Domhnaill Flynn sends the match winning free on it's way over the Antrim bar. Picture: Willie Donnellan
Leitrim’s unbeaten start to the Allianz NFL Division 4 continued in dramatic fashion on Sunday as an injury time Domhnaill Flynn proved the match winner against an impressive Antrim.
The Ulster side led by six points at one stage in Avantcard Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada but three crucial points before halftime saw Leitrim give themselves a fighting chance and they certainly took it in a bruising and often bad tempered encounter.
After this victory, promotion lies very much in Leitrim’s own hands - with games against Limerick, London, Derry and Waterford to come, three wins would be enough to secure promotion to Division 3 and lift Leitrim out of the bottom tier for the first time since 2008.
Certainly on this form, Leitrim look if not nailed on certainties for promotion then very nearly there as they have won two tough, bruising games against fellow promotion rivals and won it the hard way to top the table at the first break point in the League.
Referee Barry Judge had a busy day, brandishing one red card, five black cards and 13 yellow but it was the Sligo official's decisions not to brandish a second card for Antrim's Ricky Johnston and Leitrim's Damian Moran that will have angered both camps, decisions that would have changed the course of the game.
Leitrim opened the scoring with a Ryan O’Rourke free after an off-the-ball foul on Evan Sweeney and the lead was stretched when Jack Heslin blazed over the bar following good work from Pearce Dolan, O’Rourke and Shane Moran.
But Antrim hit back with a spectacular goal from Ryan Murray as he collected a long fifty yard pass, turned and buried a rocket in the far right hand corner of Diarmuid McKiernan’s goal.
Colum Duffin would follow up a minute later when Patrick Gallagher’s long run released him, a goal on the cards before Ryan Murray popped over a free. Antrim could have got a goal when they won the kickout, three passes later Matthew Fitzpatrick bursting through and driving a shot slightly over the crossbar.
Murray would add a point after he collected a long ball when surrounded by three defenders and he still beat them to the score.
The niggly nature to the game started when Aidan Flynn and Murray were booked for an off-the-ball clash and they would be joined in the book by Ricky & Martin Johnston for Antrim and Shane Moran, Diarmuid McKiernan and Shane Quinn for Leitrim.
The Antrim full-back should have walked when he got involved in the second booking as a third man but referee Barry Judge exercised undue leniency.
Ryan O’Rourke tapped over a free before Murray notched two quickly for a dominant Antrim who were also hitting some bad wides.
And with halftime approaching, Ray Mulvey started a revival with a great point from the right wing, followed up by a good point from sub Darragh Rooney. And in the seventh minute of added time, Ryan O’Rourke converted a free to leave the halftime score at 1-6 to 0-6 in favour of Antrim.
Like they have in their games so far this year, Leitrim came out with all guns blazing in the second half with a point apiece from Darragh Rooney and Ryan O’Rourke to cut the lead to just a point inside two minutes.
Antrim hit back with a point from a Patrick McBride free but Domhnaill Flynn replied on four minutes and with both teams missing chances, the game seemed to lurch in Leitrim’s favour when midfielder Mark Sweeney received a black card on 12 minutes for pulling down a player, Ryan O’Rourke missing the free.
Antrim incredibly stretched their lead when Matthew Fitzpatrick made a great catch from a kickout and kicked long to Ryan Murray. And when Murray turned to offload the ball, Fitzpatrick was on hand to collect and blast over the bar.
Ryan O’Rourke cleverly used the wind to drift his shot from the right wing over the bar on 18 minutes and after nine minutes of the black card, Leitrim finally drew level when Darragh Rooney scored a lovely point to tie the scores.
Leitrim pushed on and despite Antrim getting their full 15 back, they suffered an immediate blow when Patrick McBride received a black card.
But this was quickly followed by a black card for Micheal McWeeney and even this came with fortune for Leitrim as referee Barry Judge blew for the foul as the ball went to Matthew Fitzpatrick bearing down on goal, Ryan Murray putting over the free.
Leitrim levelled once more with a FLynn free on 64 minutes and Leitrim regained the lead for the first time since the second minute when Mark Plunkett surged into space and fired over from distance.
Controversy erupted when two umpires waved a point for Ryan Murray from the corner but the linesman over-ruled them and the equaliser was chalked off. But Antrim didn’t have long to wait for an equaliser when Patrick McBride tapped over a free.
With so many yellow cards, it was inevitable that there would be a red card and Ryan Murray was black carded for protesting a Leitrim free that alleviated the pressure on the home side’s defence, his red seeing Antrim down to 14.
With a scramble for the ball, Antrim tried to come out of their defence but weren’t able to make it through a scrum and when Sligo official Judge awarded a free, it gave Leitrim a great chance to take the win with the four announced minutes of added time elapsed.
Domhnaill Flynn held his nerve under big pressure to send the home side back in front and despite a black card for sub Sean Flanagan and repeated Leitrim fouls trying to stop the visitors, Antrim couldn’t work a chance to find an equaliser and when an Antrim hand touched the ball on the ground, Leitrim celebrations broke out with the final whistle seconds later.
Scorers: Ryan O’Rourke 0-5, 4f; Darragh Rooney & Domhnaill Flynn (3f) 0-3 each; Ray Mulvey, Mark Plunkett & Jack Heslin 0-1 each
Team: Diarmuid McKiernan, Micheal McWeeney, Paddy Maguire, Aidan Flynn, Shane Quinn, Mark Plunkett, Ray Mulvey, Shane Moran, Pierce Dolan, Sean McWeeney, Domhnaill Flynn, Jack Heslin, Damien Moran, Evan Sweeney, Ryan O’Rourke. Subs: Darragh Rooney for Heslin (29), Gary Plunkett for D. Moran (62), Emlyn Mulligan for Sweeney (64), Sean Flanagan for Dolan (69)
Scorers: Ryan Murray 1-5, 2f; Matthew Fitzpatrick & Patrick McBride 0-2 each; Colum Duffin 0-1
Team: Padraig Nugent, Patrick McCormack, Ricky Johnston, Patrick Gallagher, Niall Delargy, Michael McCarry, Declan Lynch, Mark Sweeney, Martin Johnston, Kevin Quinn, Stephen Beatty, Patrick McBride, Colum Duffin, Ruairi McCann, Ryan Murray. Subs: Conor Hamill for McCormack (HT), Owen McKeown for Beatty (52), Eoghan McCabe for Delargy (62), Ruairi McCann for Quinn (66)
Referee: Barry Judge (Sligo)