Leitrim were made fight all the way before they overcame a battling GMIT outfit in Ballinamore to secure the narrowest of wins on Sunday when sub Adrian Croal hit the all-important score of the game with two-and-half minutes left.
Leitrim will face Sligo in Sunday’s Connacht FBD League final in what will be the first ever provincial decider between the two counties at senior level.
The students grabbed an early lead when Owen Warde put over a 3rd minute free while three minutes later John Ryan doubled their score from another placed ball. Leitrim pulled level by the 14th minute thanks to Gerry Hickey and Brian McDonald who shot a point apiece.
Leitrim went ahead with an Enda Williams point from play a minute later while McDonald added another point from play in the 17th minute.
The students got the only goal in the 19th minute when Dromahair’s Conor Kelly fully exploited an error by Leitrim ‘keeper Cathal McCrann to fire to the net.
Ronan Shanahan put more day light between GMIT and Leitrim when he hit over a terrific long distance point some eight minutes later. An Emlyn Mulligan point in reply left the halftime score GMIT 1-3 Leitrim 0-5.
John Ryan drew first blood in the second half when he restored GMIT’s two point advantage by converting a 47th minute free.
But Leitrim stayed right in contention with Emlyn Mulligan hitting back with a point from play within the space of a minute. GMIT again opened the gap to two points when Conor Kelly flicked over a 40th minute point for the visiting students.
However, Leitrim lifted their game following this and put GMIT under pressure. Recently introduced sub Adrian Croal narrowed the gap to the minimum when he shot over for the home side four minutes later.
Then Emlyn Mulligan made it level a minute later when he hit the target from play in the 45th minute for Leitrim. Substitute Ray Cox put Leitrim ahead a minute later when shot over from play.
GMIT rallied again and John Ryan proved what a good free taker he is when he put over an acute angled 51st minute free to put the contest back into stalemate. With the game now up for grabs both sides went in pursuit of victory in the closing stages.
Croal then came to Leitrim rescue when he hit the winner with a spectacular effort from just inside the GMIT 45 metre line.
Leitrim: Cathal McCrann, Alan. Wynne, Ciaran Egan, Sean McWeeney; Colm Clarke, Paul Brennan, Enda Williams (0-1), Wayne McKeon, Paddy McGowan, G. Hickey (0-1), Emily Mulligan (0-3), Cian Reynolds, Conor Beirne, James Glancy, Brian McDonald (0-2).
Subs: Adrian Croal (0-2) for Beirne (38 mins.); Ray Cox (0-1) for Reynolds (38 mins), Brendan Brennan for Clarke (38 mins); Conor Sheridan for Hickey (51 mins), Gavin Reynolds for Williams (54 mins).
GMIT: Paul Mannion; Paul Mc Nicholas, Alan McCormack, Barry Sheridan, Cathal Sweeney; John Duane, Ronan Shanahan (0-1), Shane Bohan, S. Boyle, F. Durkan, J. Ryan (0-3, 3f), Brian Miskell, Conor Kelly (1-1), Fergal Durkan, Owen Warde (0-1).
Subs: Thomas Costello Miskell (HT); Stephen Tighe for Boyle (41 mins); Shane McWeeney for Warde (41 mins); Myles Kelly for McNicholas (43 mins).
Referee: Marty Parker (Roscommon).