It could have been heaven, it was so nearly hell but Leitrim and London have it all to do again next Sunday in Hyde Park after a dramatic draw.
A pulsating battle that swung one way, then the other and back again saw two teams literally give everything they had last Sunday in Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada - and now they must do it all over again in Roscommon’s Hyde Park next Sunday.
Many predicted a tight battle that would go down to the wire but some supporters believed London couldn’t repeat their Sligo heroics over here, on “home soil” to put it. Well, the Exiles were within a minute of dumping Leitrim out of the championship and were more than deserving of the draw they did get.
Emotions for Leitrim fans careered wildly over the 70 minutes and the relief of securing a draw was tempered by the regret that the Green & Gold almost snatched a famous victory only for Ciaran Egan’s fifty to drift wide.
There was a lot for Leitrim to be happy about - the team showed great resilience under tough circumstances, the whole saga of the dropped players, injuries to Paddy Maguire and Gerry Hickey and then the huge loss of captain Emlyn Mulligan midway through the first half.
It was a blow that might have sunk Leitrim but instead we saw a team that was united and determined and despite the set-back of two soft goals and crushing pressure coming down from the stands, they stood firm and kept their championship alive.
Darren Sweeney won Man of the Match for an action packed display and along with Brendan Brennan, he delivered a great performance and four points in a sector where Leitrim were expected to struggle and struggle badly.
Upfront, James Glancy led with his usual fire, bringing his team-mates into play even if he didn’t get the protection he should have.
Dromahair’s Kevin Conlan and Paddy McGowan were superb, working their socks off while Robbie Lowe underlined his good form of recent weeks with a very solid display.
Paul Brennan was the rock of the Leitrim rearguard, the Melvin Gaels man holding the line and breaking up London attacks time and time again. Ciaran Egan and Enda Williams also did well.
Cathal McCrann’s mixed day saw him caught out for two goals but without his two second half saves, Leitrim would have lost, simple as that.
Accuracy was again a problem but a small improvement would yield the victory in Hyde Park that everyone craves so much but Leitrim seem in a much better place than they were just a week ago.
A hectic opening five minutes saw the teams score two points each but Leitrim suffered an early blow when captain Emlyn Mulligan was forced from the game with injury. London would later suffer their own blow when their freetaker Mark Gottsche succumbed to injury.
Leitrim got on top with points from James Glancy, Brendan Brennan and Paddy McGowan, Glancy clearly fouled in the act of scoring but disaster struck when Cathal McCrann punched the ball against Lorcan Mulvey, the London man bundling both ball and McCrann to the net for a goal that gave London a 1-4 to 0-6 halftime lead.
The action did not let up in the second half - Cathal McCrann made a great save to deny Paul Geraghty a certain goal early in the second half but Leitrim were starting to dominate the contest.
Unfortunately, Leitrim didn’t convert that dominance into scores on the board and when sub Sean Kelly smashed a shot to the Leitrim net and the lead for London, it had the game back in the melting pot.
London should have had a third goal but McCrann smoothered Eoin O’Neill’s shot to keep Leitrim in the game. Conlan and Kelly swapped points as London led by two with four minutes to go.
But Leitrim refused to lie down - Darren Sweeney fisted over before sub Adrian Croal put Kevin Conlan through for the equalising score. The drama wasn’t over as Leitrim had the chance to steal a late win only for Ciaran Egan’s effortto fly wide.
Leitrim: Cathal McCrann, Alan Wynne, Ciaran Egan, Gary Reynolds, Danny Beck, Enda Williams, Barry Prior, Darren Sweeney (0-2), Brendan Brennan (0-2), Paul Brennan (0-1), Emlyn Mulligan (0-1), Paddy McGowan (0-2), Kevin Conlan (0-3), James Glancy (0-1), Robbie Lowe (0-1). Subs: Cian Reynolds for Mulligan (14 mins), Adrian Croal for Reynolds (54 mins), Sean McWeeney for Beck (67 mins), Ray Cox for Conlan (71 mins).
London: Declan Traynor (0-1), Philip Butler, Stephen Curran, David McGreevy, Seamus Hannon (0-1), Shane Mulligan, Tony Gaughan, Mark Gottsche (0-1), Caolan Doyle, Greg Crowley, Ciaran McCallion, Barry Mitchell, Padraig McGoldrick (0-1), Lorcan Mulvey (1-1), Cathal Magee (0-1). Subs: Paul Geraghty for Gottsche (28 mins), Damien Dunleavey for Mitchell (39 mins), Eoin O’Neill for McGoldrick (48 mins), Sean Kelly (1-1) for Doyle (52 mins), Sean O’Neill for McCallion (68 mins).
Ref: Barry Cassidy (Derry).
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