Queen turns down invitation but the London football fairytale continues
LONG after the Leitrim players had left the pitch, the London panel stood in the sunshine in the centre of Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada in Carrick-on-Shannon, signing autographs and posing for photographs.
Queen Elizabeth II graciously turned down an invitation to Carrick for yesterday's much anticipated Connacht football semi-final, the London fans joking last night that she was waiting for the All-Ireland.
But there was no shortage of celebrities present. And they were all wearing the green and white of London.
Ashen-faced Leitrim fans reached for the anti-ulcer medication and gave fervent thanks not to have suffered the humiliation of a defeat by London on their home turf.
But they came as close as could be after a pulsating 2-7 to 0-13 draw.
The visitors savoured the satisfaction of knowing they have given a bad fright to yet another county team after their historic victory over Sligo last month.
"We left it behind us," declared London forward, Paul Geraghty, as he and his team-mates were surrounded by well-wishers who swarmed on to the pitch after the final whistle.
Geraghty, a former Galway senior player who once worked in Carrick-on-Shannon, said he was glad to be back there for a semi-final.
"Pity about the result," he said, echoing the views of London fans clustered throughout the grounds, who insisted from the word go that it was theirs for the taking.
Geraghty's boss, Sean Faughnan, a native of Aughavas, Co Leitrim, who has been in the construction business in London for 32 years, was jubilant.
"I am surprised we did not win it actually," he said. "What we want now is a home game for the replay. We want it in Ruislip."
Time was when the only thing more humiliating for a Connacht team than a defeat by Leitrim, was a defeat by London.
And throughout this game, terror was etched on the faces of many Leitrim fans who saw the unthinkable looming as London again and again took control.
When London were ahead by a point at half-time, former Leitrim county star Mickey Martin loyally insisted: "I still expect us to win."
But after the final whistle he reckoned Leitrim had been lucky. "We got out of jail."
As Leitrim fretted, any fan spotted in the London colours seemed upbeat.
One smiling young woman decked out from head to toe in green and white was Kelly Geraghty, a teacher from Co Meath, who was there to support her boyfriend – London captain Seamus Hannon. "I think he is confident – they have all been working really really hard," she said before the game started.
If she seemed quietly confident, a contingent from Ballintogher, Co Sligo, were less quiet about their hopes for London.
London corner-forward Padraig McGoldrick's sisters Lorraine and Nicky reckoned their neighbours had already forgiven London for beating Sligo.
"The locals are getting behind us now," laughed Lorraine. After the final whistle McGoldrick's parents Breege and John joined in the celebrations on the pitch.
"It was very exciting," said Breege breathlessly, while John played it cool.
Hotelier Joe Dolan, the chairman of Leitrim Tourism, and Enda Stenson, chairman of Leitrim county council, were the pair who wrote to the queen telling her that she "may or may not be aware" that her home county of London had got through to the next round of the championship and that she would be most welcome to attend.
The mayor of London got an invitation as well. "Boris never got back to us," Mr Stenson explained.
The queen's diary secretary did at least send her regrets. After yesterday's excitement, Lizzie might be tempted to Hyde Park next Sunday for what will be a thriller of a replay.