By Mike Fitzpatrick
Unlike previous battles between these two senior footballing giants, it was Donegal who came out on top when the final whistle blew in this Div. 1 football clash Sunday at Gaelic Park. The Ulstermen entered the tie as firm favorites, due to their depth and performances this season, as well as to Leitrim’s uncharacteristic erratic form.
Leitrim opened as the stronger side, with veteran forward Sean Jones hitting a goal early on for Frank Brady’s men. John Meehan quickly followed with a nicely taken point. Donegal were further shocked by a second goal, scored by Leitrim half forward Noel Donnellan, which gave the Shannonsiders an impressive early 7-point lead.
Write Donegal off at your peril, though. As in last week’s game versus Monaghan, Donegal have fallen well behind before only to steal the points when all seemed lost. Points from Edmund Cleary and weekender Glenn Ryan brought their side onto the scoresheet, and a goal from Tadhg O’Donovan brought the Ulster side firmly back into the tie.
The game continued favorably for Leitrim, which registered points from the on-form Karl Dwyer and one from the vastly experienced Mike Brosnan. Donegal, after their initial setbacks, began to find a pattern of their own, and full forward Stephen Cassidy got into his stride, shaking off his marker to hit a number of valuable points.
Leitrim, who led by a point at the half, surged further ahead thanks to points from Alan McFadden and Kieran Treanor, suggesting that they may have had the sheer cheek to steal the points from the Ulster giants, but some insightful play from Pearce Coyle in the Donegal half forward line resulted in a fine goal from Stephen Cassidy, equalizing for Donegal for the first time.
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Karl Dwyer hit another point for Leitrim only to see Kieran Keaveney equalize again for Donegal. Donegal began to attack a lot more, with Cassidy causing havoc up front, and then the score of the game from Kildare man Niall Buckley, who fired in a free kick from a good distance to give Donegal the lead for the first time. Buckley scored another late in the game to give his side a 2-point victory. Donegal look like favorites to win the crown. Leitrim, though not out yet, must really pick up a couple of wins from their remaining games to stand any chance of ending the decade as they started it.
Donegal: Eunan Doherty, Keith Nolan, Anthony Rainbow, Damian Meehan, Ray Kane, Glen Ryan (0-1), Gerry Kelly, Niall Buckley (0-3), Dave McSweeney, Gary Dowd, Kieran Keaveney (0-1), Tadhg O’Donovan (1-0), Edmund Cleary (0-1), Stephen Cassidy (1-4). SubsEnda Lohan.
Leitrim: Joe Madden, Mike Brosnan (0-1), Kieran Walsh, John McGuinness, Jim Donahue, Neville Dunne, Brian Cahill, Kieran Treanor, John Meehan (0-1), John Donahue, Noel Donnellan (1-0), Richie Maher, Alan McFadden (0-1), Karl Dwyer (0-4), Sean Jones (1-0). Subs Mike Joe Hennessy, Mike Murphy.