Cavan 3-12 Leitrim 2-15
In a contest that had Cavan leading by nine points to open, and Leitrim storming back to go ahead by six 22 minutes later, a senior football game that was a very exciting contest regardless of some early season mistakes will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
Ciaran Hughes was carried of on a stretcher by the ambulance service, and while he was lying on the ground before the arrival an all-out Donnybrook occurred.
From the vantage point of the press box -- and no, we do not see everything by any stretch of the imagination -- it seemed that if a player or two were shown reds, the fight may not have occurred.
First to the game, the real reason everyone came to the Bronx. After Brian Connor had the first score a point for Leitrim on 17 seconds, Cavan dominated for the next 15 minutes. It started with a Conor Sheridan goal when he was given the simple task of punching the pass from Conor Harrison to the empty net, and culminated with Conor Hogan driving a low ball to the corner of Pa Ryan’s home.
In the middle of the bookends, Ireland, Hallissey, Harrison and Harry Silke had all hit the target from range with delightful efforts and a rout seemed possible. The fact that one of Leitrim’s most influential players, Paddy Kelly was gone due to a black card also contributed to the thought process.
Keith Quinn and Connor had other ideas, however. Quinn started the resurgence with a point, then the Offaly native Connor ended a move with a crashing goal that gave Gavin Joyce no chance.
Another point from Quinn was followed by Leitrim’s second goal. This one came from the boot of Brian Fahey, but a deflection of a defender helped it to the net.
After a Eoghan Carew point from play -- he was starting to have a major influence on the game -- Cavan responded. They had a clear cut goal chance but Harry Silke’s effort was expertly saved by Ryan.
Dan Doona had a free over the lathe for Leitrim but again Cavan attacked and Harrison crashed a thundering drive off the crossbar.
Both sides finished the half with points from play, the Cavan effort from a free that Leitrim vociferously wanted to know the reason for.
Regardless, Leitrim were ahead 2-6 to 2-5. They continued their good play with the first five scores of the second half with Maguire, Doona a free, Carew a 50, Quinn and Doona again all scoring. Quinn’s effort was expertly pushed over the bar by Joyce to negate the damage somewhat.
Alarmingly that was the end of the Leitrim dominance with Mike Hallissey, Silke and Harrison leading the Cavan comeback.
John Comerford and Richie Morgan had points to start the resurgence before Harrison cancelled out a Connor effort.
Maguire and Quinn extended the lead for the last time with scores from play. Quinn was having a major mark on proceedings to put last year’s runners-up in a 2-13 to 2-8 lead with 10 minutes left.
Morgan and Harrison narrowed the gap with points from distance before Harrison had the third Cavan major with time running down. A Silke score with three minutes left had the sides level and all to play for.
Harrison moved the Breffni Boys in front with a towering score that tailed in at the last moment to set the stage for possible victory, but then the game changed for the worse.
With Cavan moving the ball out of the defensive end, Ciaran Shields and Connor became embroiled with each other directly in front of the press box approximately 30 yards in from the sideline. If striking is a red card offense then certainly this was a situation where one or two reds were needed. None were shown.
After the dust cleared Leitrim won the ball and were working it forward nearing the halfway line. Hughes was in possession but after he released the ball he was met by Shields and hit the deck hard. He lay prone for a long period.
The ball continued forward and then actions got out of control. Completely. At least 20 players got involved in a full blown brouhaha with both sides guilty.
The most dangerous factor, however, was the amount of personnel that joined from the sideline. If it is left to the players on the field normally it will stop far quicker than if people from the sideline join in.
When common sense returned Shields was given a black card for the original tackle and that was it from a player standpoint. At least three from each side could have gone. At least two from each sideline could also have gone.