Breen toasts 'huge stride' for Leitrim
Leitrim 0-9 Mayo 0-8
FBD League section B
IT MIGHT be far too early in the year to get carried away, but victory over last year's beaten All-Ireland finalists gave Leitrim a massive pre-season fillip in Ballinamore yesterday.
What's seldom is wonderful and, after adding Mayo's scalp to Roscommon's in the space of a just one week, the locals were understandably left feeling a little giddy.
Mayo took to the field with just three of the team that started last September's All-Ireland final – Enda Varley, Lee Keegan and Michael Conroy – and were clearly still suffering the effects of jet-lag after only returning from a week of basking in Miami sunshine a few days earlier.
But their first game since last September on Sean O'Heslin's picturesque ground certainly brought them back to earth with a thud.
It was sweet revenge for Leitrim, who lost to Mayo by 22 points when they last met in the Connacht championship, and the victory looks to have virtually guaranteed them a place in the FBD final, with just GMIT to play in their group next Sunday.
The home side raced into an early five-point lead and went two points ahead in the second half – leads which they squandered – but captain Emlyn Mulligan's fourth free put them clear again with six minutes left and despite wasting a couple of good chances, they held out for a memorable victory. "If we'd lost that game I would have pulled out every hair I have on my head," chuckled delighted joint-manager Barney Breen, before immediately putting the win into perspective.
"Okay, they're only back from Miami and some of their big guns were missing, but we can only play what's in front of us," he pointed out.
"Let's be honest, that loss will have no effect on their campaign, but it will make huge strides for us psychologically, which we've worked hard on this year. It's worth more than two points to us in mental terms and we knew that coming into it.
"We've six or eight weeks' work done and they probably have none so we knew we had a great chance if we brought that intensity.
"We let them back into it because we stopped working at one stage, but thankfully we lifted it again."
Mayo boss James Horan was not too perturbed. "Let's just say that the sleeping pattern for some of them wasn't great, but Leitrim fully deserved their win and good luck to them," he said.
"They could, and probably should, have won by more. The mistakes and our general decision-making I am okay with, but our work-rate in the second half wasn't great and that was what was disappointing from our point of view."
Horan gave debuts to Keith Rogers and Cathal Carolan yesterday, and Tom Cunniffe impressed on his return after a year's absence.
Mayo also included the youngest of the three O'Shea brothers, Conor, as well as big brother Seamus, and Horan indicated that he'll be using the rest of the FBD – they play GMIT on Wednesday – to find "one or two players" ahead of the Allianz League.
They certainly looked to have a lot of what Darragh O Se once called "dirty petrol" to burn off before then. Mayo didn't register a score until a Darren Coen point in the 18th minute.
By then they'd lost Jason Gibbons to a dislocated finger and wasted three goal chances, but they certainly came up against a goalkeeper on the top of his game – Cathal McCrann was a serious candidate for Man of the Match.
Corner-back Alan Wynne was another Leitrim standout and their defence, led by Paul Brennan, was particularly tight and sprayed some good early ball forward.
Mulligan was not consistent enough with his shooting but still controlled virtually every attack and his good early free-taking and points from Adrian Croal and Ray Cox helped Leitrim to their early five-point lead.
An unanswered run of points from Alan Freeman, Conroy, All Star defender Keegan and Barry Moran left the teams level on 0-5 apiece at half-time. Paddy McGowan and Freeman traded points on the resumption before Croal and a great long-range point from Mulligan put Leitrim two points clear again.
After a free from Varley, referee Shane O'Hehir needed to consult a linesman to overrule his umpires in order to award Coen his equaliser, but perhaps the most significant thing for Leitrim was the way they responded to that Mayo burst and kicked on again, even if they wasted a few more clear-cut chances in the final minutes to put even more distance between the two sides.
Scorers – Leitrim: E Mulligan 0-5 (4f), A Croal 0-2, P McGowan, R Cox 0-1 each. Mayo: A Freeman, D Coen 0-2 each, T Cunniffe, M Conroy, B Moran, E Varley (f) 0-1 each.
Leitrim – C McCrann; A Wynne, C Egan, P Maguire; D Beck, P Brennan, C Clarke; W McKeon, P McGowan; G Hickey, E Mulligan, K Conlon; R Cox, B McDonald, A Croal. Subs: S McWeeney for Egan (25), J Glancy for Conlon (h-t), C Beirne for Cox (49), R Lowe for McDonald (57).
Mayo – K O'Malley; M Walsh, S McHale, K Rogers; T Cunniffe, L Keegan, R Feeney; J Gibbons, S O'Shea; C O'Shea, E Varley, C Carolan; D Coen, A Freeman, M Conroy. Subs: B Moran for Gibbons (3), C Boyle for C O'Shea (48), G Cafferkey for McHale (57).
Ref – S O'Hehir (Galway).