With 46 minutes gone on the clock in the spring early evening sunshine on the banks of the Shannon, Frank Irwin stroked over his sixth point of the day to put Mayo eleven points clear on a scoreline of 0-15 to 0-4.
While Mayo were far from impressive up to that point, that score looked like it was a matter of job done and on to the final next Wednesday evening. But it was far from that as Leitrim raised a gallop when all looked lost and Mayo lost their way - just about holding on to secure a one point win and getting outscored 2-5 to 0-1 down the home stretch.
Mayo were dealt a serious blow to not only their intentions in this game but also for the remainder of the championship when just before half-time Sam Callian looked to be breaking through behind the cover, only to pull up with what looks like a hamstring injury and have to leave the fray. But having built up such a big lead with the game almost up and almost get caught will have given Maurice Sheridan and his management team, plenty to pick over in the coming days.
Sheridan’s side were three points to the good inside the opening eight minutes with Frank Irwin and Cian McHale pointing early frees and Tom O’Flaherty driving over one from long range. Leitrim almost sneaked in for a goal nine minutes in when Conor Quinn got a paw to a effort from Michael McKiernan which was dropping short of it’s intended target - but Quinn’s diversion flashed wide of the post. McKiernan did get his sides first point of the day a few minutes later.
But that score was a mild diversion from Mayo’s dominance on the scoreboard at this stage with Cian O’Connell and Donnacha McHugh pushing Mayo’s lead out to four. Fergal McLoughlin cut the gap back to three on 18 minutes - but Mayo replied with points from Callinan and Irwin to extend their advantage on the scoreboard to five, before a McHale free pushed it out to six - just before the Bohola Moy Davitt man had to leave the action after rolling his ankle. Leitrim did get the last score of the half from a fine effort by McKiernan to leave the score 0-8 to 0-3 in Mayo’s favour at the break.
The home team did register the first score of the second half through a good score from Oisin Curley who had come on as a half-time replacement. But from then on it was all Mayo on the scoreboard again for the next 15 minutes, Irwin reeled off three on the bounce, Conor Quinn tagged on a free, Paddy Heneghan and Fenton Kelly tapped over one each from play and Irwin slotted his final point of the day and Mayo were eleven clear.
Leitrim then hit a little purple patch with Jack Casey, Fergal McLoughlin and Paul Moran all kicking points in quick succession. A long range effort from Dylan Thornton looked to have blunted what ever thoughts Leitrim had of a comeback, but they never threw in the towel.
Five minutes from the end of normal time, Moran got the ball near the endline he lofted the ball across the face of goal and Conor Quinn rose highest to palm it to the back of the net - the impressive McKiernan lofted over a long range free and Eoin McLoughlin cut over a fine score to leave four between the sides a minute into injury time.
Leitrim kept going and Jamie McGreal got up from wing back and was adjudged to have been fouled in the penalty area. Jack Casey stood up and drove the ball to the back of the net to leave just one between the sides with injury time up. Referee Ronan Hynes blew the full time whistle on Brian O’Flaherty’s kick-out and Mayo hung on to book their spot in the final against Sligo next Wednesday evening.
Mayo: F Irwin (0–6 4f, 45 ); C O'Connell (0–3f ) C McHugh (0–2 ), T O'Flaherty, D McHugh, S Callinan, P Heneghan & D Thornton (0–1 each )
Leitrim: M McKiernan (0–5f ) J Casey (1–1, pen ); C Quinn (1–0 ); F Mcloughlin, O Curley, P. Moran & E. McLoughlin (0–1 each ).
Mayo: Brian O’Flaherty; Alfie Morrision, Ruairí Keane, Conal Dawson; Fenton Kelly, Sam Callinan, Aiden Cosgrove; Frank Irwin, Donnacha McHugh; Tom O’Flaherty, Dylan Thornton, Sean Morohan; Cian McHale, Paddy Heneghan, Cian O’Connell. Subs: Paul Walsh for MacHale (30 ); Niall Treacy for Callinan (31 ); Bob Tuohy for Dawson (43 ); Mark Cunningham for O'Connell (47 ); Conor Reid for Keane (55 );
Leitrim: Conor Flood; Cian Singleton, Kieran Clancy, Tom Hughes; Brian Donohue, Michael McKiernan, Jamie McGreal; Gavin Reynolds, Fergal McLoughlin; Eoin McLoughlin, Senan Harte, Mark Lenehan; Danny McWeeeney, Barry McWeeney, Conor Quinn. Subs: Oisin Curley for D. McWeeney (HT ), Jack Casey for B McWeeney( 36 ); James Clinton for Donohue; Paul Moran for Lenehan( 48 ); Daniel McLoughlin for F. Mcloughlin (57 ).
Ref: Ronan Hynes (Sligo )