A stroke of luck in the first half and a stroke of brilliance in the second yielded vital goals for Tipperary at Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada in Carrick-on-Shannon, as they confirmed their Division 3 status for 2021 with a narrow victory over Leitrim.
Manager David Power spoke after the game about how a big improvement would be required from his charges next weekend when they take on Clare in the Munster Championship, and in truth it would be hard to argue that the Premier men were the better side by any meaningful amount in Leitrim on Sunday either.
If there was a period when they produced the better football, it was in the opening 20 minutes, when they played into a strong wind and moved 1-05 to 0-03 clear.
Leitrim didn't seem to offer a lot of threat outside of the movement and footwork of full-forward Ryan O’Rourke, while at the other end there were good scores kicked by Conal Kennedy and Brian Fox, as well as a hugely-fortunate goal that was tapped in by Kevin O’Halloran.
Robbie Kiely and Michael Quinlivan combined to set up the chance, but it was sheer luck that Quinlivan’s attempt on goal miscued off the outside of his boot and spun into the waiting hands of O’Halloran for an easy finish.
Leitrim gave themselves something to fight for by kicking the last four points of the half to reduce the gap to the minimum, and after half-time there was a notable increase in their intensity and urgency.
Donal Wrynn put on a fielding masterclass at midfield, where Stephen O’Brien’s absence was keenly felt from a Tipperary perspective, while Conor Dolan exploded into life with three second-half points, thriving on his switch from corner-forward to the left wing.
Keith Beirne kicked some haymaker points to edge Leitrim two points in front while Tipperary failed to take advantage of the wind at their backs at the other end, with only half-time substitute Liam Boland making any significant contribution. He, Brian Fox and Conor Sweeney all pointed to move Tipperary a point in front, but there was no sign of Leitrim throwing in the towel, even though it was becoming clear that the favour they needed from Offaly against Derry was unlikely to materialise.
With the tie in the melting pot with five minutes to play, one moment of quality was always likely to prove hugely significant and so it proved as Tipp midfielder Liam Casey slalomed through the heart of the Leitrim defence and picked out the bottom corner of the net with a perfect low drive to push Tipp four points clear.
Conor Dolan and Keith Beirne halved that gap with late scores, but the goal chance that Terry Hyland’s men needed never came, and after nearly eight minutes of additional time, Padraig Hughes’ final whistle confirmed their relegation to Division 4.
Leitrim: Brendan Flynn; Donal Casey, Conor Reynolds, Paddy Maguire; Cillian McGloin (0-01), Jack Gilheany, Aidan Flynn; Mark Plunkett, Donal Wrynn; Shane Quinn (0-01), Keith Beirne (0-06, 0-05 frees), Domhnaill Flynn; Conor Dolan (0-04), Ryan O’Rourke (0-01), Darragh Rooney (0-01).
Subs: Evan Sweeney (0-01) for Plunkett (HT), Niall Brady for Rooney (56), Oisín McCaffrey for O’Rourke (60), David Bruen for McGloin (70+4).
Tipperary: Evan Comerford; Alan Campbell, Jimmy Feehan, Colm O'Shaughnessy; Bill Maher, Kevin Fahey, Robbie Kiely; Liam Casey (1-00), Conal Kennedy (0-01); Jack Kennedy (0-02, 0-02 frees), Michael Quinlivan (0-01), Brian Fox (0-02); Kevin O’Halloran (1-00), Conor Sweeney (0-03, 0-03 frees), Rian Quigley.
Subs: Liam Boland (0-02) for Quigley (40), Colman Kennedy for Conal Kennedy (56), Jason Lonergan for O’Halloran (56), Alan Moloney for Fox (60), Emmet Moloney for Casey (70+4).
Referee: Padraig Hughes (Armagh)