Galway's Cillian O'Curraoin (14) turns after scoring his second goal against Leitrim Picture Willie Donnellan
The privileged few Leitrim fans lucky enough to be at the Connacht GAA Centre of Excellence for the opening round of the Electric Ireland Connacht Minor Football Championship will have travelled home wondering just how such a battling and excellent footballing effort from the County U17s ended up with an 11 point losing margin to Galway.
With 20 minutes to go, Leitrim looked in the perfect place to cause an upset when Galway's Adam Tierney was showed a second yellow card to reduce them to 14 men and a Leitrim team going toe to toe with a Tribe side featuring eight of the team who won last year's All-Ireland title.
But from there to finish, we got a sumptuous display of Galway dominance with the outstanding Conall Gallagher running the show from midfield as the Tribesmen outscored Brendan Guckian's team by an astonishing 2-7 to 0-2 to run out easy and comprehensive winners.
It was tough on a young side who traded blow for blow with their vaunted opponents for the first 45 minutes of action but were unable to live with the power, pace and accuracy of the Tribesmen.
Leitrim were first to score, an Oisin Curley free on two minutes for an off-the-ball foul, but it was Galway making the early chances as Daniel O’Flaherty saw a shot blocked and David Prendergast put a free wide while Jack Ramsay was booked for a foul, Curley sweeping over the free.
Galway’s response was impressive and indicated where much of Leitrim’s problems with come from as Tribe midfielders Darragh Burke and Conall Gallagher both fired over nice points from play.
Prendergast was already looking a danger and forced Conor Flood to come off his line to block a goal chance on eight minutes while Liam O’Conghaile set up centre-back Darragh O’Malley for a ninth minute score.
Leitrim were patient in trying to hit back and after a move that must have last 15 to 20 passes, Shane Smith’s well taken point rewarded Leitrim’s fine play. But Galway were looking dangerous and it took a goal line stop from Gavin Reynolds to deny Jack Dowd a certain goal.
Conall Gallagher then showed he was as happy in the forwards as he was at midfield as he waltzed through three or four Leitrim defenders to fire over just before the water break. Unfortunately that water break didn’t come after that point from Liam O’Conghaile caught a quick mark from the kickout.
His long pass found Cillian O’Curraoin in space and despite being held up, the Galway full-forward drove a low, daisy cutter of a shot from the right hand side to the left corner for a crucial goal.
After the water break, Jake Tobin was narrowly wide with an effort before Adam Tierney raided from defence to score. Daniel O’Flaherty drove a goal chance wide after another poor Leitrim kickout.
Tobin, from a mark, and Prendergast swapped points, the Galway man very close to a goal but the game took a turn when Ryan Kavanagh was black carded for obstruction. Leitrim immediately took advantage with points from Reynolds, after good work from Michael McKiernan, and Conor Quinn, a huge 40 yard effort in acres of space.
Crucially, Leitrim also lost a man to a black card, Jake Tobin spending ten minutes in the bin for obstruction, but another Curley score, a high effort dropping over, saw Leitrim trail 1-6 to 0-7 at the halftime break.
Both teams were still down to 14 players after the break but 20 seconds in, a quick ball in found Jack Casey and his high arching shot eventually dropped over the bar to cut the gap to a point.
Galway’s response was impressive with Prendergast driving the ball over the bar with a goal on while Gallagher landed another monster point.
Galway were harshly penalised for a quick kickout that didn’t seem to have any Galway men in the small circle but two dwalding Leitrim men were and referee John Glavey award a throw-ball, won by Gavin Reynolds who worked the ball out to Oisin Curley for a point.
Almost straight away, Letirim won the ball back with Jack Casey managing to get the ball to a charging Shane Smith. From this writer’s view, it appeared as if there was a big gap in front of the Fenagh youngster but Smith cut out to chip the ball over the bar rather than go in towards goal.
That again left a point in it but Galway were still dominating and despite two misses, they turned over a Leitrim possession with Gallagher scoring a great point on eight minutes. Galway’s Adam Tierney was yellow carded as was Leitrim sub Ethan Bohan as two O’Curraoin frees stretched that gap back to four points.
But before the second O’Curraoin, Leitrim got a huge boost when Adam Tierney got a second yellow for a clash with Paul Moran, the Ballinamore man also getting carded. Moran did take advantage of the extra space by firing over a nice point just before the water break.
But it wasn’t all good news for Leitrim as Daniel O’Sullivan suffered a leg injury, Con Doyle coming on after the water break. That water break worked wonders for Galway who outscored Leitrim 1-6 to 0-1 down the stretch to kill off Leitrim’s stubborn challenge.
O’Curraoin from a free and Gallagher from distance hit great points to open up a five point gap, exacerbated with a bad miss from Paul Moran. Jack Casey did make a clever mark to score with ten minutes to go but Galway quickly killed off the game.
The impressive, if low-scoring, Prendergast burned off his marker as he charged up the right hand side and then in towards goal before floating a lovely ball across the face of the Leitrim goal, leaving Cillian O’Curraoin with nothing to do but fist the ball to the net!
It was all Galway from then on as they dominated general play and they landed a trio of points from a trio of subs Rory Donnellan, Gary Higgins and Maidhc MacGearailt, Higgins literally scoring with his first touch.
All that remained was another great score from Man of the match Conall Gallagher while Oisin Curley saw an injury time free go narrowly wide.
Scorers: Oisin Curley 0-4, 2f; Jack Casey (M) & Shane Smith 0-2 each; Conor Quinn, Gavin Reynolds, Paul Moran & Jack Tobin (M) 0-1 each
Team: Conor Flood (Allen Gaels), Mark Lenehan (St Mary’s Kiltoghert), Seamus Wisely (Ballinamore Sean O’Heslins), James Clinton (St Patrick’s Dromahair), Donal Duignan (Mohill), Conor Quinn (Mohill), Daniel O’Sullivan (Leitrim Gaels), Gavin Reynolds (St Mary’s Kiltoghert), Michael McKiernan (Ballinamore Sean O’Heslins), JJ Lipsett (Melvin Gaels), Jake Tobin (Allen Gaels), Paul Moran (Ballinamore Sean O’Heslins), Shane Smith (Fenagh St Caillin’s), Oisin Curley (Leitrim Gaels), Jack Casey (St Mary’s Kiltoghert). Subs: Ethan Bohan (St Mary’s Kiltoghert) for Lipsett (38), Con Doyle (Kiltubrid) for O’Sullivan (45), Ciaran Reynolds (Gortletteragh) for Casey (51), Barry McNulty (Glencar/Manorhamilton) for Duignan (59)
Scorers: Cillian O’Curraoin 2-3, 3f; Conall Gallagher 0-6; David Prendergast 0-2; Darragh O’Malley, Adam Tierney, Darragh Burke, Maidhc MacGearailt, Rory Donnellan & Gary Higgins 0-1 each
Team: James Egan; Jack Ramsey, Eanna Donoghue, Morgan Morrin; Matthew Mulvaney, Darragh O'Malley, Adam Tierney; Darragh Burke, Conall Gallagher; Ryan Kavanagh, Liam O'Conghaile, Jack Dowd; Daniel O'Flaherty, Cillian O'Curraoin, David Prendergast. Subs: Jake Slattery for Dowd (HT), Maidhc MacGearalit for O’Conghaile (41), Rory Donnellan for Slattery Gary Higgins for Burke (58), Aaron Kavanagh for Kavanagh (59)
Referee: John Glavey (Mayo)