As the Leitrim players and team management stood shoulder to shoulder with team captain James Glancy during the minutes silence in memory of his father Michael, who died recently, one could sense their sense of purpose at Markievicz Park.
This Leitrim side had come here to win, having had more than their fill of close calls and hard luck stories.
A glance at the match programme would have given them an added incentive, because the six top Irish GAA journalists contacted for a prediction had all forecast a Sligo victory — Sligo ought to overcome a Leitrim team struggling badly to put scores on the board – – Sligo have the strength and experience to cope – Leitrim are unlikely to get anything from Markievicz Park – – Sligo are strong favourites – – Leitrim being forced to send out seven debutants points to a Sligo win – -.
Mickey Moran Scórcely needed to give a pep talk after all that.
The bookies had got it wrong too and this week they are paying out on their 5 to 1 odds for a Leitrim win.
Of course, outside of Leitrim very few would have anticipated a Leitrim-Roscommon Connacht Semi-final. But inside it was different, there was an expectation that the team was coming into form and the final Allianz National League games against Longford and Roscommon had given supporters cause for hope and had cemented the determination and self-confidence of the players and of Mickey Moran, Brian Breen and Martin McGowan.
Make no mistake about it, this game was won by Leitrim long before Junior McGowans coach had brought the team towards the dressing room — Leitrim had come to win, no ifs or buts or maybes. Sligo might be roaring favourites, but its what happens on the field that counts.
There were seven debutants surely, but they all played like seasoned campaigners, shoulder to shoulder with their more experienced team mates in a great team effort. The defence stood rock solid, midfield was mopped up by Leitrim and our forwards at last seemed to have found their shooting boots. Ahead at half time, but the expectation was that Sligo would come out with all guns blazing.
This they did and eventually drew level. Now would come the acid test of the psyche of the Leitrim players, now would come the time in the game that all the hard winter slogging had prepared for. Would Leitrim fold under the pressure, or would they walk the walk?
In a last blistering fifteen minutes we had all our questions answered. When Conor Beirne rattled the Sligo net it was the signal for a real power play, there was no collapse, the lads in the green and gold stood firm. This was going to be Leitrims day.
Wayne McKeon was selected the Galway Irish Crystal Man of the Match, but to Wayne and all the players – the fifteen who lined out, the two subs called into action, the other panel members champing at the bit on the sideline to answer the call if needed – what really mattered was that it was a team victory.
It was an emotional James Glancy who savoured the victory, looking to the heavens in tribute to his dad, with all of his friends and comrades shoulder to shoulder with him once more.
23-May-11 by Tommy Moran – Connacht PRO