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Connacht Semi Final

Monday, June 25

Monday June 25 2007

Galway 0-17 Leitrim 1-10

Connacht SFC

FOUR points may have been the difference on the scoreboard but that winning margin certainly flattered Galway's footballers, who breathed a huge collective sigh of relief leaving Carrick-on-Shannon yesterday.

Not for the first time, the visiting Tribesmen spoiled a promising Leitrim party, especially in yesterday's fiesta-like atmosphere and anyone who witnessed the fantastic €3million new stand being unveiled at 'Park Sean' could not but sympathise with the small county that had just patently punched above its weight both on and off the pitch.

Bottom line?

For the third time in as many summers Galway are heading to the Connacht final, while Leitrim were left bemoaning too many wasted chances. The subsequent qualifier draw was not kind to them either, and now they must face league champions Donegal in the first round.

Leitrim might argue it wasn't as soul-destroying as last year's one-point loss to Mayo, but Dessie Dolan's side, who started brilliantly, put the visitors under enough pressure yesterday to know they are not far off them.

If Donal Brennan had opted to blast an early second-half goal chance instead of trying to place it, or if Fintan McBrien had not momentarily fumbled another chance in the dying seconds, fate might have been kinder to Leitrim.

But on both occasions Galway goalkeeper Paul Doherty made vital interventions to save goals, and, upfront, his own team-mates were far less wasteful. Galway also had their talented bench, especially Sean Armstrong, to thank for maintaining their balance on the lethal banana skin that is Leitrim at home.

Post mortem

However, there will undoubtedly be a serious post mortem into their skittish form at both ends of the pitch. Inside the Leitrim dressing rooms door was a large colour team poster inscribed with 'If you believe you can win', and a large green and gold poster printed with 'Believe' also hung behind their first-half 'scoring' goal.

Those mental triggers worked a treat.

A Ciaran Duignan free opened the scoring and midfielder Gary McCloskey tucked away a brilliant goal after eight minutes to give Galway the welcome they had feared. Declan Maxwell lined out at corner-forward in their reshuffled attack and the plan was as simple as it was effective.

'Route One' was used early and often and Galway's full-back line looked surprisingly ropey under the high ball. At the other end, where captain John McKeon marked Padraig Joyce, Leitrim's own full-back line was its usual impeccable self but, as Galway's big names struggled to lose their men, there was one lethal exception - Nicky Joyce.

His form underlined why he is the natural successor to his full-forward cousin. While Finian Hanley took over from Damien Burke on Maxell before half-time, Joyce also had two markers (Barry Prior and Colin Regan) by the break and still managed to run the show.

Manager Peter Ford pulled Padraig Joyce out to the centre and threw Michael Meehan in to full-forward, and Galway‘s half-forwards also deserved great credit for smothering out the early ball that yielded Leitrim's early three-point lead.

Sean Armstrong arrived off the bench to play Bonnie to Nicky Joyce's ClydeStifling Leitrim's half-backs and midfield inside their own '45' in the second quarter, Galway kept them scoreless for 18 minutes while scoring five unanswered points to yield a one-point (0-9 to 1-5) half-time lead.

Within minutes of the restart, Nicky Joyce was causing havoc again, winning two frees and scoring one as they pulled three points clear. Ominously, Sean Armstrong then arrived off the bench to play Bonnie to his Clyde. But it was the next 15 minutes that proved Leitrim's downfall.

Time and again their defence and midfield emerged heroically with hard-won ball, only for their forwards to let them down. Michael and Ciaran Duignan (a free) both missed chances before the latter put Donal Brennan through with just Paul Doherty to beat, but his decision to place the ball gave the 'keeper that split second to get a touch on it. The resultant '45' yielded one of eight second-half wides, which were to prove particularly costly.

Ciaran Duignan missed some easy chances, two from frees, but got a great point off the turn after 50 minutes to cut the deficit to two, by which time Finian Hanley was hauled off and Michael Comer moved to full-back in Galway's shaky defence.

And with Kieran Fitzgerald and Damien Blake finally settling them, and Barry Cullinane doing well off the bench, they regained their composure. They appeared to have closed the game out by going five points clear, yet Leitrim fought magnificently in a very open game where all but one of the starting forwards scored from play.

Battling to the end, Ciaran Duignan, Maxwell and McBrien got three without reply to cut the deficit back to two again. However, young gunslingers Armstrong and Joyce extended it again. Two points might have been a more accurate reflection of the game, but Leitrim were left, yet again, to rue their missed chances.

SCORERS - Galway: N Joyce 0-6 (2f), P Joyce 0-3 (2f), J Fallon, S Armstrong 0-2 each, J Bergin, D Savage, M Meehan, C Bane 0-1 each.

Leitrim: G McCloskey 1-0, C Duignan 0-3 (1f), D Maxwell, D Brennan 0-2 each, M Foley, J Glancy 0-1 each, F McBrien 0-1 (f).

TEAMS AND PLAYER RATINGS

GALWAY - P Doherty 8; K Fitzgerald (Capt) 7, F Hanley 6, D Burke 5; M Comer 7, D Blake 7, D Meehan 7; J Bergin 6, N Coleman 7; D Savage 5, J Fallon 6, N Joyce 9; M Meehan 6, P Joyce 6, C Bane 5.

Subs: S Armstrong 8 for Bane (41 mins), N Coyne 6 for Hanley (51), B Cullinane 7 for Savage (59), P Geraghty for Fallon (72).

LEITRIM - N Gill 7; D Reynolds 8, J McKeon (Capt) 9, M McGuinness 8; B Prior 5, B McWeeney 7, S Foley 7; G McCloskey 8, M Duignan 7; C Regan 7, C Duignan 7, M Foley 6; J Glancy 5, D Brennan 7, D Maxwell 8.

Subs: F McBrien 7 for Glancy (53), J Guckian 7 for M Duignan (58), C Kennedy 6 for Foley (61), P Howard for C Duignan (72).

REF - M Meade (Limerick).

ATTENDANCE - 11,517.

- Irish Independent


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