By Mike Fitzpatrick
What was initially expected to be a cruise into the championship semi-finals for Leitrim almost turned into an upset, with Monaghan coming within a whisker of knocking Leitrim into oblivion after a stunning display of courage, determination and skill in this replay at Gaelic Park.
Never were Leitrim so evenly matched in their quest for the championship as they were on Sunday. A stirring performance by Ray Kelly up front for Monaghan enlightened the Ulster side with his charisma and fighting attitude clearly spreading among his teammates. Kelly opened the scoring for his side after Ciaran McDonald and John Donaghue had netted points for Leitrim.
It’s difficult to comprehend how so many points were scored throughout the match when both backlines performed admirably to keep out their opponents. Mike Brosnan and Malachy McHugh starred for Leitrim while their opposite numbers Bonnie Duffy and Brian McKenna equaled them in their respective defensive duties.
Monaghan inched in front with points from Paul McGlynn and the combative Hughie Sullivan midway through the first half, only for the consistent Leitrim forward Sean Jones to equalize with a nicely taken free kick. Liam O’Neill of Monaghan scored twice though he was equaled point for point by Leitrim’s Ciaran McDonald. Jones and McDonald laid siege on the Monaghan goal only to be denied the all important goal by goalkeeper Ger McGrinder. Both settled for points to give Leitrim a two-point lead going into the half time interval.
The vocal Monaghan support were on their feet when Leitrim rampaged forward leaving goalkeeper Al Travers their only representative in their side of the pitch. Mike Joe Hennessy of Leitrim sent the ball dangerously close to the Monaghan goal only for McKenna and Bernard Treanor to claw Monaghan to safety.
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Paul McGlynn of Monaghan gave his side a good chance of claiming the tie, scoring two successive points after teammate Treanor had been sent off. After Martin McKibben put Leitrim back in front, Monaghan fullback Bonnie Duffy found himself in unfamiliar territory and scored a well taken, if completely unexpected point for his side.
After some unselfish play from Hughie Sullivan, Ciaran McDonald spoiled the Monaghan supporters jubilant celebration of their equalizer by knocking another over the bar to put his side in front, only for Monaghan substitute Eddie Murphy to sneak in another equalizer.
Kelly scored what he hoped to be the winner for Monaghan, but with little over a minute to play, Paul Hughes and McDonald broke Monaghan’s hearts with points that stole the tie away. Leitrim won a game as they had expected, but Monaghan, with this display, have won many new admirers.
Monaghan: Ger McGrinder, Aidan Burke, Bonnie Duffy (0-1), Gary Birdie, Brian McKenna, Bernard Treanor, Mickey Art, Hughie Sullivan (0-1), Brendan Scott, Liam O’Neill (0-1), Emmet McCormack, Paul McGlynn (0-4), PJ Rogers, Ray Kelly (0-3), John Browne. Subs: Eddie Murphy (0-1), Noel McEntee.
Leitrim: Al Travers, Malachy McHugh, John McGuinness, Mike Joe Hennessy, Neville Dunne, Mike Brosnan, Jim Donaghue (0-2), John McGinn, Tom McHugh, Ciaran Treanor, Martin McKibben (0-1), Sean Jones (0-3), Ciaran McDonald (0-5), Paul Hughes (0-1). Subs: Andy O’ Grady, Hugh Sheehan, Owen Hamilton.