Longford's Joe O'Brien tries to escape the attention of four Leitrim defenders Picture: Willie Donnellan
Longford hurlers fell to a late sucker punch as a fourth Leitrim goal nearly three minutes into added time denied them victory in the opening round of the Lory Meagher Cup on Sunday in Avant Money Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada.
Lory Meagher Cup Round 1: Leitrim 4-9 Longford 0-20
Beaten last Sunday in the same venue in the Division 3B Final, Longford looked as if they had carved out a match winning two point lead in added time only for Leitrim to grab the match winner thanks to a converted Joe Murray penalty.
Longford’s inability to create goal chances or take the few that they did cost them dearly as a battling Leitrim hung tough in this contest, their goals from James McNabola in the first half and three second half major from Brendan Delaney, Karl McDermott and Murray undoing a lot of the good work Longford had accomplished.
Longford actually ended the game with 13 players with black cards for Aidan Sheridan and Keelan Cox as both denied goal scoring opportunities, Leitrim actually seeing a second Murray penalty strike the post after their match winning goal.
Longford will wonder just how they lost this one, scoring 20 points but you can’t fault the never say die spirit of the Leitrim lads who refused to lie down against a team who had already beaten them twice in the league and had ten points to spare over the home team just two weeks ago.
The absence of Paddy Lynam played a big part as Longford missed his control around the middle of the park but Leitrim’s new defensive alignment that featured Cathal O’Donovan in a sweeper’s role meant that Longford never generated the sort of attacking momentum they needed to kill off the Leitrim challenge.
Sweeper O’Donovan made a big impact, protecting his defence against a Longford side who displayed the better stickwork but couldn’t hold off the determined Leitrim men.
Cian Kavanagh got the game’s opening score for Longford after just ten seconds but Leitrim gave an indication of what was to come, Joe Murray penalising a foul on Aaron McDermott from a free before James McNabola dispossessed a defender on three minutes, rounded his man and unleashed a brilliant low shot to the corner of the net.
Longford came back with two points from Cathal Mullane, either side of another Murray free but Longford should have taken the lead when Emmet Corrigan did all the hard work, slamoning his way through the Leitrim defence but with only keeper Clement Cunniffe to beat, he drove his shot wide across the goal.
Murray pulled back a free but Leitrim were missing some good chances, Murray scooping a goal chance while McNabola’s poor executed pass to Aaron McDermott as he bore down was a huge let off for the visitors.
Gavin O’Hagan did strike from the halfway line for a good point but with Brendan Delaney, Senan Keane and Karl McDermott all hitting wides, Longford took advantage with an O’Brien free and a Johnny Casey point.
Longford then got on a run of scores with three O’Brien frees before halftime and a John Mulhern score after a good run with only a James McNabola point, albeit a great catch from a Delaney pass, in reply as Longford led 0-9 to 1-5 at the break.
Longford seemed to be taking control early in the second half with points from Kavanagh and centre-back David Buckley but the game was thrown wide open again when sub Diarmuid Kelleher, on just before halftime for the injured Aaron McDermott, broke free from the 50 yard line.
He charged forward and under great pressure, he managed to flick the ball to Karl McDermott and the Manorhamilton man made no mistake with a brilliant finish to the Longford net.
Joe Murray collected a sideline cut to turn and score and from Karl McDermott’s long range free, James McNabola made a fabulous catch to turn and score on ten minutes, leaving Leitrim two points to go the good.
Again Longford responded, three O’Brien frees edging them in front midway through the second half but a fortunate free for overcarrying saw Gavin O’Hagan shoot over to tie the scores once more.
Both sides were missing chances, Clement Cunniffe making a vital save from Reuben Murray but the Longford man did edge his team back in front as Leitrim failed to clear the sliotar with 12 minutes of normal time left.
But then came a moment of pure magic - from the puckout, Joe Murray rose impossibly high out on the wing underneath the main stand, making a fantastic catch before driving a first time ball in towards the Longford goal. Brendan Delaney grabbed the ball first-time and turned to bury the sliotar in the Longford net.
Again Longford came back although they were relying heavily on placed balls for scores and two O’Brien frees had them level once more with just over five minutes to go. Leitrim responded positively with Joe Murray showing great persistence to win dirty ball, hold off his man before firing over.
The action was getting frantic but Longford’s sharper skills saw them work some good opportunities, sub Paul Barden firing over the bar with virtually his first touch of the sliotar with less than three minutes to go. Another O’Brien free gave Longford the lead a minute later before a well worked score for Adam Quinn put them two clear.
However, Leitrim were not finished and as the three minutes of injury time were nearly up, Diarmuid Kelleher broke the Longford line, he charged towards goal only to be pulled back inside the area. A black card for Aidan Sheridan followed before Joe Murray held his nerve to drive the sliotar to the net.
Incredibly, Leitrim won another penalty as they turned over the puckout and Joe Murray was heading through only to be hauled down, Longford’s Keelan Cox earning a black card and conceding a penalty for denying a goalscoring opportunity.
Unfortunately for Murray, his well struck shot cannoned off the post and the final whistle sounded to prompt Leitrim celebrations.
Leitrim: Joe Murray 1-5 (1-0 pen, 0-3 frees), James McNabola 1-2; Karl McDermott & Brendan Delaney 1-0 each; Gavin O’Hagan 0-2 (0-1 free)
Longford: Joe O’Brien 0-10 (0-9 frees); Cathal Mullane & Cian Kavanagh 0-2 each; Adam Quinn, David Buckley, John Mulhern, Johnny Casey, Reuben Murray & Paul Barden 0-1 each
LEITRIM: Clement Cunniffe, Paul Lenehan, Martin Feeney, Kevin Clerkin, Conor Hackett, Karl McDermott, David McGovern, Sean Markham, Senan Keane, Cathal O’Donovan, Gavin O’Hagan, Joe Murray, Brendan Delaney, Aaron McDermott, James McNabola.
Subs: Diarmuid Kelleher for A McDermott (34 mins), Michael O’Brien for Keane (66 mins)
LONGFORD: Conor Gallagher, Niall Moran, Enda Naughton, Keelan Cox, Adam Quinn, David Buckley, Aiden Sheridan, John Mulhern, Evan Tully, Johnny Casey, Cian Kavanagh, Reuben Murray, Joe O’Brien, Cathal Mullane, Emmet Corrigan.
Subs: Daire Regan for Naughton (62 mins), Paul Barden for Mulhern (66 - blood)
REFEREE: Brian Keon (Galway)
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