Leitrim players Noel Plunkett, Diarmuid McKiernan and Brendan Gallagher celebrate after Saturday's Qualifier win over Louth. Photo by Willie Donnellan
Leitrim footballers produced their most devastating display in years to trounce Louth and book their place in the third round of the All-Ireland Championship Qualifiers before a delighted and disbelieving Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada on Saturday evening.
With Damien Moran, Ryan O’Rourke, Darragh Rooney and Jack Heslin leading 14-man Louth a merry dance, the Green & Gold scored an incredible 16 points in the second half to win by ten points, their biggest ever Qualifier win and their third ever.
Those two previous wins came over fellow Division 4 opposition - Louth were in Division 2 this year and although they were relegated, Leitrim made light of the difference to book their place in Monday’s round three draw.
Damian Moran and Emlyn Mulligan hit six points each, the Kinlough man hitting four frees, while Ryan O’Rourke, Jack Heslin and Darragh Rooney all had three points each in one of the most devastating displays of attacking football Leitrim had ever produced.
The turning point came ten minutes before halftime when Louth were three points to the good. A red card for James Craven transformed the game and Leitrim made expert use of the extra-man as Louth seemed to implode.
Leitrim trailed by a point at the break but hit six without replay after halftime to take control of the contest and effectively book their place in the next round of the Qualifiers.
Damien Moran scores one of his six points against Louth. Photo by Willie Donnellan
Louth, despite missing an early free, got the perfect start when they pounced on an errant Diarmuid McKiernan kickout and Conor Grimes fed Williams Woods for a goal after just two minutes.
Ciaran Downey added a quick point but Leitrim were quickly off the mark, Ryan O’Rourke floating a shot dropping high over the bar. Woods replied with a free but O’Rourke set up Emlyn Mulligan for a clinically taken score from the wing.
Disaster seemed to strike when Alan Armstrong got caught out by some nimble footwork and inadvertently tripped Louth’s Andy McDonnell, referee Noel Mooney brandishing a black card and Woods converting the free.
Declan Byrne swept over another point as Louth led by five points after ten minutes. Darren Rooney swapped points with Declan Byrne while Conor Grimes was inches away from a second Louth goal, the full-forward getting his fist to a long ball.
Louth were bossing play and missing chances, Woods seeing a shot crash off the post before Ronan Holcroft was black carded for dragging down a defender. Leitrim broke and Jack Heslin fired over a fine point.
The turning point came nine minutes before the break when James Craven was penalised for over-carrying. Damien Moran got involved in pushing the Louth man who reacted by nudging his head at Moran, earning a straight red card.
That incident transformed Leitrim’s fortunes as the Green & Gold players were infused with renewed confidence. Damian Moran swapped a point with Tommy Durnin but despite another free from Woods, Leitrim finished the half strongly.
Darragh Rooney gathered a low pass from clubmate Emlyn Mulligan to score and then Mulligan added two more, one a free, to leave Leitrim trailing 0-9 to 1-7 at the break.
Any worries that Leitrim wouldn’t be able to push on in the second half were quickly and devastatingly ended early in the second half with five unanswered points in the first seven minutes, the first coming from captain Donal Wrynn almost straight from the throw-in.
Mulligan added a free before Ryan O’Rourke and Darragh Rooney swiftly fired over points and Leitrim were three points clear. Another Mulligan free, after a foul on Rooney, had Leitrim on the front foot and they never let up.
Ryan O’Rourke’s strong run led to another Damian Moran point and despite a Woods free on 14 minutes, the Bornacoola man blasted over two points before Jack Heslin cut through the Louth defence for an easy point.
Midway through the half, Woods converted a fifty to leave the gap at 0-18 to 1-9 for Leitrim and the Green & Gold never let up, Mulligan swapping points with Woods.
Mulligan departed on a black card with 12 minutes left while William Woods saw a shot blocked by Micheal McWeeney, Leitrim breaking upfield for sub Dean McGovern to score a huge point.
Leitrim hero Damian Moran pictured with St. Mary's Caireann & Michael O'Grady after Saturday's Qualifier victory. Photo by Willie Donnellan
Moran swapped points with Declan Byrne while Diarmuid McKiernan made a good save to deny Louth’s Bevan Duffy a goal, the ball rebounding off a defender and back into the hands of the Leitrim keeper.
Domhnaill Flynn got on the scoresheet after a shot from Ryan O’Rourke hit the post and Heslin fired over a second point. There were some items of worry with Donal Wrynn going off injured but every Louth attempt at engineering a goal chance were rebuffed easily.
Damien Moran and Ryan O’Rourke finished off the scoring with a point each while the game almost ended in farce as Louth’s Emmett Carolan and Bevan Duffy were both black carded as was James Rooney while Williams Woods finished the scoring with a late free.
Scorers: Damien Moran & Emlyn Mulligan (4f) 0-6 each; Ryan O’Rourke (f), Darragh Rooney & Jack Heslin 0-3 each; Donal Wrynn, Brendan Gallagher, Dean McGovern, Domhnaill Flynn 0-1 each
Team: Diarmuid McKiernan, Paddy Maguire, Alan Armstrong, Michael McWeeney, James Rooney, Shane Quinn, Noel Plunkett, Aidan Flynn, Jack Heslin, Darragh Rooney, Ryan O’Rourke, Brendan Gallagher, Emlyn Mulligan, Donal Wrynn, Damien Moran. Subs: James Mitchell for Armstrong (8 - BC), Dean McGovern for A. Flynn (44), Cillian McGloin for Gallagher (45), Eoin Ward for D. Rooney (56), Domhnaill Flynn for Mulligan (58 - BC), Nicholas McWeeney for Wrynn (66)
Scorers: William Woods 1-7, 5f, 1 50; Declan Byrne 0-3; Tommy Durnin & Ciaran Downey 0-1 each
Team: Neil Gallagher; Darren Marks, Emmet Carolan, James Craven; Derek Maguire, Bevan Duffy, Anthony Williams; Andy McDonnell, Tommy Durnin; Ciaran Downey, Declan Byrne, Gerard McSorley; William Woods, Conor Grimes, Ronan Holcroft. Subs: Ryan Burns for Holcroft (25 - BC), Niall Conlon for McSorley (43), Hugh Osborne for Marks (52), Jim McEneaney for Byrne (62), Sam Mulroy for Durnin (64), Eoghan Lafferty for Williams (69)
Referee: Noel Mooney (Cavan)