Leitrim are Connacht junior football champions for the first time since 2004 following a sensational 1-16 to 0-16 victory over holders Mayo at Charlestown.
The visitors’ goose looked well and truly cooked as they trailed by six points after 18 minutes but, in a wonderful exhibition of open football, they completed a magnificent comeback to claim their seventh title at this level, with wing back James Campbell (Gortletteragh) netting the only goal of an extraordinary contest six minutes before the interval. Victory comes as a much-needed fillip for Leitrim GAA after word filtered through earlier today that senior talisman Emlyn Mulligan had suffered a cruciate ligament injury with the championship just around the corner.
In Mayo tonight, points from Mark Ronaldson, Cormac Gordon and Brian Heneghan – the latter two of whom were late additions to the starting XV – gave the hosts a flying start and the losers also carved out two great goal-scoring opportunities inside the opening five minutes. Domhnaill Flynn finally opened Leitrim’s account on eleven minutes after Heneghan had helped himself to his second score of the night.
Home captain Michael Forde from Ballycastle was on hand to leave four between them at the midway stage in the first half and Moy Davitts ace Heneghan duly made it six-one in favour of the holders. Mayo’s seventh point was despatched brilliantly by Ronaldson and Conor Gallagher – who plays his club football in Dublin with Lucan Sarsfields – replied with the visitors’ second to spark what would be a sensational recovery…
A Cathal McCrann free had the margin back to a more-manageable four points with ten minutes left before the break. Incredibly, Seamus Quinn's charges came more and more into the game and they brought their scoring sequence to 1-6 without reply to grab an unlikely 1-7 to 0-7 interval lead.
Flynn helped himself to further points in the 21st and 30th minutes; in between, Campbell netted in the 24th (after Ryan O’Donoghue had struck the woodwork) and points were also tagged on by Man of the Match Keith Keegan and McCrann (free).
Ronaldson (free) and Campbell traded the first two points of the second half and Mayo goalkeeper Mattie Flanagan denied the visitors a second three-pointer in between. Ronaldson and James Kelly had the gap back to the minimum but McCrann (free), Wayne McKeon and Gary Plunkett (2) reeled off four Leitrim points in as many minutes to leave five between the sides at the three-quarters stage.
The gap was out to seven with 13 minutes remaining thanks to scores from Niall McGovern and Plunkett as the victors nailed another six in succession. Three-in-a-row seeking Mayo rallied with points from Ronaldson (two frees) either side of another from Heneghan and Philip Farrelly had to be at his best between the Leitrim posts to keep his goal intact as we entered a dramatic finale…
A trio of Ronaldson frees left one point separating the teams with two minutes left in a thoroughly enjoyable contest but McCrann tagged on late frees in the 60th and 63rd minutes to give Leitrim a memorable victory. Football was a big winner tonight, too. Great game.