Leitrim’s unbeaten start to 2013 came to a halt last Sunday in Limerick’s Gaelic Grounds as the greater physical strength of the home side proved too much for a game but ultimately limited Leitrim to overcome in the first round of the Allianz League Division 4 campaign.
Hopes were high that Leitrim could start their league campaign with a win but a Limerick side, shorn of many of their star players, controlled large parts of the contest despite what you can only describe as an intensely committed and hard working display from the Green & Gold.
Joint manager George Dugdale left nobody, least of all his players, in any doubt that he regarded last Sunday’s loss as a missed opportunity but even die-hard Leitrim fans acknowledged that Limerick shaded it on the day, even if Leitrim could easily have, and almost did, caused an upset.
That Leitrim were very much in contention for victory with four minutes to go says much for their spirit, for their resilience and their sheer stubbornness in hanging in there when Limerick dominated possession in tough and draining conditions, particularly in the second half when the Treaty Men were dominating in all sectors.
What was different to the four victories racked up by Brian Breen’s and George Dugdale’s team so far in 2013 was the intensity and calibre of the opposition was ramped up to a far higher degree and it meant that Leitrim were not able to produce the flowing football they had produced so effectively this year.
A tough, disciplined and economical Limerick organised themselves quite cleverly to beat not only the conditions but Leitrim’s game-plan – their deliberate, slow almost, hand passing game back and forth across the field forced Leitrim to work incredibly hard in the first half when the Green & Gold had the wind at their backs, draining them of crucial energy with the second half to come.
The second half saw Limerick dominate for long spells – their defensive system tightened up and they started to sweep forward more, their deliberate hand-passing style forcing Leitrim to work themselves to a standstill.
Truth to tell, Leitrim looked a beaten team with ten minutes to go as Limerick led by four points and Brian Breen & George Dugdale sent on the fifth and final sub. But a determined fight-back almost brought off an unlikely win and left Leitrim cursing wides once more.
The wides came not in the final minutes when Leitrim hit a rich vein of form, scoring three points in a five minute spell, but rather when Limerick were dominating in the second half and the Green & Gold desperately needed a score to stem the tide.
Limerick might have recorded less wides than their visitors, 11 to six, but the home team were denied what looked like a clear penalty in the first half and the impressive Eoghan O’Connor crashed a thunderous shot off the Leitrim post with a diving Cathal McCrann well beaten.
And as disappointed as Leitrim undoubtedly were after the final whistle, Limerick are probably favourites for promotion this year and holding them to two points, no matter how disappointing it is to the competitor in each of the Leitrim players, is a solid display.
Of course, there are things that need to be worked out but how many of the other teams in the Division will measure up to the Treaty men? Other results last Sunday only serve to highlight just how competitive this Division Four is likely to be and just how much Leitrim will have to be on their game next Sunday against Clare.
Cathal McCrann was solid once more, Alan Wynne held his own and the defensive line was juggled almost completely with Ciaran Egan showing well out on the wing in the later stages of the game when Leitrim completely rejigged the back-line. Limerick held the advantage in midfield while Emlyn Mulligan showed some nice scoring touches and James Glancy and Ray Cox worked hard.
Glancy came in for a lot of criticism on message boards in the days after the match but in a low scoring game, Glancy and his full-forward line colleague Ray Cox were a threat, won at least two frees for Mulligan to convert and constantly showed – that some of Glancy’s chances didn’t come off, and it wasn’t by much, doesn’t negate much of the good work he and Cox did in a game where Leitrim didn’t enjoy a surfeit of possession to pick and choose passes..
Clare are up next, in Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada on Sunday, and a good result would get the ball rolling again. It won’t be easy, despite Clare’s loss to Waterford, as you get the feeling that every team in Division Four is capable of beating each other on their day.
Leitrim got off to a great start when Emlyn Mulligan put over a fantastic effort from the left corner after just 45 seconds but it was Limerick who settled best with three points in the first ten minutes from Eoghan O’Connor (2) and James O’Meara, the second O’Connor shot lucky not to end in the net.
James Glancy was unlucky with an effort before a Mulligan free for an off-the-ball foul narrowed the gap and he repeated the dose on 18 minutes for a push on Glancy.
Eoghan O’Connor replied with a free after Beck touched on the ground with Mulligan cancelling it out with another free. Leitrim had a very lucky escape when O’Connor was clearly fouled as he bore down on goal but no penalty was awarded with Leitrim trying their luck from range.
Three minutes before the break, Ray Cox set up Paul Brennan for a fantastic point as Leitrim led at the half-time break, 0-5 to 0-4.
Limerick again started the half well with three points in the first five minutes from O’Connor (2) and Stephen Lavin to go two clear before a hard earned Adrian Croal point settled growing Leitrim nerves on the terraces although two narrow wides from Glancy and Wayne McKeon didn’t help.
Cathal McCrann showed good hands to collect two dangerous balls but two more O’Connor frees and a lovely point from O’Meara stretched the Limerick lead to four with McCrann grateful to see a blistering shot from O’Connor come crashing back off the post.
Mulligan saw another effort go off the post while James Glancy missed from close range but an unlikely come-back started when Gerry Hickey took a quick free and pointed with ten minutes to go.
Mulligan then landed a huge point from the right corner three minutes later and an amazing comeback was given more impetus when Kevin Conlan got a lovely point with more than three minutes left to play.
Limerick however managed to halt Leitrim’s momentum with some almost constant short passing and a stoppage for an injury before sub Paul Kinnerk sealed the home team’s win with a big point just seconds into the one minute of added time.
Cathal McCrann, Alan Wynne, Ciaran Egan, Paddy Maguire, Colm Clarke, Paul Brennan (0-1), Danny Beck, Wayne McKeon, Paddy McGowan, Adrian Croal (0-1), Emlyn Mulligan (0-5), Gerry Hickey (0-1), Ray Cox, James Glancy, Brian McDonald. Subs: Brendan Brennan for McGowan (41 mins), Kevin Conlan (0-1) for McDonald (50 mins), Sean McWeeney for Clarke (53 mins), Conor Beirne for Cox (55 mins), Cian Reynolds for Glancy (60 mins).
Brian Scanlon, Cian Cody, Johnny McCarthy, Mark O’Riordan, Stephen Lavin, Paudie Browne, Pa Ranahan, Thomas Lee, Bobby O’Brien, Seamus O’Carroll, John Riordan, Ian Corbett, Eoghan O’Connor (0-7), James O’Meara (0-2), Derry O’Connor. Subs: Paul Kinnerk (0-1) for Lee (60 mins), Daragh Treacy for Corbett (66 mins).
Referee: Derek O’Mahony (Tipperary).