Mayo stumbled on the first step of their long climb back to where they want to be in September. But unlike many of the steeper and more deceptive steps come summer time, today’s slip was a far from fatal one for a side who are reacclimatizing themselves following their new year break in the new world.
Only three of the side who started the All Ireland final last September in Croke Park were on Sunday’s starting 15. Lee Keegan, captained the side from centre half back despite wearing number four on his back, while Enda Varley was the man in the marquee forward position, with Michael Conroy taking up his familiar position in the corner. The team which was announced late on Saturday night or early Sunday morning depending on your body clock, showed one change come throw in with Evan Regan’s place in the starting 15 being taken by Hollymount-Carramore youngster Darren Coen.
Others given the chance to impress were Michael Walsh, Shane McHale, Cathal Carolan and Conor O’Shea while the Tom Cunniffe made his first appearance for Mayo in over year at wing back.
As for the game itself, it was a disjointed affair as is the norm this time of year, but for Leitrim following up last weekends win over Roscommon with this win over Mayo it’s the perfect start for to their season. Not surprisingly after the game, the conversation with Mayo manager James Horan was directed towards Joe Brolly once again with the Derry man having another crack at Horan and Mayo in his newspaper column today, while Horan admitted he hadn’t seen the column, he did have this to say about Brolly and his comments in the past. “If you take any of the quarter final games last year I’d challenge Joe to go back and look at some of those and see what the foul count was. What was his motivation for just selecting Mayo, thats just my comment, that’s got nothing to do with Donegal and the All Ireland victory, they were fantastic and absolutely deserved their victory. But I’d just like to know Joe’s motivation for selecting one team and one team only, when there was other games that had a lot more (of a ) foul count in them.” When pressed on the timing of Brolly’s comments in the build up to the All Ireland final, the Ballintubber club man said. “The timing, I know we’re on about strategic this that and the other. But would you say that the timing of some of those articles was strategic? Anyway that’s in the past Joe Brolly needs to back up his data and why he selected Mayo. But look where here today in Leitrim and Leitrim deserved their victory today and they taught us a few lessons and we’ll take them and move on.”
Those lessons that Leitrim taught Mayo started off with the home side going into a five point to no score lead after 16 minutes. The Leitrim captain Emlyn Mulligan was to the fore for his side with three of those five points from placed balls with Ray Cox and Adrian Croal adding a point each.
Mayo were forced to reshuffle the pack early on with Jason Gibbons being forced off with what looked like a finger injury after only three minutes, with Barry Moran coming on to replace him. Mayo were ring rusty early on and had three goal opportunities they squandered before they managed to raise a white flag. Alan Freeman pulled an effort wide at the near post and missed another chance after being played in by a Conor O’Shea free. But probably the best early goal chance fell to Tom Cunniffe who powered through to pick up the ball from the aforementioned O’Shea after initial good work before hand by Richie Feeney. However, Cunniffe’s effort was saved well by Cathal McCrann in the Leitrim goal.
Darren Coen opened the scoring for Mayo after a little chip pick up on 18 minutes, he was quickly followed by a Freeman point and then one from Michael Conroy to cut the gap to two with five minutes left in the half. But Mayo weren’t done yet and Lee Keegan drove over a monster of a kick and Barry Moran added Mayo’s fifth point just before the break to send the sides in all square at half time.
The second half saw Paddy McGowan kick Leitrim back into the lead early on, which was replied to by Alan Freeman five minutes into the half. However that would be Mayo’s last score for 16 minutes, and by the time that Enda Varley kicked Mayo’s seventh point Leitrim had pushed themselves into a two point lead thanks to Mulligan and Croal. Darren Coen did level the game up with a controversial score seven minutes from time after the umpire had initially waved it wide. But following discussions with his linesman referee Shane O’Hehir ordered the white flag to be raised. However the day was to be Leitrim’s and Mulligan kicked his fifth and the games final point form a free three minutes before time.
Leitrim: E Mulligan (0-5, 4f ); A Croal (0-2 ), R Cox (0-1 ), P McGowan (0-1 )
Mayo: D Coen (0-2 ), A Freeman (0-2 ), M Conroy (0-1 ), L Keegan (0-1 ), B Moran (0-1 ), E Varley (0-1 )
Leitrim: C McCrann; A Wynne, C Egan, P Maguire; D Beck, P Brennan, C Clarke; W McKeon, P McGowan; G Hickey, E Mulligan, K Conlon; R Cox, B McDonald, A Croal. Subs: S McWeeney for C Egan( 25 mins ), J Glancy for K Conlon (HT ), C Beirne for R Cox (43 mins ), R Lowe for B McDonald (52 mins ),
Mayo: K O’Malley, M Walsh, S McHale, K Rogers; T Cunniffe, L Keegan, R Feeney; S O’Shea, J Gibbons; C O’Shea, E Varley, C Carolan; D Coen, A Freeman, M Conroy. Subs: B Moran for J Gibbons (3 mins ), C Boyle for C O’Shea (48 mins ), G Cafferkey for S McHale (52 mins )
Ref: Shane O’Hehir (Galway )