Allianz HL 3B Final: Sligo finish strongly
Allianz Hurling League Division 3B Final
SLIGO 3-17 LEITRIM 2-16
By Kevin Egan at the Connacht GAA Centre of Excellence
For three quarters of this game it looked as if Sligo’s inaccuracy, combined with some sublime goalkeeping from Leitrim’s Michael O’Brien, was set to cost the Yeats County this league title. Despite enjoying the lion’s share of possession throughout, a final tally of 19 wides and a series of missed goal chances meant that at the second half water break Leitrim – who were a model of efficiency by comparison – led by four points.
It all changed when wing back Mark Hanniffy, playing his first competitive game for Sligo since his inter-county transfer was completed, made a powerful run down the left flank of the attack and then set up Gerard O’Kelly Lynch for a game-tying goal with four minutes to play.
From then on, the script that had been followed up to that point was completely reversed. Hanniffy, Finian Cawley, Ronan Cox and Tony O’Kelly Lynch all picked off points, while Leitrim missed the target with three chances, one third of their total amount of wides over the full 80 minutes and more of action.
After winning Lory Meaghar and Nicky Rackard Cups in successive seasons, not to mention winning four out of four round robin games in the league, Sligo were the hottest of favourites going into this contest. However managerial upheaval during the summer meant that Ballygar native Padraig Mannion was taking the helm for the first time in this game, and it quickly became apparent that he was in for a nervous afternoon.
Once Sligo shot the first two points, Leitrim settled into the game and drew level through points from Ben Murray and Gavin O’Hagan. Ex county footballer Conor Beirne caused havoc on the edge of the Sligo square and manager Olcan Conway chose to double down on that physical threat by bringing on Peter Poniard at the first half water break, and that paid dividends when Beirne ser up Poniard for the first goal.
Already, inaccuracy was starting to haunt Sligo, while a stunning double save from Michael O’Brien to deny first Gerard O’Kelly Lynch and then Andrew Kilcullen piled the pressure on even further. O’Kelly Lynch did find the net with a wonderful run and inch-perfect shot across the goal from a tight angle, but Beirne seemed to be more and more dominant as time went on and he batted in one high ball and then fired over a point to really put Leitrim on the front foot.
Add in a perfect flick from David McGovern to take the ball off Andrew Kilcullen’s hurl when it looked like a goal was certain, and the day was starting to get the feel of one where the stars were aligning for Leitrim.
Perhaps inspired by Leitrim’s example of how to use a big physical player close to goal, Sligo went the same route after half time and it immediately paid dividends. Conor Griffin, who started the Sligo footballers in yesterday’s defeat to Carlow, set up his fellow footballer Gerard O’Kelly Lynch for one goal, had another two efforts magnificently saved by Michael O’Brien, and then chipped over a point to push the Yeats men in front.
What followed was Leitrim’s best spell of the game, as Gavin O’Hagan, Conor Beirne, James McNabola and Enda Moreton put over a string of incredible points in an 0-7 to 0-1 run for the men in green in gold, while Sligo seemed utterly unable to hit the target, at one stage shooting five wides in succession.
It looked like the finish line was in sight for Leitrim, but in a year where nothing is expected and anything can happen, there was time for one late twist in the tale, and for Sligo to pull an unlikely victory out of the fire.
Scorers for Sligo: Gerard O’Kelly Lynch 3-4 (1f, 2 65s), Tony O’Kelly Lynch 0-3f, Conor Hanniffy & Finian Cawley 0-2 each, Eoin Comerford, Mikey Gordon, Conor Griffin, Michael Munnelly, Mark Hanniffy, Ronan Cox 0-1 each.
Scorers for Leitrim: Gavin O’Hagan 0-8 (5fs), Conor Beirne 1-2, Peter Poniard 1-0, James McNabola and Colm Moreton 0-2 each, Ben Murray and Enda Moreton 0-1 each.
SLIGO: Stephen Fleming; Kevin O’Kennedy, Niall Feehily, Niall Kilcullen; Mikey Gordon, Rory McHugh, Mark Hanniffy; Finian Cawley, Eoin Comerford; Gerard O’Kelly Lynch, Conor Griffin, Kieran Prior; Andrew Kilcullen, Tony O’Kelly Lynch, Conor Hanniffy.
Subs: Ronan Cox for Comerford (22), Daniel Rolston for N Kilcullen (49), Ruairí Brennan for C Hanniffy (60), Michael Munnelly for Prior (60),
LEITRIM: Michael O’Brien; Stephen Goldrick, David McGovern, Paul Lenehan; Martin Feeney, Aaron McDermott, Ben Murray; Enda Moreton, Karl McDermott; Liam Moreton, Colm Moreton, James McNabola; Conal McGuire, Conor Beirne, Gavin O’Hagan.
Subs: Peter Poniard for K McDermott (16), Zak Moradi for Poniard (52), Jamie Ward for McNabola (67).
REFEREE: Richie Fitzsimons (Offaly).