By Peter Nolan
Leitrim overcame a talented Tyrone side by the narrowest possible margin, 1-12 to 2-8, in a Senior A thriller Sunday at Gaelic Park that preserved the Connacht club’s perfect record at 4-0. This was a match that had almost anything a Gaelic football enthusiast could ask for.
Full measures of passion and skill were on view as the teams fought to a dramatic finish. Unfortunately, the paying customers were left to their own devices regarding the time and the score as the Gaelic Park scoreboard and clock remained dark for the second consecutive week. Referee Philip Sheridan was on his own with the timing of the match, which became controversial as Lietrim screamed for the final whistle as they protected their lead in stoppage time.
The early going was nip and tuck as Oliver Gaughan of Tyrone and Larry Keenan of Leitrim exchanged opening points. The high-fielding Keenan was in great form and his second point, which put Leitrim ahead 0-3 to 0-2, was a true original.
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Keenan received a pass about 10 yards from the Tyrone goal, but instead of catching the waist-high ball, Big Larry casually, skillfully volleyed off the inside of his foot and over the bar. The beautiful game, indeed.
Gaughan answered and Alan McFadden, who never reached the heights we’ve quickly come to expect from him, responded with a free for Leitrim. Tyrone came right back after McFadden’s equalizer. Martin O’Rourke finished a good Tyrone passing move involving several teammates with a well-struck point.
Then O’Rourke was gifted with a goal, when the normally surehanded Lietrim keeper, Mike McGinley, lost the handle on O’Rourke’s shot and could only watch as the ball trickled across the goal line. Tommy Gee, who was also quieter than usual, pointed for Leitrim, and Tyrone led 1-5 to 0-5 at the half.
Most of the action was in the Tyrone defensive end throughout the second half as Leitrim, with Kenny O’Connor shouldering the burden as Larry Keenan had in the opening half, began to edge away. O’Connor pointed twice and when McFadden pointed a 45-yard free off the ground, Leitrim had climbed back into a tie.
Gaughan continued to trouble Leitrim as he pointed off a fine individual effort to reclaim the lead for Tyrone. Of course, Leitrim struck back. Substitute John Noonan, who already had pointed, wrestled a high ball from Tyrone keeper Anthony McCann and punched the bouncing ball to the net for a gritty Leitrim goal.
But the drama continued and Gaughan was once again at center stage. Tyrone wingback Phil Sloane burst out of the defense, igniting an attack that saw Noel McPartland find Martin O’Rourke, who placed Gaughan perfectly for a great goal, and a one point Tyrone lead, 2-8 to 1-10.
But once again Leitrim had all the answers. McFadden drove over another free to bring the sides level yet again. Then John Donoghue stepped to the fore. Jim’s younger brother took his chance from 40 yards, and his point sealed victory and kept Leitrim perfect.
Co-Men of the Match: Larry Keenan and Ken O’Connor.
Leitrim: Mike McGinley, Keith Murray, John Walsh, Donny Downey, Pa Murphy, Padraig Flynn, Danny O’Sullivan, Larry Keenan (0-2), Ken O’Connor (0-2), John Donaghue (0-1), Alan McFadden (0-5, 3 frees), Liam Coyle, Tom Gee (0-1), Aiden Power. Sub: Derek McMahon, John Noonan (1-1).
Tyrone: Anthony McCann, Martin McMahon, Ciaran Byrne, Collie Fearon, Phil Sloane, Ciaran Doyle, Eugene McCann, Sean Ward, Jody Gormley, Oliver Gaughan (1-4), Martin O’Rourke (1-1), Damien Flanagan, Justin Murray (0-2), Noel McPartland (0-1, free).