LEITRIM WERE made fight all the way before they overcame a battling GMIT outfit in Ballinamore to secure the narrowest of wins on Sunday when sub Adrian Croal hit the all-important score of the game with two-and-half minutes left.
Joint Managers Barney Breen and George Dugdale reshuffled their side to give starts to former Kildare U21 player Cian Reynolds, who qualifies to play for Leitrim under the parentage rule, Enda Williams (back from a trip to Australia) and Sean McWeeney.
All three performed well and should see more action with Leitrim during the coming season. It is something of a coincidence that Leitrim won all their FBD League games by a point against Roscommon, Mayo and GMIT.
Leitrim will face Sligo in Sunday's Connacht FBD League final in what will be the first ever provincial decider between the two counties at senior level. GMIT outplayed Leitrim for substantial periods of Sunday's clash and held the lead for 22 minutes between the 19th and 45th minutes.
GMIT who commence their Sigerson Cup campaign Tuesday week against Cork IT certainly came up with a game plan that had Leitrim at sixes and sevens from the start in Ballinamore.
The students grabbed an early lead when Owen Warde put over a 3rd minute free while three minutes later John Ryan doubled their score from another placed ball. Leitrim pulled level by the 14th minute thanks to Gerry Hickey and Brian McDonald who shot a point apiece.
Leitrim went ahead with an Enda Williams point from play a minute later while McDonald added another point from play in the 17th minute.
The students got a vital score in the 19th minute to go 1 – 3 to O – 4 ahead when Dromahair's Conor Kelly fully exploited an error by Leitrim 'keeper Cathal McCrann to fire to the net.
Ronan Shanahan put more day light between GMIT and Leitrim when he hit over a terrific long distance point some eight minutes later. An Emlyn Mulligan point in reply left the halftime score GMIT 1 – 3 Leitrim 0 – 5.
The tit for tat nature of the game continued in the second half with John Ryan drawing first blood when he restored GMIT's two point advantage by converting a 47th minute free.
But Leitrim stayed right in contention with Emlyn Mulligan hitting back with a point from play within the space of a minute. GMIT again opened the gap to two points when Conor Kelly flicked over a 40th minute point for the visiting students.
However Leitrim lifted their game following this and put GMIT under pressure. Recently introduced sub Adrian Croal narrowed the gap to the minimum when he shot over for the home side four minutes later.
Then Emlyn Mulligan made it level pegging a minute later when he hit the target from play in the 45th minute for Leitrim. Another recently introduced sub Ray Cox put Leitrim ahead a minute later when shot over from play.
GMIT rallied again and John Ryan proved what a good free taker he is when he put over an acute angled 51st minute free to put the contest back into stalemate. With the game now up for grabs both sides went hell for leather at it in the final nine minutes in pursuit of victory.
Croal then came to Leitrim rescue when he hit the winner with a spectacular effort from just inside the GMIT 45metre line.