By Mike Fitzpatrick
Westmeath 1-10 , Leitrim 1-10
Call it bad luck, a refereeing decision going against them, a nasty breeze, whatever. Westmeath went home furious that they did not grab the two points from this Senior Football Div. I tie.
Coming into the game versus last year’s dethroned champions, Westmeath were favorites among nobody but themselves to clinch anything from the tie, yet fought their way to within a whisker of a stunning victory in a tie that had no shortage of controversy.
When Dave Ryan opened the scoring for Leitrim, followed shortly afterwards by a goal from stalwart Mike Brosnan, many of the pundits at Gaelic Park must have felt an easy victory was on the cards for the self-styled team of the nineties. Not a hope though. Though trailing by three points, Frank Kavanagh grabbed one back.
Westmeath surged forward and battled their way back into the tie. A further three consecutive points from Tommy Carton, and a Barney Healy free kick levelled the tie, and it quickly became apparent that we had a mouthwatering challenge on our hands.
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Some unlucky shooting from the Leitrim full forward line saw the woodwork take a battering from Bill Dennehy’s free, and Westmeath took full advantage of the Leitrim’s misfortune in front of goal by hitting two points from Kavanagh and Carton to give their side a two point cushion.
Some fabulous play from Brosnan resulted in a Westmeath attack being intercepted, and swapping passes with Dennehy, Brosnan nabbed possibly the score of the game to pull one back for Leitrim.
Dennehy was once more in the action, grabbing another two points to give Leitrim the slenderest of winning margins only for Carton to level for Westmeath right on the break.
Going into the interval both sides were level with seven points apiece, with either side looking as if they could snatch victory.
On the resumption, Carton opened the scoring in the second half with a great long distance point from his left boot, only for Rory Hussey to hit one back whilst on a mazy run toward the Westmeath goal.
Brosnan was once more in the action when he sent Jason Clarke clean through, only for Clarke to be fouled. Brosnan’s resulting penalty flew over the bar to give Leitrim the lead once more.
Two points midway through the half from Dennehy and John Donaghue meant that Westmeath needed at least three scores to level the tie. Following a Healy point, and Leitrim goalkeeper Enda Lohan being dismissed for a clash with Frank Kavanagh, things began to look up for the Westmeath side. A goal from Carton gave his side the lead once more, and his subsequent point gave Westmeath a slender two point lead which may have been enough for victory.
Dennehy hit one back late in the day to bring the tie within a point, and with the last kick of the game, the buzzer having sounded just as referee Philip Sheridan blew for a Leitrim free, Bill Dennehy stepped up to slam the ball over the bar to give Leitrim a late late tie.
Westmeath will not be pleased, having already dropped two points in their first game when they were defeated by Cavan.
Leitrim, though, have had disappointing starts to the season before, only to come good when it really mattered. Only one side can win the senior football crown this year, and what an interesting year we have ahead of us. Westmeath will surely pick themselves up after this one, and though they’ve lost three points out of four, surely the only way is up.
Westmeath: Kevin Wilson, Pat Spelman, Peter Dalton, David Bailey, Collie Mathers, Kieran Ryan, Tom Quinn, Ja Fallon, Kieran Walsh, Jimmy Hughes, Dermot Kenny, Barney Healy (0-2), Collie Reilly, Frank Kavanagh (0-2), Tommy Carton (1-6). Subs: Tommy Moore, Mark O’Brien
Leitrim: Enda Lohan, Malachy McHugh, Morgan O’Shea, John McGuinness, Tom Maher, Eamonn O’Brien, Mike Murphy, Rory Hussey (0-1), John Meehan, Dave Ryan (0-1), Jim Donaghue, Mike Brosnan (1-2), John Donaghue (0-1), Bill Dennehy (0-5), Jason Clarke. Subs: Sean Jones, Alan Travers Man of the match: Tommy Carton (Westmeath)