TWO SIDES best described as Connachts forgotten men these days defied the searing heat to serve up a real cracker in Carrick-on-Shannon, where Roscommon emerged worthy winners.
Joint Leitrim Manager John Morrison wasnt too thrilled that the programme notes highlighted Roscommons 97-year unbeaten championship record in Carrick, but that record stayed intact, despite the home side throwing the kitchen sink at them.
Leitrim couldnt have asked for a better start — a marvellous goal from debutant Colm Clarke after 80 seconds — and full-back and captain John McKeonÓgot another stunner at the start of the second half, to give them every chance of toppling their arch-rivals for the first time in nine years.
But Fergal ODonnells young Roscommon side, who had folded more than once during the NFL when hit by goals, responded splendidly, grabbing two goals (one penalty) of their own in the first half and reacting to Leitrims second with three unanswered points in five minutes.
Their composure under pressure, better accuracy from distance and superior bench strength ultimately proved the difference as the Rossies won their first game in Connacht in three years to line up a crack at Mayo.
For Leitrim, another day of great endeavour was spoiled by some bad finishing and late handling errors, which, Morrison believed signalled they still lack the necessary self-belief.
"At the end of the day we didnt take our scores but they got easier frees than we did," he said.
"I still believe Leitrim were as good as Roscommon but the whole county has a problem with self-belief," he stressed, pointing out that Leitrims history makes them vulnerable mentally when small things, like decisions or bad shooting, goes against them.
The gods certainly werent with them yesterday.
After starting without their best forward, Emlyn Mulligan, they lost their next best free-taker — James Glancy — to injury after just 21 minutes.
And, after 24 minutes, when Barry McWeeney sent in a long ball to David OConnor who tangled with John Nolan, they also looked to have had a strong penalty appeal ignored.
That looked particularly harsh given that Senan Kilbride had been awarded one after 18 minutes which Karol Mannion slotted brilliantly.
The sides were level (1-4 apiece) at the time so it was a turning point, particularly as Donie Shine then scored an amazing long-range point and Kilbride snuck in to grab a second RoscommonÓgoal after a Conor Devaney shot came off the upright.
Leitrim then shot three consecutive wides to go in four points down (2-5 to 1-4) at the break.
They bounced back immediately on the re-start when defender McKeon scored a marvellously worked goal.
At that stage, it was a case of who would blink first and Roscommon proved tougher mentally, with Sean McDermott, Devaney and Gary Cox then pointing without reply to go four clear again, from which Leitrim never recovered.
As the sweltering heat took its toll, Roscommons youth — ODonnell started five of his 2006 minors, including Shine, and brought on three more — gave them fresher legs and, apart from Shane Foley, Leitrims subs did not have the same impact.
Roscommon also had better attacking options with Shine and Cox Scóring some sublime points and Kilbride proving a real handful in the first half when Leitrim looked particularly vulnerable under the high ball.
The wisdom of not starting McKeon at full-back on him will be long debated locally but Leitrims defence did recover its composure later.
But an absence of attacking options still remained their Achilles heel.
Of their forwards, only Declan Maxwell (starting at half-forward but later thrown in to full) and Paul McGuinness shone, and when the latter scored a great point after 60 minutes it was Leitrims first from play for a full 40 minutes.
They also never quite matched up in midfield where Michael Finneran dominated in the late stages.
ODonnell was clearly relieved to get his sides first big senior test over.
"We were so nervous coming in, as a management team ourselves, we really felt the pressure," he admitted.
"We mightnt win too many trophies but our main thing is to make Roscommon competitive again," he stressed. "Their goals werent in the script but sometimes youre maybe better getting the set-back and having to fight hard, which we did."
scorers — Roscommon: D Shine 0-5 (2f), S Kilbride 1-1, K Mannion 1-0 (pen), G Cox 0-3, S McDermott, C Devaney, F Cregg, K Higgins 0-1 each. Leitrim: J McKeon, C Clarke 1-0 each, J Glancy (1f), R Cox (2f), P McGuinness 0-2 each, T Beirne, D Maxwell, D Beck 0-1 each.
Roscommon — G Claffey 9; P Domican 7, J Nolan 8, P Kelly 8; S McDermott 8, D Flynn 7, D Keenan 7; M Finneran 8, K Mannion 6; G Cox (capt) 8, B Higgins 6, D Shine 8; C Devaney 8, S Kilbride 8, J Dunning 5. Subs: P Gleeson 7 for Keenan (25), F Cregg 8 for B Higgins (44), K Higgins 8 for Dunning (56), D OGara for Kilbride (72).
Leitrim — nÓgill 7; D Reynolds 7, M McGuinness 6, B Prior 6; B McWeeney 7, J McKeon 7, J Glancy 6; G McCloskey 6, S Canning 6; D Maxwell 8, C Clarke 7, P McGuinness 8; R Cox 6, T Beirne 7, J Glancy 7. Subs: D OConnor 7 for Glancy (22), G Reynolds 6 for Glancy (30), D Beck 7 for McWeeney (46), B Gallagher 6 for McCloskey (54), S Foley 8 for Clarke (63).
Ref — D Fahy (Longford).
– Cliona Foley
01-Jun-09 by Irish Independant.ie