By Mike Fitzpatrick
Cavan 3-7, Leitrim 0-7 When Will Smith sang of those butt-kicking, alien-stomping "Men in Black" a couple of summers ago, I wonder if the men had in mind the referees at Gaelic Park.
It seems that Christmas isn’t the only time where cards are exchanged. In the Bronx on Easter Sunday, the officials clearly stated that this season they would be far more strict in enforcing the rules, and yellow and red cards made their first appearances at the games on Sunday.
Performances of the past clearly meant nothing for these two senior sides. After a disappointing season last year, Anthony Reihill’s Cavan men faced the daunting prospect of facing Frank Brady’s "Team of the Decade," Leitrim, in this opening tie.
However, nobody seemed to inform Cavan that they were up against such a historically strong side. Cavan began on the attack, shooting a number of efforts wide early on, though these nerves quickly disappeared, and Ken Lawlor powered his way through the depleted Leitrim backline to score a great goal, which flew in to the left of Jim Heevey, giving his team an early 3-point lead. Gary Rispin furthered the lead by adding a point soon afterward, and though a shellshocked Leitrim tried to claw back, with points from John and Jim Donaghue registering, Cavan clearly had their opponents on the ropes.
Sorely missing defensive kingpins Mike Brosnan and Neville Dunne through injury, Leitrim found themselves further behind thanks to an amazing Cavan goal which saw the ball travel from Jim Gilsenan in midfield, to Lawlor, and into the hands of Martin Cusack, who shot a goal to give his side an impressive lead. Sean Jones, the Leitrim veteran, kept plugging away up front and was awarded with a point before halftime, but this brief Leitrim comeback was short lived. Dessie O’Reilly and Lawlor each scored a point, and despite having goal scorer Cusack sent off for an altercation with Cookie Meehan, half forward Ken Shalvey hit a goal to give his side a virtually unassailable three-goal lead at halftime.
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The second half was a more evenly matched affair, with the sides scoring the same number of points. Cavan clearly took their foot off the gas, while Leitrim attempted to step up a gear. Fourteen man Cavan vs.. champions Leitrim looks, at least on paper, to be a formidable task for Cavan, but Reihill’s men did themselves proud. The backline of Jimmy McGirr, Niall O’Reilly and Barney Brady refused to let the Leitrim attack through, and though Jones hit a few more points, Cavan’s Lawlor capped a great display with three second-half points. These, along with another from O’Reilly, killed off the champions quest for an opening win. A disappointing day for Leitrim, but the Cavan men played as a team and did their county proud.
Leitrim: Jim Heevey, Malachy McHugh, Padraic Mullally, Andy O’Grady, Jonathan Daly, Ciaran Treanor, Richie Maher, John Meehan, Jim Donaghue (0-1), John Donaghue (0-1), Brian Cahill (0-1), Mike Murphy, Kevin Madden, Sean Jones (0-4).
Cavan: Finbarr Flood, Jimmy McGirr, Niall O’Reilly, Barney Brady, Joe Ward, Joe Cassidy, Barry Annette, Jim Gilsenan, Martin Cusack (1-0), Kevin Shalvey (1-0), Gary Rispin (0-1), Dessie O’Reilly (0-2), Shane Nugent, Ken Lawlor (1-4), Anton Diver.