Clearing the slioather under pressure. Photo by Willie Donnellan
Having gone two points up with ten minutes to go and a man to the good, Leitrim were left heartbroken when a resilient Lancashire outscored them 0-4 to 0-1 over the final stages to claim victory in the Allianz NHL Division 3B last Sunday.
The ingredients all seemed to be there for a Leitrim victory as the home team, with a man advantage, had reeled off three points from Clement Cunniffe frees in as many minutes to first tie the scores and then take a two point lead.
But in an incredible finale that almost defied belief, Lancashire, who seemed to have almost as many supporters as Leitrim in Pairc Sheain Ui Eslin, twice recovered from deficits in the final ten minutes to snatch a game they looked in danger of losing when they lost Justin Cleere to a second yellow card.
These two teams already look like the class of the Division and it wouldn’t be a surprise if they were to meet again in the Divisional Final and if the game is anything like this one, it will be a treat.
Lancashire dominated the first half and their halftime lead of 0-8 to 0-4 was scarce reflection of their dominance, Crowley the game’s most influential player with seven points, one from play, one from a 70 and the rest from frees.
Leitrim were struggling to match the hunger and drive of the exiles and Crowley's long range freetaking punished any indiscretions. And Lancashire were the only team creating goal chances in the first half, not quite taking them as Leitrim struggled at times.
Tommy Duane got Lancashire’s only other score from play in the first half as Clement Cunniffe kept last year’s Lory Meagher Cup finalists in touch with four frees, some great scores from distance.
Leitrim came more in the game in the second half as they had the wind behind them. Cunniffe put over a free before Zak Moradi got in on the scoring act with an effort that was tipped over the bar.
Crowley and Cunniffe swapped points before Moradi got a brilliant score from the left wing to cut the gap to two points. That score seemed to energise Leitrim and Ben Murray and Cathal O’Donovan burst into life, the pair both scoring lovely points to tie the scores by the 15 minute.
Crowley put Lancashire back in front from a 65 that was tipped over the bar but a second yellow for Cleere for a wild pull rather than a malicious foul seemed to be the death knell for the visitors hopes as the full-back departed the action.
Leitrim surged in front with three unanswered points from Cunniffe frees in the space of three minutes to put them two clear with ten minutes to go.
But Lancashire refused to lie down and incredibly, they fought back and two Crowley frees, one from his own half, levelled the scores. Leitrim showed their own resilience as they edged back in front with a Murray point but luck was missing when Cunniffe saw a free hit the woodwork and bounce clear.
Crowley tied the scores with yet another free three minutes from time and Lancashire grabbed an unlikely but hard fought win when Nathan Unwin fired over from distance in the final seconds of normal time
There was still time for drama as Zak Moradi broke through on goal but was blocked as he looked destined to find the net. The sliothar came to sub Conor Beirne but his goal attempt was saved and cleared as Lancashire hung on in a dramatic finish.
Referee Sean Stack keeps a close eye on the action in Ballinamore. Photo by Willie Donnellan
GAME AT A GLANCE
Main Man: Hard to separate the two freetakers - Ronan Crowley had 13 points, Clement Cunniffe nine and it was Crowley's scores from play that were the difference. James Glancy was outstanding again, Cathal McCrann, Ben Murray, Liam Moreton and Paul Earley all did well for the Green & Gold.
Talking Point: It might be jinxing it but these two teams already look like the class of the Division - it wouldn't be a surprise to see them meet again in the final. And given how exciting this game was and how closely fought it was, it wouldn't be a penance to see a repeat meeting.
Turning Point: Lancashire were leading by a point when Leitrim created a real goal chance in injury time but a block on Zak Moradi and a save from a Conor Beirne shot denied Leitrim victory.
Ref Watch: A very solid outing from Sean Stack - the Dublin official applied the rules consistently, maybe some felt a little too stringently but he kept up with play and made the big calls.
Highlight: A great second half surge from Leitrim turned a three point deficit into a two point lead with some great scores from play into the bargain.
Lowlight: The finish when Leitrim looked as if they had recovered to win this game was very disappointing but the seeds of the loss were in the first half when Leitrim simply didn't do enough.
Ballinamore natives George O'Rourke and Ronan O'Rourke were on the Lancashire sideline last Sunday, George working over in England and Ronan helping out as team physio. Photo by Willie Donnellan
TEAMS & SCORERS
Scorers: Clement Cunniffe 0-9, 9f; Zak Moradi 0-2, Cathal O’Donovan & Ben Murray 0-1 each
Team: Declan Molloy; Declan Ryan, Cathal McCrann, Paul Earley; Enda Moreton, Clement Cunniffe, Niall McLoughlin, James Glancy, Liam Moreton; Ben Murray, Karol McDermott; David McGovern, Cathal O’Donovan, Gavin O’Hagan, Zak Moradi. Subs: Conor Beirne for O’Hagan (45), Kevin McGrath for Ryan (60), Kevin Clerkin for O’Hagan (69)
Scorers: Ronan Crowley 0-12, 2 70s, 8f; Tommy Duane & Nathan Unwin 0-1 each
Team: Pat Coates, Liam Knocker, Justin Cleere, Cathal McKillop, David Power, Simon Wallace, Nathan Unwin, James Fitzmaurice, Stephen Duncan, Daire Maskey, J.J. Dunphy, Tommy Duane, Damien O’Grady, Martin Hawley, Ronan Crowley. Subs: Fergal McKillop for O’Grady (50), Kevin McGrath for Ryan (62)
Referee: Sean Stack (Dublin)