Leitrim brought their Allianz NFL Division 4 campaign to a close on Saturday last in Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada with a deserved win over Waterford but it proved to be a closer affair than was necessary.
LEITRIM 1-13 WATERFORD 2-8
The two point win saw Leitrim claim their fourth win of the league but with promotion hopes already gone, it was a game that lacked a cutting edge.
Waterford came into the game hoping to finish a very disappointing league campaign on a high having lost four games prior to last Saturday's game in Carrick-on-Shannon.
As well as the win, there were a number of positives Leitrim manager Brendan Guckian could take from the game. The youngsters who have been thrown in at the deep-end this year are improving with every game they play.
Dean McGovern, Pearce Dolan and Oisin Madden were all central to Leitrim's success while Paddy Maguire's return to full match fitness is having a hugely beneficial impact on those around him.
Maguire's reading of the game, coupled with calmness under pressure helps bring a sense of assuredness to the full-back line.
Captain Donal Wrynn formed a dominant midfield partnership with Aughawillan's Pearce Dolan. Although Waterford's challenge proved to be feeble for much of the game, Dolan was more than up to the task, causing huge problems for Waterford around the middle and when he drifted into a full-forward position.
Sixty minutes from last year's captain Gary Reynolds, who continues his march towards full fitness, was another positive for Leitrim to take from a bizarre contest.
When looking for areas they can improve, Leitrim will undoubtedly point to a number of missed chances, in both halves and the manner in which they saw Waterford almost overhaul an eight point deficit in the closing stages is something that will need to be addressed.
The game began with Paddy Maguire forced to be fully alert to cut out a delivery from the impressive Gavin Crotty towards Conor Murray.
Moments later Waterford full-back Thomas O'Gorman was penalised for an off the ball foul on Brendan Gallagher and Emlyn Mulligan slotted the ball over the bar from close range.
Waterford's Paul Whyte hit back immediately with a converted free of his own and Waterford took the lead in the seventh minute when Crotty's well struck shot sailed over Brendan Flynn's crossbar.
Waterford were arguably the better of the sides at this stage. Their patient build-up saw them wait for a Leitrim player to commit towards the ball and if a space was left behind an out of position defender Waterford were ready to pounce as they committed numbers to the attack.
An excellent reply from Leitrim saw Mark Plunkett and Brendan Gallagher combine to create an opportunity for Ronan Kennedy who struck decisively, without breaking stride, to level matters.
Although Waterford hit back with a point from corner-back James McGrath, Leitrim were beginning to impose themselves more on the contest and looking much more dangerous when attacking.
However, they were let down by some poor finishing in front of the posts.
Five wides, either side of a brilliant point from Oisin Madden meant the sides were level with 20 minutes on the clock but in reality Leitrim should have been able to put some daylight between them and their opponents by this stage of the game.
Further points from Dean McGovern and Emlyn Mulligan edged Leitrim in front but they were to be punished for missing a series of scoreable chances.
Waterford's talisman Gavin Crotty reduced the deficit to a solitary point and with seven minutes of the half remaining corner-forward Conor Murray struck for the game's opening goal. Matthew Murphy failed to deal with a long delivery from Paul Whyte and Murray's deflected shot found its way to the net.
A Ronan Kennedy point proved to be the final score of the half and as the sides left the field at half-time Leitrim looked a frustrated outfit as they trailed 1-4 to 0-6 in a contest they could easily have been leading.
Within 43 seconds of the restart those frustrations were forgotten as Keith Beirne found the Waterford goal. Emlyn Mulligan's dangerous delivery was brilliantly flicked in to Beirne's path by Dean McGovern and the Mohill forward showed great composure as he dispatched his shot to the Waterford goal.
That goal sparked a dramatic collapse among the Waterford players as six unanswered points (four from Emlyn Mulligan, two frees and one each from Ronan Kennedy and Damien Moran) put Leitrim in a commanding position as they led by eight points with just seven minutes remaining.
From a such a commanding position what happened next will be particularly frustrating for all associated with the Leitrim team.
A Paul Whyte goal reduced the deficit to five points and points in quick succession from Crotty (two) and Michael O'Halloran meant there was a very real sense of nervousness throughout Pairc Sean as the game entered its final minute.
The fears of the home supporters were allayed when Mark Plunkett pointed and although it was Waterford's Paul Whyte who completed the afternoon's scoring with a converted free, Leitrim held on for a deserved win.
GAME AT A GLANCE
Main Man: Dean McGovern, Oisin Madden, Emlyn Mulligan and Paddy Maguire were all key to the Leitrim cause but it is hard to look beyond the overall contribution of Pearce Dolan who had a crucial hand in Keith Beirne's goal and was also fouled for a penalty.
Talking Point: Waterford will be keen to address how they failed to score for 28 minutes of the second half while Leitrim will be baffled at how they were urging the referee to blow for full-time, having been in such a comfortable position with seven minutes remaining.
Turning Point: Keith Beirne's 36th minute goal sparked a spectacular collapse among the Waterford players who trailed by eight points with seven minutes to go. Incredibly it was Leitrim who were the more relieved to hear the full-time whistle.
Ref Watch: Waterford felt aggrieved with some of the decisions that went against them but overall Fergal Barry refereed the game very well and was on top of incidents all over the pitch.
Highlight: Difficult to pick out just one. Oisin Madden, Ronan Kennedy and Dean McGovern all scored excellent points but the highlight was arguably Emlyn Mulligan's 50th minute point from the stand side of Pairc Sean as he shot from a difficult angle, right footed, towards the scoreboard end of the ground.
Lowlight: With victory seemingly secured as they led by eight points and with time running out Leitrim inexplicably seemed to lose all composure as they allowed Waterford back into the contest as the game got too close for comfort in the closing stages.
TEAMS & SCORERS
Scorers: Emlyn Mulligan 0-6, 3f; Keith Beirne 1-0; Ronan Kennedy 0-3; Oisin Madden, Dean McGovern, Mark Plunkett & Damien Moran 0-1 each
Team: Brendan Flynn, Paddy Maguire, Niall Woods, Matthew Murphy, Wayne McKeon, Gary Reynolds, Oisin Madden, Donal Wrynn, Pearce Dolan, Dean McGovern, Mark Plunkett, Ronan Kennedy, Emlyn Mulligan, Keith Beirne, Brendan Gallagher. Subs: Damien Moran for Gallagher (28), James Rooney for McKeon (45), Micheal McWeeney for Woods (54), Nevin O'Donnell for Beirne (60), James Mitchell for Reynolds (60)
Scorers: Paul White 1-2, 2f; Gavin Crotty 0-4; Conor Murray 1-0; Michael O'Halloran & James McGrath 0-1 each
Team: David Whitty, James McGrath, Thomas O’Gorman, Stephen Dalton, Kenny Murphy, Ray O’Ceallaigh, Aidan Trihy, Gavin Crotty, Michael Curry, Michael O’Halloran, Caoimhain Maguire, Dylan Guiry, Conor Murray, Paul White, Fearghal Ó Cuirrín. Subs: Tadhg Ó Huallacháin for Ó Cuirrín (45), Pa Whyte for Murphy (49), Jason Curry for Guiry, Paul Walsh for Murray (60).
Referee: Fergal Barry (Kildare)