Carla Le Guen sets a Leitrim attack off and running during the first half last Saturday Picture: Willie Donnellan
Leitrim Ladies are facing into a relegation battle after they suffered another heartbreaking defeat in the TG4 All-Ireland Intermediate Championship last Saturday in Leitrim Gaels Community Field.
Unlike the previous losses against Roscommon and Sligo, this cut deep as there was only a point between the sides at the final whistle but just like those previous games, the inability to produce their best football for longer periods than 15 minutes cost them deeply.
When they analyse this game, the old problems resurface - Leitrim started off with three goals in the first 12 minutes and looked in a different class to Offaly but despite kicking some awful wides, Offaly slowly but surely fought their way back into contention.
Level at the break, Offaly took command in the third quarter, holding the home side scoreless and not even conceding two goals late on could derail the midlanders.
In a winner takes all encounter, both teams went into the game under a cloud knowing a loss would leave them in the relegation series but as the game went on, Offaly visibly grew in confidence as the same self confidence seemed to seep from Leitrim.
Some will point to Leitrim wides but the truth is Offaly kicked far more damaging wides and missed better goal chances than Danny Clarke's side and while it may have been close at the final whistle, Offaly were fully deserving of their victory.
Leitrim now face into a relegation game against Wicklow that will be the most important Leitrim ladies will face since the 2007 Intermediate championship final for it will set the direction of the ladies game in the county for the foreseeable future and it is something Leitrim need to get right!.
Leitrim got off to an unbelievable start when Michelle Heslin’s run cut open the Offaly defence. An off-load to Carla Le Guen saw the Aughawillan woman’s shot saved but she showed great persistence to force the rebound to the net inside 20 seconds.
Offaly weren’t about to lie down and a long ball to their captain Dawn Hannon saw her literally burst through two defenders and surge in to blast the ball to the net on three minutes.
But straight from the kickout, Leitrim gained possession and a strong 50 yard run from Laura O’Dowd saw the Sean O’Heslin’s clubwoman launch a 20 yard screamer to the roof of the Offaly net.
Leitrim had some bad wides before Vivienne Egan and Roisin Ennis swapped points but on 12 minutes, Leitrim looked well on their way to victory when a long ball to Egan found the Annaduff woman clear and she finished confidently to the net.
Crucially Offaly would hit back immediately with points from Jennifer Byrne and Roisin Ennis and it was the midlanders who took control of the game only to hit five wides to one from Leitrim in the next ten minutes.
Egan then pointed a free but Hannon scored a great point after a one-two before Offaly put the game back in the melting pot as Marie Byrne battled her way through three or four tackles and her shot sneaked into the net off the hands of keeper Michelle Hackett.
A Jennifer Byrne point ensured the sides would go into the break all level at 3-2 for Leitrim and 2-5 for Offaly.
The third quarter was dominated completely by Offaly as they hit five unanswered points from a Marie Byrne free in the first minute. Offaly keeper Lauren Dunne stopped a Vivienne Egan shot but Leitrim needed to make a vital block on an Emma Maher shot.
Amy Gavin Mangan extended the lead in the fourth minute before Karen Connolly received a yellow card and went into the sin-bin for ten minutes with Jennifer Byrne putting over the resulting free.
A short fifty a minute later led to another Jennifer Byrne point as Leitrim left a couple of shots short while Offaly sub Grainne Egan made no such mistake, running and sending a high shot over the bar on 16 minutes.
Leitrim looked in real trouble but out of the blue good work from Elise Bruen released Vivienne Egan who found the net for the second time. But Offaly’s response was impressive as they went straight down the field for Grainne Egan to fire over.
The Offaly sub should have added a goal but after doing all the hard work, Egan drove her shot wide across the goal. Vivienne Egan pulled back a point from a free with seven minutes to go but Offaly immediately cancelled it out with a Grainne Egan score.
Dawn Hannon drove a shot across the Leitrim goal but Offaly went four clear with another Jennifer Byrne point and Leitrim keeper Michelle Hackett saved a dangerous long range shot from Gavin Mangan.
With the clocking ticking into added time, Leitrim needed a miracle and almost got it as Michelle Heslin finished off a wonderful move with a great goal that cut the gap to a point.
Leitrim needed victory, a draw wouldn't be enough as Offaly had a better scoring difference in their loss to Roscommon, but it was Offaly who had scoring chances but didn't take them. Michelle Heslin tried to engineer one last chance and soloed in some 30 yards but a last gasp tackle knocked the ball from her grasp and Offaly held out for the win.
GAME AT A GLANCE
HIGHLIGHT - Leitrim's great start to this crucial encounter seemed to suggest that the home team were on the way to a comfortable victory, three great goals in different ways from Carla Le Guen, Laura O''Dowd and Vivienne Egan. Unfortunately, the wheels came off the wagon soon afterwards.
LOWLIGHT - As has happened in a lot of games this year, the way Leitrim faded from the contest after the break allowed Offaly to build up a three point lead and while the Green & Gold Ladies almost retrieved the game with two late goals, the truth is that Offaly were clearly the better team as the game progressed.
TURNING POINT - Marie Byrne's goal before halftime got Offaly back into the game and infused their team with a visible dose of self-belief. They were a different team after that and fully deserving of their victory.
MAIN WOMAN - Captain and full-forward Dawn Hannon and centre-back Amy Gavin Mangan were key figures for Offaly but they got a series of battling displays from everyone on their team. For Leitrim, Laura and Eilish O'Dowd worked their socks off, Aine Heslin was everywhere, Shannen O'Rourke had some good moments while Vivienne Egan did well with very few real chances.
REF WATCH - Donegal's Siobhan Coyle did a good job in a very fast paced contest. Leitrim were unhappy with her decision to give Karen Connolly a yellow card but hard to argue with the vast majority of decisions.
TALKING POINT - Leitrim are facing into a relegation battle but the odd thing is Offaly are experiencing much the same problems with absent players hindering their efforts, some of their officials even wondering if they would be better off if they were relegated back to the Junior Championship. And judging from the scorelines, it is a problem Limerick, Laois and Longford are also experiencing right now!
WHAT NEXT - Offaly face Sligo next weekend in the Intermediate championship quarter-finals while Leitrim must regroup as they face into a relegation playoff against Wicklow on Sunday August 11, with the loser relegated to Junior.
TEAMS & SCORERS
Scorers: Vivienne Egan 2-3, 3f; Carla Le Guen, Laura O’Dowd & Michelle Heslin 1-0 each
Team: Michelle Hackett; Clare Owens, Louise Maguire, Karen Connolly; Laura O’Dowd, Aine Heslin, Shannen O’Rourke; Aoife Gilmartin, Eilish O’Dowd; Ann Marie Gallagher, Elise Bruen, Carla La Guen; Carmel McGovern, Michelle Heslin, Vivienne Egan. Subs: Edel Shanley for O’Rourke (45), Aisling Quinn for Gallagher (49)
Scorers: Jennifer Byrne 0-5, 1f; Marie Byrne (f) & Dawn Hannon 1-1 each; Grainne Egan 0-3; Roisin Ennis 0-2; Amy Gavin Mangan
Team: Lauren Dunne; Aoife Carey, Anne Marie McCormack, Emer Nally; Becky Bryant, Amy Gavin Mangan, Annie Kehoe; Emma Maher, Michelle Mann; Marie Byrne, Jennifer Byrne, Roisin Ennis; Katie Kehoe, Dawn Hannon, Sarah Cummins. Subs: Tara Dunne for Mann (24), Grainne Egan for Nally (41), Fiona Stephens for Kehoe (44)
Referee Siobhan Coyle (Donegal)