23 Jan 2022

A roller-coaster of emotions but that won’t be the case in Castlebar

“So who are you shouting for then?”

“So who are you shouting for then?”

It was a question I encountered – and promptly sidestepped - on a number occasions prior to Sunday’s throw-in.

Five years ago, when I made my first trip to Ruislip, it was a no-brainer who my allegiances lay with. This time it was more difficult. This clash at a sodden Emerald Grounds was a win-win situation, but also a lose-lose one. My native county are through to the last-four of the Connacht Championship, but my adopted one have seen months of ferocious preparation go unrewarded.

It was a heartbreaking defeat for London, losing by a kick of a ball, and it’s amplified when you factor how long they led in this game. But the final score is all that matters, and Leitrim will know there should have been more than the minimum separating the sides at the final whistle.

During the National League, London prided themselves on their high fitness levels and dominance of midfield. That wasn’t the case last weekend. Once they settled, Leitrim lorded it over the much-lauded Lorcan Mulvey, with Darren Sweeney, Daniel Lowe and Shane Moran intelligently opting against catching the greasy ball, and instead breaking it towards the likes of Wayne McKeon and the superb Paul Brennan.

It summed up much of London’s performance and tactics, which played into Leitrim’s hands. Cathal McCrann spoke in these pages last week of how he was expecting high balls to be rained on top of him in the English capital. It was an area in which London found some joy during the league, and the scrapping of the square ball rule should have worked in their favour.

On such a miserable day, where the ball resembled a bar of soap, it looked a no-brainer; give McCrann and Ciaran Egan sore necks. However, London opted for a small full-forward line, and not one Hail Mary was pumped into the area.

In the closing stages, the Exiles faded badly, while the visitors’ fitness remained at a high level. Leitrim had faltered when it come to popping the bar over the bar, but they remedied that in the closing stages to snatch a victory their performance deserved.

Leitrim can now revert into the familiar role of underdogs ahead of their trip to Castlebar, as this showing won’t have worried Mayo one jot. But a major improvement is required if they are to upset the Westerners for the first time since 1994.

Credit to the Leitrim support who braved the elements at Ruislip, and there should be a bigger turnout at McHale Park on June 24. There’ll be no questioning my allegiances that day. Here’s hoping for another away win.

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