Leitrim withstood difficult conditions and a ferocious late surge from Roscommon to retain their FBD League title by a single point, 2-05 to 1-07, this afternoon in Páirc Seán McDiarmada.
The foundations for the victory were laid in the first half when the hosts played into the wind and led by 1-03 to 0-03, their goal coming from Aaron Hickey.
Substitute John Mulligan seemingly made the win safe when he added a second goal with two minutes remaining, but a Niall Daly screamer in injury-time set up a grandstand finish.
In the end the hosts were able to secure Cathal McCrann’s kick out and retain possession for the last 60 seconds of action and it was the least they deserved after producing the better football over the course of the hour of play at the Carrick-on-Shannon venue.
It was clear right from the off that Leitrim were fully committed to the cause of retaining their FBD League title and they burst out of the blocks with some excellent possession football into the strong wind.
A sharp burst of hailstones blew into the face of the Leitrim attackers but that didn’t prevent them from opening the scoring through an Emlyn Mulligan free, a lead they held for the first five minutes of play thanks to two terrible close range wides from the Roscommon forwards.
In contrast, when Leitrim got their next opportunity to attack they took it in style, with Aaron Hickey crashing the ball to the net from close range.
A well placed handpass from Mulligan set up Ray Cox from 20 yards out and while Darren O’Malley did brilliantly to parry the initial attempt from the Annaduff corner forward, he could only watch helplessly as the rebound fell into the waiting hands of Hickey, who had the simplest of tasks to blast the ball home.
Roscommon centre back Niall Daly kicked his team’s first score in the 14th minute but the struggle of the visiting forward line was a theme of the day.
Roscommon’s starting midfielders and forwards kicked just two points between them in this tie, one from a free, and they regularly needed the backs to bail them out with scores and keep them in the tie.
Points from Niall Carty and Conor Daly made it 1-02 to 0-03 as half time approached but a stunning score from Wayne McKeon increased Leitrim’s lead and left the hosts well poised at the break.
Teenage substitute Diarmuid Murtagh – fresh from scoring the decisive goal in Roscommon’s Hastings Cup semi-final over Cavan yesterday – replaced Senan Kilbride at the break at he made an instant impact, kicking two scores and helping to set up another for his brother Ciarán early in the second half.
However Leitrim kept pushing and with Mulligan spreading the ball around incredibly well, they retained their lead thanks to points from Ray Cox and Fergal Clancy.
Clancy’s score in the 45th minute to make it 1-05 to 0-06 looked for a long time as if it might have been the last of the game, as both sides were reluctant to leave fewer than four or five defenders close to goal at any stage and consequently it proved almost impossible for forwards to create space at either end of the field.
The game finally began to open up as Roscommon pushed forward in search of a goal with full time looming and when they were caught in possession around midfield in the 58th minute, Leitrim pounced for the decisive goal. Emlyn Mulligan played in John Mulligan with a great long delivery and after the AIT student played a quick 1-02 with full forward Thomas Beirne, he made no mistake with his finish.
Roscommon didn’t give up however and Niall Daly produced a glorious strike that seared past a crowd of players and grazed the crossbar en route to the net to reduce the deficit as injury time began to tick.
Cathal Cregg pointed a free to leave the minimum between the sides a minute later but that was to be as close as it got, with Leitrim stepping up to secure the all important kickout and close out the tie.
Leitrim: C McCrann; P Maguire, B Prior, D Wrynn; W McKeon (0-02), P Brennan, G Reynolds; D Moran, A Hickey (1-00); K Conlan, R Lowe, F Clancy (0-01); E Mulligan (0-01, free), T Beirne, R Cox (0-01).
Subs: D Beck for Brennan (23 mins – Black Card), J Glancy for Lowe (35), G Hickey for Moran (44), J Mulligan (1-00) for Cox (50), E Mahon for Hickey (60).
Roscommon: D O’Malley; N Collins, N Carty (0-01), C Cafferky; S McDermott, N Daly (1-01), C Daly (0-01); C Shine, K Higgins; C Devaney, C Burns, M Nally; S Kilbride, C Murtagh (0-01), C Cregg (0-01, free).
Subs: M Finneran for Burns (25 mins), D Keane for Devaney (HT), D Murtagh (0-02, 0-01 free) for Kilbride (HT), D O’Gara for Nally (48), E Smith for Higgins (58).
Referee: Michael Duffy (Sligo)