Friday 19 January 2018

Leitrim stun Sligo to take silverware

Thoroughly deserved win ends 19-year wait

LEO GRAY Sports Editor

LIVELY LEITRIM landed their first silverware in 19 years with this thoroughly deserved victory over Sligo in the final of the Connacht FBD League at Markievicz Park last Sunday.

Having claimed notable scalps with victories over Mayo and Roscommon earlier in the competition, Leitrim built on their early-season momentum with another gritty performance which propelled them to a famous triumph.

In a game of high-intensity, it was always going to come down to which team showed the greater desire and had the better cutting edge up front.

On both counts, Leitrim came up with all the answers. They applied themselves with dogged determination right from the start, taking an early grip on the exchanges which they never relinquished.

And they had sufficient penetration in attack to make the most of the chances which came their way.

They engineered some excellent scores from play and the ever-reliable Emlyn Mulligan, who was once again a highly influential personality over the hour, delivered some great points from placed-balls.

In contrast, Sligo registered just two scores from play - and this despite enjoying an overwhelming amount of possession in the second half.

Their build-up was often too slow and predictable and they just couldn't carve out enough openings to turn their possession into tangible results on the scoreboard.

Leitrim worked extremely hard at closing down the route to goal. They were courageous and disciplined and got plenty of men behind the ball when Sligo were in possession. It all had the effect of suffocating Sligo's best efforts to claw their way back into the game and the home side simply ran out of ideas the longer the match went on.

That said, it was tight and tense all the way though and although Sligo were never firing on all cylinders, they were will bang in contention up to the closing minutes.

Indeed when half-time substitute, Adrian Marren, landed a free to cut the gap to two points with four minutes remaining, it looked as if we were in for a nailbiting finish.

However, Leitrim had put so much into building their lead that they were in no mood to let it slip away late on.

They held their nerve and came up with the insurance score in inury time - and what a terrific point it was.

Breaking cleverly on the counterattack, Conor Beirne played a stunning defence-splitting pass into the path of Brian McDonald. A goal was on but the full-forward understandably went for the safer option, slamming the ball over the bar to seal Leitrim's win and spark off scenes of wild jubilation among their success-starved supporters.

The selfless Wayne McKeon, nominated as the man of the match, typified Leitrim's never-say-die attitude but this was a real team effort with every player making solid contributions.

Leitrim set their stall out right from the start and the relentless manner of their tackling and covering underlined their desire and hunger.

But it wasn't all just sheer hard work - there was a touch of genuine quality as well, perfectly illustrated by their opening point in the 5th minute, a magnificent score by Ray Cox who cleverly worked the ball on to his left foot before slicing the posts with a shot of stunning accuracy.

Mulligan slotted over a free to increase the visitors' lead in the 7th minute and Sligo were lucky not to fall further behind in the 16th minute.

Cox did well to connect with Mulligan's teasing cross from the right but could only watch in despair as his effort drifted agonisingly wide of the upright with Sligo ' keeper, Aidan Devaney, beaten all ends up.

Devaney was in the thick of the action again minutes later, diving to his left to tip Mulligan's speculative effort around the upright. The reprieve was shortlived, however, as Mulligan brilliantly converted the resultant ' 45' to put Leitrim three points clear.

It took lack-lustre Sligo all of 22 minutes to register their first score, a splendid point from a 40m free by Brian Egan. Mark Breheny scored from play two minutes later to cut the gap to the minimum and only an agile point-blank save by Cathal McCrann prevented Francis Quinn from claiming a goal which would have given Sligo the lead.

The incident served to inspire Leitrim to greater efforts and they finished the half strongly. A point from a free by Mulligan and a great score from play by wing-back, Danny Beck, sent them in at the break with a 0-5 to 0-2 lead.

Sligo sent on Adrian Marren and Shane McManus at the start of the second half but Leitrim's vigilant defending kept them at bay until thirteen minutes into the second period when Brian Egan and then Marren (free) scored in quick succession.

Stephen Gilmartin and Adrian McIntyre were now getting the better of the midfield exchanges but four wides in quick succession illustrated the difficulty Sligo had in penetrating the Leitrim defence to any great benefit.

At the other end, Leitrim continued to make the most of limited chances, a point underlined in the 55th minute when Cian Reynolds gained possession from McDonald's quickly-taken free and promptly slotted over.

A free by Marren kept Sligo in touch and there was still time for them to pull it out of the fire.

With just two points between the sides, it was still all to play. Leitrim refused to panic, however, and were only too willing to punish Sligo's turnover of possession when McDonald rounded off a slick counter-attack with the last score of the game in injury time.

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