By Mike Fitzpatrick
In what was without doubt the most exciting finish seen all season at Gaelic Park, Tyrone edged out Leitrim to make it to the final four of the senior football championship.
The Ulstermen seemed to be cruising with mere minutes on the clock when they led by four points, but a point from Leitrim’s free kick expert Bill Dennehy, and a stunning goal from Mickey Walsh with less than twenty seconds on the clock, gave Leitrim a lifeline that their second half performance certainly deserved.
The game itself was a strange affair, with both sides swapping points in the first half, canceling out any leads as soon as they appeared.
Dennehy opened the scoring for Leitrim only to have Tyrone’s Mickey Coleman equalize minutes later. Dennehy, Jim Donohue and Walsh followed up with efforts for Leitrim following Ronan O’Reilly’s powerhouse goal for the Ulstermen.
At half time it was all even at six points apiece. Duke Devlin obviously had some strong words of encouragement for his side at half time because after the interval Tyrone came out fighting.
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A crazy battle between John Meehan and Tyrone’s Danny Barr ensued in midfield which merely emphasized the sheer competitive rivalry between the sides. Tyrone began moving forward, with Stephen Lawn, Gary McGonnell and Justin Murray hitting points without reply, and suddenly it seemed as if Leitrim’s season was over.
With a healthy five point lead, Tyrone were in cruise control. Mike Brosnan’s men however, are well accustomed to grabbing glory from the depths of despair, and they climbed back doggedly into the fray.
Liam Doyle and substitute Alan Travers hit points to answer another Lawn effort, but still the four-point gap existed. With four minutes to go, Leitrim needed a goal to salvage a draw and bring the tie to overtime. It looked unlikely, but from nowhere, they savagely attacked the Ulstermen’s goalmouth.
With no fewer than three attacks in the space of a minute ending up in goal line scrambles, with Barr and keeper Barry Hynes performing heroics to keep the ball out, Tyrone counter attacked and scored another point.
Four points, and less than a minute separated Tyrone’s entry into the semis. A Bill Dennehy free made it three in the difference, and with only seconds on the clock, Leitrim raced forward. A ferocious shot from Walsh flew in to the back of the net giving Hynes no chance.
All even with no time left on the clock. Phil Sheridan signaled for a free kick for Tyrone, which would decide whether we had extra time or not. Stephen Lawn stepped forward, with Tyrone’s hopes and hearts resting upon his shoulders.
From a considerable distance Lawn stepped back, with the Tyrone crowd silent and the Leitrim contingent hoping desperately that his knack at free taking would desert him at the crucial moment.
It didn’t. As if in slow motion, Lawn’s effort sailed high and over the bar, between the posts to give Tyrone an enthralling victory. They meet deadly rivals Donegal in the semi final in what should be a fantastic game.
Leitrim: Sean Jones, Malachy McHugh, Morgan O’Shea, John McGuinness, John Donohue, Eamon Breen, Mike Murphy, John Meehan, Conall Martin, Liam Doyle (0-1), Tommy Gee, Mickey Walsh (1-1), Johnathon Daly, Jim Donohue (0-2), Bill Dennehy (0-6). Sub Alan Travers (0-1).
Tyrone: Barry Hynes, Enda Donnelly, Chris Lawn, Brian Quinn, Philip Sloane, Gary McGonnell (0-1), John Cormican, Danny Barr, Paul McGuirk, Justin Murray (0-1), Mickey Coleman (0-2), Ronan O’Reilly (1-0), Dermot Lane, Stephen Lawn (0-6), Darren Flanagan (0-2).