Mayo booked their place in the Connacht u21 final for the first time in seven years in Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada on Saturday night thanks to a four goal haul in a 20 minute period either side of half time on a sun splashed evening.
Mayo looked nervy early on and like a team that hardly knew each other as Leitrim started the game the much brighter and could have been much further than three points ahead they found themselves early doors.
The home side laid down a marker of intent right from the throw in, where Dean McGovern knocked the ball down to his midfield partner Pearse Dolan who charged right down the heart of the Mayo defence and slammed it over the bar with barley six seconds gone on the stop watch . Corner forward Jack Heslin then had a chance to set up a goal, but he fisted an effort weakly wide when if he had looked up he would have seen support players inside of him.
Shane Ward’s did double their lead four minutes in when Conor Gaffney slotted over a free after Daire Farrell was fouled close in on goal and two minutes later wing forward Kenny Cox stretched that lead out to three points with a well taken score on the run from out on the right hand side of the ground.
Brian Reape got Mayo moving on the seven minute mark when the Moy Davitts man fielded a high ball into the danger area from Mayo’s first serious advance into enemy territory and he fired the ball over the bar with a crisp finish. That score settled Mayo and the went on to tag on three more points on the bounce. Conor Loftus got his first of the day when when clipped over a free after he’d been fouled himself following some good work by David Kenny down the stand side of the ground. The Fergal Boland tied things up after some neat interplay between Reape and Michael Plunkett on the ten minute mark. Two minutes later Mayo went into the lead for the first time when Fionan Duffy slammed over a memorable score on the turn.
Leitrim weren’t going away just yet and Daire Farrell had acres of room to run into as the Mayo defence went AWOL for a second and he clipped the ball over the bar on the run. The same man put Leitrim into the lead just after the quarter of an hour mark after doing well to create some space for himself.
Mayo made the first change of the day just before the 20 minute mark and paid immediate dividends when Matthew Ruane ghosted down the left wing to slide the ball over the bar to leave the sides level at five points a piece with a third of the game gone.
But in the next third of the contest Mayo made the break for home and Leitrim didn’t have it in their legs to keep pace with Michael Solan’s men. Fergal Boland and Fionan Duffy linked play very well down the stand side of the field, before the ball was slipped into Stephen Coen on the break, Coen played the ball across the face of the goal and after a couple of attempts Brian Reape forced the ball over the line and into the back of the net for the first goal of the game and put Mayo three points clear.
The hosts almost hit back with a goal of their own, when Jack Heslin found himself in on goal and cracked an effort at the target, but Matthew Flanagan was able to diver the ball over the bar for the concession of just a minor.
Three minutes later that gap had been pushed out to five, after Ruane picked out Duffy with a deft pass, the Crossmolina man broke for goal and had his ankles clipped on his way through and the referee had not choice but to stretch out his arms and award the penalty. Up stepped Diarmuid O’Connor who drove the ball low to the right and just out of the reach of Diarmuid Mckiernan.
Leitrim did tack on another point before the median whistle thanks to Dolan effort sending Mayo in leading by 2-5 to 0-7 at the turn around. While it took them 30 minutes to score 2-5 in the first half, Mayo added the same amount in the opening 14 minutes of the terminal period of play. Loftus opened the second half scoring with a neat finish and in the 34th minute, Duffy hit goal number three after Reape had set him up. Loftus aded another score with a long range effort two minutes later and Mayo were in total control. Reape and Loftus added another point each over the next few minutes and just before the three quarter mark in the contest Diarmuid O’Connor burst through unhindered and played in Reape who finished with ease to the net and it sealed Mayo’s passage to the final of the competition for the first time since they last won it in 2009.
Leitrim did stage a mini-fight-back near the end with Conor Gaffney kicking six points in the final 15 minutes, but by that stage Mayo were home and hosed and the management had started to run the bench and take off their senior players to give them some rest. It was a case of job done for Mayo, but a much stiffer test awaits them in the final against Roscommon in a fortnights time.
Mayo: B Reape (2-4 ), F Duffy (1-2, 1f ), C Loftus (0-4, 1f ), D O’Connor (1-0, 1 pen ), F Boland (0-2 ), M Ruane (0-1 )
Leitrim: C Gaffney (0-7, 5f ), P Dolan (0-3 ), D Farrell (0-2 ), R O’Rourke (0-1 ), J Heslin (0-1 ), K Cox (0-1 )
Mayo: M Flanagan; E Doran, S Cunniffe, C Harrision; D Kenny, M Hall, J Kelly; V Roughneen, S Coen; F Boland, C Loftus, S O’Connor; M Plunkett, B Reape. Subs: M Ruane for V Roughneen, S Akram for J Kelly, E O’Donoghue for S Cunniffe (BS ), E O’Donoghue for M Hall, J Lyons for C Loftus, TJ Byrne for D O’Connor, M Murray.
Leitrim: D McKiernan; K McHugh, E Fowley, J Mitchell; C Cullen, F McTague, K Keegan; D McGovern, P Dolan; K Cox, C Gaffney, D Farrell; R O’Rourke, C McCaule, J Heslin. Subs: L Ryan for J Mitchell, C Dolan for C McCauley, O Madden for D McGovern, D Byrne for D Farrell.
Ref: John Gilmartin (Sligo )