the leading marksman and led the line well but Leitrim were more dangerous running the ball with Darragh Rooney and Ryan O'Rourke. Micheal McWeeney fought hard in an outclassed defensive unit. Laois' full-forward line was a constant threat while Trevor Collins and David Holland did huge damage but it was John O'Loughlin in the middle of the park who really stood out.
Talking Point: Which is the real Leitrim? The three goal burst at the end or the team that struggled for the first 55 minutes?
Turning Point: The period just after halftime saw Laois turn a five point lead into a 15 point one and with that the game was over.
Ref Watch: Barry Judge did a solid enough job, can't really complain too much. Laois' penalty might have been a tad soft but hard to find too much fault - good outing.
Highlight: Leitrim's three goals in an incredible six minutes was Roy of Rovers stuff and a sign of what Leitrim can do when they throw caution to the wind. Producing it for longer is the urgent priority.
Lowlight: The manner in which Laois bossed most of this game - had they had their shooting boots on, it would have been a cakewalk for the visitors who were in complete control for most of this game.
The Leitrim team stand for the National Anthem. Photo by Willie Donnellan
TEAMS & SCORERS
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: Darragh Rooney for Moreton (HT), Eoin Ward for Flynn (45), Jack Heslin for Gallagher (49), Damian Moran & Noel Plunkett for Murphy & Wrynn (56), Killian McGloin for Gaffney (62)
Scorers: Gary Walsh 1-8, 6f; Eoin Lowry 1-1; Evan O’Carroll 0-3; Trevor Collins 1-0; Paul Kingston & Ross Munnelly 0-2 each
Team: Graham Brody; David Holland, Shane Nerney, Ruaidhri 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: Niall Donoher for Glynn (HT), Ross Munnelly for Lowry (41), Aaron Dowling for Farrell (49), Kieran Lillis & Robbie Donoher for O’Reilly & Holland (54), Jamie Farrell for Begley (59)
Referee: Barry Judge (Sligo)