Kelly so close to grabbing Exiles' fairytale victory
LEITRIM 0-13, LONDON 2-7
WITH five minutes of proper time left you could picture Shane MacGowan wheezing one of his dirty laughs and throwing a glass aside to pen some rollicking tribute to London's historic Connacht football finalists.
Their super-sub Sean Kelly – a Mayo man and one-time Sligo Rovers player who played soccer alongside Emlyn Mulligan in his youth – looked to have become the measure of London's dreams.
He was sprung in the 53rd minute, struck a sensational 1-1 within nine minutes to pull the Exiles clear and then launched a brilliant pass into Cathal Magee who fisted them into a two-point lead.
But this marvellous rollercoaster of a Connacht semi-final was not content to end there and after Darren Sweeney and Kevin Conlon had equalised it took one final dramatic and bizarre twist.
With one minute of injury-time left, Sweeney earned a '45 that gave Leitrim a great shot at ending London's fairytale and sending his side into their first Connacht final in 13 years.
Conlon immediately went to take it but, just seconds beforehand the tannoy had announced that he was being called ashore and, under rule, it was too late to reverse that decision.
That meant that Ciaran Egan was called upon to take it and the great pity was that, after an excellent game in a good full-back line, he hooked it badly wide and the sides must meet again, in Roscommon, next Sunday.
At the final whistle neither side seemed to know whether to laugh or cry and the rest of us went looking for the defibrillator.
Leitrim co-manager Barney Breen had no qualms about the unusual denouement.
"Kevin had called to come off, he was cramping up," he explained.
"The adrenalin was running in him to take the free, but I don't think he was fit to take it anyway."
Conlon was actually Leitrim's third choice free-taker after they'd lost usual sharp-shooter Mulligan after just 15 minutes, a massive blow to their prospects.
He had started with strapping on a calf injury from training last Thursday but they hadn't thought it was that serious.
Minus four players from their New York victory and with full-forward James Glancy wearing a face mask to protect his broken nose, they were already flying on one wing.
As Breen noted: "It was a day when anything that could go wrong did go wrong for us."
But London, looking to win only their second game in Connacht in 36 years to add to that shock win over Sligo, proved that was no fluke, even though they were badly hit themselves by losing Mark Gottsche before the hour.
London manager Paul Coggins spoke passionately afterwards of trying to "break down walls" and his side came achingly close to toppling another one yesterday, even if their goals came slightly against the run of play.
He gathered his players around him in a tight circle afterwards, calmly telling them "be proud of yourselves but cool down, do your stretching, we have to still finish this game."
Pushed as to whether the replay should go to Ruislip, he stayed similarly implaccable, saying "wherever it is, it is."
The consensus among his players was that they didn't play well and could have put it away but Coggins said: "I am not annoyed in any shape or form. That performance there?
"The lads couldn't have given any more."
Breen may not have been too happy with the referee, feeling that James Glancy had "a stone-wall penalty" after 21 minutes and commenting that "I felt some of our fellas got special attention and I don't feel they got enough attention."
But referee Barry Cassidy's tendency to play 'advantage' and let games flow contributed to the entertainment.
London's greater size, physicality and excellent tackling immediately caused problems with ex-Cavan senior Lorcan Mulvey and Derry native Ciaran McCallion hugely impressive and ex-Galway senior Paul Geraghty lording it in midfield when he came in.
The sides were level four times before Leitrim got a hold of midfield, scoring off two consecutive London kickouts and they had a good chance to go three clear but James Glancy's free came off the woodwork.
London roared back with a flukey goal a minute before half-time, when Leitrim 'keeper Cathal McCrann spilled a long ball from Padraig McGoldrick and it ricocheted in off Mulvey to give the Exiles a point lead (1-4 to 0-6) at the break.
With Paul Brennan operating as a sweeper and Mulligan gone, Leitrim's attack was pretty toothless.
But when they shortened their kickouts and used their pace he and Conlon, Paddy McGowan and Robbie Lowe got stuck in on the re-start and, after 56 minutes, they were two points clear again.
But in came Kelly and the game swung after he jinked past two men to nab a brilliant goal.
McCrann had to be quick to snuff out Eoin O'Neill minutes later and then Kelly used the difficult cross-wind to float over the score of the game and Leitrim were on the back foot again.
But they bravely managed to dig it out, with players like Enda Williams and Darren Sweeney leading the comeback and most neutrals agreed that a draw was fair and are already looking forward to the replay. London fly home this morning, their hopes of the greatest breakthrough in their football history still very much alive.
"Probably a draw was a fair result, both teams gave everything they had and it's our job now to get ready for another day," Coggins said philosophically.
Scorers – Leitrim: K Conlon 0-3 (2fs), D Sweeney, B Brennan 0-2 each, P McGowan 0-2 (1f), P Brennan, J Glancy and R Lowe 0-1 each, E Mulligan 0-1(f). London: S Kelly, L Mulvey 1-1 each; S Hannon, C Magee 0-1 each, M Gottsche, P McGoldrick 0-1(f), D Traynor 0-1 ('45).
Leitrim – C McCrann 7; A Wynne 7, C Egan 8, G Reynolds 8; D Beck 6, E Williams 7, B Prior 8; D Sweeney 8, B Brennan 7; P Brennan 8, E Mulligan (inj), P McGowan 7; K Conlon 8 , J Glancy 6, R Lowe 7. Subs: C Reynolds 5 for Mulligan (inj, 15), A Croal 6 for Reynolds (55), S McWeeney for Beck (67), R Cox for Conlon (72).
London – D Traynor 7; P Butler 8, S Curran 7, D McGreevy 6; S Hannon 6, S Mulligan 8, T Gaughan 7; M Gottsche 7, C Doyle 6; G Crowley 7, C McCallion 8, B Mitchell 6; P McGoldrick 6, L Mulvey 8, C Magee 7. Subs: P Geraghty 8 for Gottsche (inj, 29), D Dunleavy 6 for Mitchell (39), E O'Neill 6 for McGoldrick (49), S Kelly 9 for Doyle (53), D O'Neill for McCallion (69).
Ref – B Cassidy (Derry)