Leitrim's Laura O'Dowd drives at the Louth defence during last Sunday's league game in Cloone. Picture: Willie Donnellan
There were no home comforts for Leitrim on Sunday last in Cloone as they suffered defeat at the hands of Louth, their second loss of the Lidl national league division four campaign.
There were positives for manager Gavin Cawley to take from the performance but ultimately Leitrim could have no complaints as a well drilled and more clinical Louth side were worthy of their victory.
Leitrim will point to a number of missed opportunities but over the course of the game they lacked a fluidity and cohesiveness which is perhaps understandable given their poor preparations for the league campaign.
Leitrim started encouragingly with Michelle Heslin, who was one of Leitrim’s top performers on the day, pointing just 25 seconds after the throw-in.
At the other end of the pitch Louth were finding it tough to get up to speed and the game was seven minutes old before they struck for their opening score with Kate Flood levelling matters from a free.
Shortly afterwards the wee county gave the first indication of their calibre as an attacking force when Flood, Lauren Boyle and Jennifer McGuinness combined well to carve open the Leitrim defence but Leitrim goalkeeper Michelle Guckian was alive to the danger and rushed from her line to snuff out the threat to her goal.
The game was 14 minutes old before the next score arrived with Lauren Boyle on target following an excellent run to give Louth the lead for the first time.
Leitrim’s response was immediate as Bronagh O’Rourke was picked out with a dangerous delivery and the St Joseph’s corner-forward turned quickly before slotting her shot over the bar.
Moments later Leitrim were back in front when O’Rourke converted a free to give Leitrim a slender advantage.
Lauren Boyle proved to be one of Louth’s main threats in attack and she pounced to level matters in the 19th minute after being found by Susan Byrne.
Leitrim’s loose play was punished six minutes before the interval when a free deep inside their own half was badly misplaced resulting in Susan Byrne being allowed an easy shot at goal which she duly slotted over the bar.
Leitrim looked to be tiring as the half neared its end and Louth extended their lead to two points when Byrne scored her second of the half.
To their credit Leitrim responded well and some quick, incisive passing, which wasn’t seen often enough resulted in Dearbhaile Beirne and Laura O’Dowd cutting through the Louth defence before O’Dowd pointed to leave the minimum between the sides.
Lauren Boyle and Bronagh O’Rourke (free) exchanged points as the half edged towards its conclusion but there was to be a hammer blow for Leitrim with the final action of the half as Louth struck for the game’s opening goal.
Kate Flood and Jennifer McGuinness linked up brilliantly, although the Leitrim defence will be disappointed with how easily they were torn apart and when the ball was returned to McGuinness she finished from close range to give her side a healthy 1-6 to 0-5 interval lead.
Leitrim began the second half with renewed purpose. There was a noticeable increase in the workrate of the Leitrim players but they were unable to transfer their efforts into scores during the opening exchanges of the second half and three minutes after the restart Lauren Boyle converted a free to further extend Louth’s lead.
Leitrim hit back with a Bronagh O’Rourke free but scores were proving to be hard earned in what was at times a bruising encounter.
Leitrim’s hopes were given a significant boost when Louth’s Lauren Boyle was shown a yellow card following a heavy collision with Leitrim goalkeeper Michelle Guckian but even with the numerical advantage Leitrim still found it difficult to break down the Louth defence.
The red shirts defended in huge numbers and counter-attacked with pace and conviction with Ciara Woods and Susan Byrne both pointing to open up a six point lead for Louth.
Bronagh O’Rourke replied with a Leitrim pointed free and as the 10 minute sin-bin period was about to elapse Leitrim were handed a lifeline when they found the Louth goal.
Some clever play from Laura O’Dowd released Dearbhaile Beirne through on goal but her shot was well saved by Louth goalkeeper Una Pearson. However, Michelle Heslin was the quickest to react and she was on hand to dispatch the rebound to the goal.
Unfortunately Leitrim were unable to build on that score as Louth looked the more composed and organised side during the closing stages.
Victory was secured with four minutes left when Niamh Rice found herself on the end of a defence splitting pass shortly after her introduction and she showed great composure to dispatch her shot just inside Michelle Guckian’s post.
A late yellow card for Laura O’Dowd had no bearing on the final outcome but illustrated the frustration of the Leitrim team and the game finished with pointed frees from Bronagh O’Rourke and Kate Flood as Louth ran out deserving winners.
After the disappointment of defeat in Belfast at the hands of Antrim a week earlier this was Leitrim's second defeat of their league campaign and they will hope to get back in the hunt for promotion on Sunday, March 3 when they travel to Fermanagh for their fourth league game.
Leitrim currently lie in sixth position of the eight teams in the division, one place below their next opponent.
While recent results will no doubt be frustrating for all involved with the Leitrim set-up after a turbulent 12 months it is encouraging to have a Leitrim team back in competitive action and the collective sense of disappointment and frustration among players and management after the game indicate there is a determination to further improve.
Leitrim: Michelle Guckian, Abbi Sweeney, Aine Heslin, Karen Connolly, Emma McGovern, Sinead Tighe, Clare Owens, Deirdre Moran, Eilish O’Dowd, Laura O’Dowd, Michelle Heslin, Dearbhaile Beirne, Carmel McGovern, Vivienne Egan, Bronagh O’Rourke. Sub: Carla LeGuen for Egan (42).
Louth: Una Pearson, Shannen McLoughlin, Sarah Quinn, Eilis Hand, Ceire Nolan, Michelle McMahon, Sinead Woods, Aoife Byrne, Eimear Byrne, Rebecca Carr, Susan Byrne, Jennifer McGuinness, Aoife Russell, Kate Flood, Lauren Boyle. Subs: Deirbhile Osborne for S Woods (HT), Ciara Woods for McGuinness (HT), Niamh Rice for Byrne (56)
Leitrim: Bronagh O’Rourke (0-6, 5f), Michelle Heslin (1-1), Laura O’Dowd (0-1)
Louth: Kate Flood (1-2, 2f), Lauren Boyle (0-4, 3f), Niamh Rice (1-0), Susan Byrne (0-3), Ciara Woods (0-1)
Referee John Devlin