Emotion and pride as Leitrim seize day
Emotions ran high as Leitrim's footballers pulled off the first big shock of the summer by ousting Sligo on their home turf yesterday.
Ravaged by emigration, retirements and bereavement, Leitrim hadn't beaten anyone apart from New York and London in Connacht since 2005 -- when Sligo were also their victims -- so their euphoria was understandable.
The tragic loss of Philly McGuinness last year made this is a particularly poignant victory, and emotions ran especially deep for captain James Glancy of Glencar/Manorhamilton.
His sister Colette is the county PRO and the game was prefaced by a minute's silence for their father Michael, another great county stalwart, who passed away two weeks ago. You'd need a heart of stone not to have choked up watching them embrace each other in the midst of a pitch invasion afterwards.
Glancy somehow kept it together for the post-match interviews and immediately referenced the late McGuinness.
"I hope Philly is looking down now, we'd a 16th man there today," he said. "Mickey Harte came down last year and told us not to make a crusade out of his death, but he said that we would have our day and this is our day.
"But this is just one day. I'm not going to get carried away and say we're a powerhouse of Connacht football, we'll take it one day at a time, but I'm the oldest player on the team at 28, so there's no reason we can't push on from here."
That they were fielding seven championship debutants made Leitrim's defeat of last year's beaten Connacht finalists all the more remarkable and Glancy revealed that 'Moran's Minnows' had taken inspiration from their opponents.
"We hammered Sligo in the league five years ago and they hammered us here a year later and then they went up and played Division 2 football. We've used Sligo as an example of where we can go, and if we can get half as far as where they've gone it'll be a proud day."
Manager Mickey Moran has certainly taken some stick over the last three years but his decision to throw in so many newcomers this season was fully vindicated as his side blasted out of the blocks and never once let Sligo lead.
"It's nice to see the sun shining on Leitrim people on a pitch after a match," the Derry man grinned. "Even when we got beat they (always) stayed to the end to cheer the team.
"I'm proud of the players because they've worked so hard. We had to build a new team this year. We came in under the radar but we've beaten a hell of a good team."
Sligo really could have no complaints.
They finished up with 13 men after Brian Curran (straight red) and Eamonn O'Hara (second yellow) were dismissed in the late stages, but the game was gone from them by then after a great 57th-minute goal from Leitrim's teenage full-forward Conor Beirne.
The home side only got into the game in the 20 minutes after half-time and then largely due to the arrival of Sean Davey and Mark Breheny off the bench.
Despite playing with a big wind advantage they shot five bad wides in the first half and stood off badly while Leitrim, playing a tidy, brisk off-loading game, ran at them confidently, led by their wing-backs and excellent midfielder Tomas Beirne (22).
Younger brother Conor (19) got a great point after 23 minutes to put the visitors four up and though Adrian Marren battled valiantly to try to kickstart a Sligo comeback, Leitrim went four clear again through Adrian Croal.
Leitrim still led by three (0-8 to 0-5) at half-time but the influence of substitutes Breheny and Davey was already visible. Sligo's inevitable comeback came immediately on the restart and they levelled for the first time after 17 minutes.
But then, after going scoreless for 20 minutes, full-forward Beirne kicked an inspirational point with his left foot to give Leitrim a real fillip. Two minutes later, his older brother Tomas won a free in midfield which was quickly dispatched to Glancy, and he laid it off for Conor to goal.
Nerves got frazzled then when busy Leitrim subs Brian McDonald and Darren Sweeney (two '45s') wasted four chances in a row to nail the door.
Unfortunately for Sligo the hamstring injury that stopped Breheny starting then recurred, which curtailed his influence. Reduced to 14 men, and with O'Hara off-form and then goaded into a silly bit of wrestling with Emlyn Mulligan, they had no one to lead a second revival and a 20m free from Mulligan put Leitrim's victory beyond doubt.
"We completely controlled the game after half-time when we had two or three bad wides," said Sligo manager Kevin Walsh. "We should have got our noses in front and started asking questions of the opposition but then they got a good point against the run of play and we didn't respond quick enough to it."
Man of the Match: Wayne McKeon (Leitrim)
Scorers -- Leitrim: C Beirne 1-3 (0-1f), E Mulligan 0-2f, W McKeon, T Beirne, P Brennan, A Croal, J Glancy 0-1 each. Sligo: A Marren 0-4 (2f), M Breheny 0-2 (1f), T Taylor, F Quinn, S Coen, D Maye (f) 0-1 each.
Leitrim -- G McCrann 6; D Reynolds 7, R Gallagher 7, P Maguire 8; W McKeon 8, G Reynolds 8, B Prior 8; T Beirne 8, D Lowe 7; P Brennan 6, E Mulligan 7, R Lowe 6; J Glancy 7, C Beirne 8, A Croal 7. Subs: B McDonald 7 for R Lowe (55), D Sweeney 6 for D Lowe (51).
Sligo -- P Greene 7; C Harrison 7, R Donovan 6, N Ewing 7; P McGovern 6, B Curran 6, D Rooney 6; S Gilmartin 5, T Taylor 7; A Costello 7, E O'Hara 6, F Quinn 6; S Coen 6, K Sweeney 5, A Marren 7. Subs: S Davey 8 for Gilmartin (27), M Breheny 8 for Sweeney (35), D Maye 7 for Quinn (61), B Egan 6 for Costello (65), K Cawley for Breheny (inj, 70).
Ref -- J Curley (Meath), replaced by R Hickey (Clare) after injury (7).