Bank of Ireland Connacht Senior Football Championship
Galway Made to Sweat
Leitrim 1-8 Galway 1-11
Leitrim fought to the final whistle in the Connacht senior football championship semi-final against Galway in Pearse Stadium, but ultimately a poor first half left too high a mountain to climb and proved to be the visitors undoing as Dessie Dolan?s charges now look forward to the 2nd round Qualifier Draw on June 26th.
However, the many thousands of Leitrim followers who made the trip to Salthill in the hopes of witnessing a major shock left in reasonable spirits as Leitrim overcame a six point half time deficit to come within a kick of the Tribesmen at the final whistle and will now enter the qualifiers with the comforting thought that they came within 3 points of one of the best teams in Ireland.
Indeed, Declan Maxwell twice had opportunities in the first half to find the Galway net but on the first occasion hit narrowly wide when through one on one with the Galway goalkeeper and on the second fisted an effort across the Galway goal with the keeper stranded when a lucky bounce would have taken the ball across the home team?s goaline. In fairness to the Drumreilly man, he had done brilliantly on both occasions to create the opportunities and was Leitrim?s most impressive performer throughout. Galway full back Kieran Fitzgerald will certainly look forward to easier days at the office in the coming months as Maxwell caused the Galway defence severe headaches and left an indelible impression on the TV audience watching live around the world.
In truth, had Maxwell scored on either occasion, it would have been against the run of play and over the piece Galway were much the better team. Leitrim?s doggedness and outstanding spirit kept them in the game and while this alone may have been insufficient to garner a victory against a team of Galway?s quality, there are many teams in the qualifiers who will wilt in the face of such determination.
Leitrim started reasonably well and took an early lead from a pointed free by Michael Foley but with Galway slowly beginning to establish the upper hand in the middle of the park, the much vaunted Leitrim full back line found themselves under a lot of pressure in the early exchanges. With Michael Donellan and Michael Meehan both on top form from placed balls, the Tribesmen dominated the half and established what appeared a decisive six point half time lead ? 0-8 to 0-2 ? with Leitrim?s only other score an opportunist point from Drumreilly?s Maxwell.
It was a frustrating half from a Leitrim perspective ? too often the break of the ball at midfield found a Galway hand and a number of relatively soft frees were gratefully converted by Meehan and Donnellan. Too often the forward line ran down blind alleys and Maxwell?s two goal chances aside, the Galway defence had a relatively trouble free 35 minutes. Leitrim?s misery was compounded with Michael Foley missing a routine 14 yard free on the half time whistle and there was a real fear among Leitrim supporters at half time that a substantial victory for Galway was on the cards.
Those fears increased when Michael Donellan stretched the Galway lead at the start of the second half with a point that oozed class, but with Darren Duignan and Donal Brennan having entered the fray to rejuvenate the Leitrim attack, the visitors suddenly began to find their feet. Colin Regan in particular began to win a lot of ball around the half back line and his probing passes towards Maxwell suddenly started to pay dividends as Foley, Barry Prior, James Glancy and Donal Brennan all came more into the game and snatched vital scores.
Barry Mc Weeney, Shane Foley and Chris Carroll also played a major role in Leitrim?s revival and while the full back line of Michael Mc Guinness, John Mc Keon and Dermot Reynolds have had better days in the green and gold, they seldom meet forwards with the skill, strength and speed of Armstrong, Savage and Meehan and it is doubtful that many other full back lines could have coped as admirably with the Galway trio, considering the quality of ball being dispatched to the Galway front line.
With Leitrim improving rapidly and having narrowed the gap to six points again (0-10 to 0-4), it was Brennan?s goal that really brought the Galway venue to life. A long ball to Maxwell was flicked into the path of the Cloone attacker and he coolly slotted to the net to send the Leitrim contingent wild. Within four minutes though Paul Clancy had found the net at the other end of the field to restore the six point gap and again we waited for the Leitrim challenge to peter out.
But it never did. Leitrim dominated the closing ten minutes (outScóring Galway in the 2nd half 1-6 to 1-3) and almost found the net again when a toe poke through a goal mouth scramble saw Brian O Donaghue make a vital save as normal time came to a close. The Galway supporters roared for the final whistle as referee Monahan added five extra minutes. On three separate occasions the long ball to Maxwell caused Galway hearts to flutter and while the Man of the Match broke the ball intelligently into the path of his team mates, a mixture of good luck and stout defending allowed the Tribesmen to hold out for what in truth was a deserved victory.
They now advance to the Connacht final where they will meet the winners of Mayo and Roscommon, but a rejuvenated Leitrim should be inÓgood spirits as they prepare for the Qualifiers and the chance to record their first ever victory since the back door system commenced in 2001.
Leitrim: Cathal Mc Crann, Michael Mc Guinness, John Mc Keon, Dermot Reynolds, JohnÓgilbane, Barry Mc Weeney, Shane Foley, Chris Carroll, Gary Mc Closkey, Johnny Goldrick, Barry Prior (0-1), Michael Foley (0-3, 2 frees), James Glancy (0-1), Colin Regan and Declan Maxwell (0-3). Subs used: Darren Duignan for Gilbane, Donal Brennan (1-0) for Goldrick, Gareth Phelan for Mc Crann
13-Jun-05 by Lovely Leitrim