Mayo's Darren McHale rises to fist the ball past Leitrim keeper Brendan Flynn Picture: Willie Donnellan
Not many expected a miracle in Elvery’s Mac Hale Park on Sunday but the manner of Mayo’s record equalling 24 point victory left the paltry few Leitrim fans who did make the journey to Castlebar incredibly despondent and downhearted as they faced the journey home.
From the first minute of the game, the gaping chasm between the standard of the two teams was clearly evident as Mayo ran, almost unopposed, into an eight point lead before Leitrim got their first score as Terry Hyland’s troops never looked capable of landing a blow on the defending Connacht Champions.
In contrast with last November’s loss to the same opposition, there was never any sense of a contest in this game as Leitrim were brushed aside by the greater intensity, physical power and skills of the home side who mastered the difficult conditions in a manner Leitrim could not.
John Connolly finds Terry Hyland as determined as ever to see Leitrim perform but the manager stresses that the Green & Gold won't be headless in pursuit of a performance against last year's All-Ireland Finalists in Elvery's Mac Hale Park
Conor Dolan’s last point for Leitrim, with the last kick of the game, meant the 24 point winning margin only equalled the 1973 record winning margin for Mayo rather than set a new standard but unfortunately, it felt like a new low for those of us unfortunate enough to be there in person.
Tom Prior tries to evade the challenge of Mayo's Paddy Durcan Picture: Willie Donnellan
The manner of the defeat, as much as the scale of it, will only strengthen calls for a two tier championship to be introduced as Leitrim have suffered an increasingly devastating series of heavy defeats in the championship over the last eight or nine years.
Unfortunately, the gap only seems to be growing bigger and bigger and the days of Leitrim giant-killing seem a distant memory now as the top teams in the country are just operating on a completely different level to the teams in Division 4.
Talk of new competitions and structures won’t do much to ease the anguish in the Leitrim camp this week for there was nothing positive to take from this game, just another devastatingly disappointing defeat for the Green & Gold.
Shane Moran thought he had opened the scoring a minute into the game when he gathered Tom Prior’s high ball and shot. Many of us thought the ball had gone over the bar but it was waved wide by officials and it was up to Tommy Conroy to sail past two defenders and clip over an easy point on four minutes to open the scoring.
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Mayo hit the woodwork twice with shots in the first five minutes before Matthew Ruane charged through to point while Brendan Flynn made a vital save to save Ryan O’Donoghue’s shot after the Mayo man had gathered a high ball and broke through a tackle.
But the points were flowing for Mayo and it was almost a score a minute as Conroy, Stephen Coen, O’Donoghue, Conroy, O’Donoghue and Ruane all added points to leave Leitrim trailing eight points to no score after just 15 minutes.
It wasn’t enough for one Mayo fan, however, who roared “Ah pick it up will you” at Darren Coen when he was unable to cleanly gather the ball.
Darragh Rooney is surrounded by three Mayo defenders in Elvery's Mac Hale Park Picture: Willie Donnellan
Leitrim opened their account with a Keith Beirne free on 17 minutes, just before the water break but the visitors were unable to capitalise when the Mayo keeper spilled a crossed ball, only for a defender to gather and clear.
Further points from Conor Loftus and O’Donoghue followed as Darragh Rooney left a mark short and the first goal soon arrived as a good move cut the Leitrim defence open, Darren Coen running on to Conor Loftus’ pass only for the ball to spill from his grasp but rebound back to him off a defender, the Mayo man putting the ball in the net.
Paddy Maguire saw a poor shot almost spilled by the keeper but a good run from Conor Dolan, setting off from the right wing and cutting towards the centre, ended with a point on 25 minutes.
Darren Coen added a point before the Mayo keeper Rory Byrne redeemed himself with a good catch from a Mark Plunkett mark before Mayo put the game completely to bed, not that there was any doubt.
First Oisin Mullin and Paddy Durcan combined with a series of passes as they cut through the middle before passing across the goal for Darren McHale to fist the ball to the net. Barely had those celebrations died down and Tommy Conroy blazed by his man out in the right corner, only to lose his footing. However, he still managed to tip the ball to McHale for an easy finish to the net.
Leitrim finished with two Keith Beirne frees as Mayo led 3-11 to 0-4 at the break, the game well and truly over.
Mayo almost goaled with their first attack, Matthew Ruane’s shot saved by Brendan Flynn but Conor Loftus tapping over the rebound. They didn’t have long to wait for their fourth goal as Ryan O’Donoghue availed of the space afforded him to blast the ball to the net after a good run three minutes into the second half.
O’Donoghue added a free before Tommy Conroy beat the Leitrim defence by cutting back inside and rammed the ball to the net after rounding Brendan Flynn. That finished the goals for the day but Mayo would add seven further points before the finish as Leitrim finally managed to string a few consecutive scores together.
O’Donoghue fisted over before Beirne (free), Paddy Maguire and sub Riordan O’Rourke landed points, although O’Rourke and Beirne tried to engineer a goal opportunity from a short free routine on 14 minutes.
Beirne (free) and Evan Sweeney, after good work from subs Aarron Hoare and O’Rourke, added points to match two from Darren Coen. Riordan O’Rourke got his second before Mayo reeled off four points from O’Donoghue, Aidan O’Shea, McHale and James Carr to bring their lead to 25 points.
Leitrim avoided a record setting defeat to Mayo when Conor Dolan scored a good point deep into added time but it was of little consolation to the shell-shocked Leitrim players.
Leitrim players leave the field after Sunday's Connacht Semi-Final Picture: Willie Donnellan
Scorers: K Beirne 0-5, 5f; C Dolan & R O’Rourke 0-2 each; P Maguire & E Sweeney 0-1 each
Team: Brendan Flynn (Leitrim Gaels); Conor Reynolds (Annaduff); Donal Wrynn (Fenagh St Caillin’s); Mark Diffley (St Mary’s Kiltoghertl); Cillian McGloin (Melvin Gaels); Paddy Maguire (Glencar/Manorhamilton); David Bruen (Leitrim Gaels); Jack Gilheany (Fenagh St Caillin’s); Mark Plunkett Aughawillan); Conor Dolan (Glencar/Manorhamilton); Shane Moran (Ballinamore Sean O’Heslins); Tom Prior (Ballinamore Sean O’Heslins); Darragh Rooney (Melvin Gaels); Keith Beirne (Mohill); Shane Quinn (Mohill). Subs: Evan Sweeney & Riordan O’Rourke for Rooney & McGloin (HT), Keith Keegan for Diffley (45), Aaron Hoare for Wrynn (50), James Mitchell for Bruen (52)
Scorers: R O’Donoghue 1-5, 2fs; D McHale 2-2; T Conroy & D Coen 1-3 each; C Loftus & M Ruane 0-2 each; S Coen, A O’Shea & J Carr 0-1 each
Team: Rory Byrne; Enda Hession; Padraig O'Hora; Michael Plunkett; Paddy Durcan; Oisin Mullan; Stephen Coen, Matthew Ruane; Aidan O’Shea; Jordan Flynn, Darren McHale, Conor Loftus; Tommy Conroy; Darren Coen; Ryan O'Donoghue. Subs: James Carr (0-1) for Conroy (45); Colm Boyle for Durcan (52); Fionn McDonagh for Ruane (58); Adrian Orme for D Coen (61); James McCormack for Flynn (blood sub, 61); Jack Coyne for Mullin (65)
Referee: F Kelly (Longford)
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