Roscommon 3-17 Leitrim 4-13

A memorable Connacht U-20 championship clash in Carrick-on-Shannon finished with Roscommon scraping their way into a home semi-final clash with Galway next week, though they couldn't have come any closer to ending their championship in a tumultuous encounter with a sharp and fluid Leitrim side.  

Preseason form suggested that Roscommon’s defence was a weak point and Leitrim’s fast and skilful attackers wasted no time in going after this vulnerability, firing in two goals in the first ten minutes to establish a firm foothold in the contest.

Mark Diffley scored both, the first after taking a looping pass from Ciarán Cullen and the second from the penalty spot, but that seemed to inspire Roscommon as they produced a stunning burst of form themselves, with inside forwards Paul Carey, Dylan Ruane and Ronan Dowd kicking points before Dowd seized a bad kickout and drove in on goal, rattling the roof of the net from the corner of the penalty area.

Leitrim’s attack continued to look sharp however and they dominated the last ten minutes of the first half, with Jordan Reynolds firing in a third goal after a great run from Tom Prior opened up the Roscommon defence.

Ciarán Cullen kicked two great points after opening up space with his incredible turn of pace and when Mark Diffley rounded off the scoring with a free, Leitrim were 3-4 to 1-5 in front with the wind to come.

The introduction of James Fitzpatrick, a matchwinner for Roscommon CBS in this year’s Paddy Drummond Cup final (Senior "B" schools) proved crucial as he led the line very effectively and helped create space which Carey and Dowd exploited, pulling the Rossies back to within two points.

Their defensive failings didn’t go away though, and an inch-perfect low shot from Oisín Bohan through a crowd of defenders meant that the green flag waved again, and Leitrim were six up (4-6 to 1-9) when James Clancy followed up with a point on the next play.

With 42 minutes on the clock, the wind in their faces, Roscommon had to dig deep and they did, the catalyst a Paul Carey goal that was sneaked into a tiny gap in between Leitrim goalkeeper Sean Reynolds and the near post.

A red card for Roscommon midfielder Padraig Halpin seemed to swing the initiative back Leitrim’s way but they never really seemed to exploit the extra man and Roscommon continued to push for scores, finally drawing level in the fifth minute of stoppage time through a Carey free that came agonisingly close to drifting wide of the far post.

Throughout the second half, Roscommon’s better use of the bench was crucial and they appeared to have a bit more in the tank at the start of extra time, when points from Carey and Ruane were followed up by a superb low shot to the Leitrim net from Fitzpatrick.

Under normal circumstances, one might have expected them to push on and win well, but nothing about this game was normal.

Leitrim midfielder Jack Gilheaney kicked two monster scores, his colleague Aaron Hoare added another and every defibrillator in the area was on standby when Leitrim won possession on the last play of the game.

They earned a free some 55 metres from goal but with heavy legs and a huge distance to cover, Mark Diffley’s kick never threatened the goal and all that remained was for referee Paul Lydon to sound the final whistle on a dramatic and memorable encounter.

Roscommon: Rob Kearney; Enda Killoran, Evan Flynn, Robbie Dolan; Michael Conroy, Niall Higgins, Gerry Galvin; Patrick Fannon, Padraig Halpin; Daire Keenan (0-03), Ronan Dowd (1-07, 0-05 frees), Thomas O'Rourke; Brian Derwin (0-01), Paul Carey (1-04, 0-02 frees), Dylan Ruane (0-02).  

Subs used: Seán Hanly for Conroy (23, black card), Jonathan Hester for O’Rourke (HT), James Fitzpatrick (1-00) for Derwin (HT), Cian Corcoran for Fannon (47), Ciarán Lawless for Keenan (50), Aaron Brady for Kearney (FT), Jack Keane (FT, Ros back to 15 men), Andrew Lyons for Carey (69), Derwin for Ruane (HT in ET), Ryan Donoghue for Killoran (75).

Leitrim: Sean Reynolds; Shaun Chandler, Fintan Earley, Liam Rowley; Ciaran Cullen (0-02), Conor O’Dwyer, Riordan O’Rourke; Aaron Hoare (0-01), Jack Gilheaney (0-03, 0-01 free); Paul Keaney, Mark Diffley (2-04, 1-00 pen 0-03 frees), Seán Harkin; Jordan Reynolds (1-01), Tom Prior, James Clancy (0-01).  

Subs used: Oisín Bohan (1-01) for O’Rourke (16, black card), Diarmuid Kellegher for J Reynolds (53), Evan Harkin for Prior (60), Jack Barnes for Cullen (69), Mark Keegan for Keaney (69), Dylan Maguire for Clancy (71).

Referee: Paul Lydon (Mayo)