By Peter Nolan
Leitrim and Westmeath played to a thrilling draw in Sunday’s Senior A match up at Gaelic Park. It was a seesaw match in which neither side could pull away although each were on top for long stretches.
Leitrim had the brighter start when Ken O’Connor scrambled home an ugly goal for the game’s opening score, 3:30 after the throw in. Leitrim’s management shuffled the line up on the day starting Big Ken on the edge of the square and adding Wexford and Leinster man Dermot Kinsella at midfield.
O’Connor led Leitrim’s early surge, contributing that goal, a point and winning a free which Alan McFadden converted, as the Connaught side raced out to a 1-3 to 0-0 advantage.
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Big Ken was rampant early, so the Westmeath sideline reacted, switching David Hughes from the corner, onto the big full forward. Westmeath finally got on the scoreboard on P. J. Ward’s first free. The powerful young forward, playing once again in the corner banged over 0-6 in the first half. Ward has made an art form of the free kick from the hand, particularly the sideline ball. Westmeath knocked over 0-7 on the trot, with 0-6 coming from P. J. Ward.
John Noonan interrupted with a Leitrim point off a nice Dan O’Sullivan feed but the interruption was brief. Shane Ward, who scored earlier in Westmeath’s run, hammered a great goal and then another point. Larry Keenan tapped over a free for Leitrim to set the halftime score at Westmeath 1-8 to Leitrim 1-5.
Leitrim shuffled their line up again at he half, reuniting O’Connor and Keenan in the middle of the park. Alan McFadden, now at full forward, opened the scoring with a Leitrim point, but Evan Kelly walloped a great goal under heavy pressure, to extend the midlander’s lead to 2-8 to 1-6.
Noonan pointed for Leitrim and were nearly in for a big goal, but David Hughes stepped in for a timely interception. Leitrim sub John Donoghue pointed well off a good Dan O’Sullivan set up and Leitrim were within a goal. Leitrim kept chipping away and two frees from McFadden left only the barest margin.
Both sets of backs had come up big under pressure. Pa Murphy made a great interception off a Westmeath pass before Peter Dalton and then Michael Jackson snuffed out a dangerous Leitrim attack.
After P. J. Ward was cleverly dispossessed by Leitrim fullback John Walsh, Keenan took a pass from Ken O’Connor at the other end of the pitch and fired the equalizer over the lathe. Leitrim were ascendant and looked certain to take the lead. They did, but it took a strange play to do it.
Keenan launched over a long ball goal-ward, from 70 yards out. Miscommunication in the Westmeath backline let the ball drop and that uncertainty was punished as Big Larry’s kick bounced over the bar to give Leitrim the lead with just four minutes to play.
Keenan’s point was Leitrim’s seventh score of the half, all points, while Westmeath amazingly had only one score, Kelly’s goal in the opening 26 minutes of the half. It looked like Leitrim would hang on for the win, but then Kelly struck again.
Leitrim keeper Mike McGinley fielded well under pressure and looked to clear. Kelly quickly cut off McGinley’s angle and blocked his clearing effort. The ball bounced up to Kelly and Kelly struck for the opportunistic equalizer.
Both sides are in good shape playoff-wise as the season winds down. Leitrim at 4-1-1 look like a safe bet, but Kelly’s point was big for Westmeath, who now stand in good stead at 3-1-1.
Co-men of the Match: Evan Kelly, Westmeath and Larry Keenan, Leitrim
Mike McGinley, Pa Murphy, John Walsh, Dan Downey, Danny O’Sullivan, Pauric Flynn, Stephen Andrews, Dermot Kinsella, Larry Keenan (0-3, 1 free), Jim Donoghue, Alan McFadden (0-5, 4 frees), Liam Coyle, John Noonan (0-2), Ken O’Connor (1-1), Aiden Power, Sub: John Donoghue (0-1).
Eoin Farrell, Peter Dalton, Kieran Walsh, David Hughes, Tom Quinn, Aiden Canning, Michael Jackson, Pauric Hurley, Brian Murphy, Enda Henry, Evan Kelly (1-1), Garreth Baile, P. J. Ward (0-6, 4 frees, 1 sideline), Shane Ward (1-2), Dave Fitzgerald.