Leitrim 0-14 Donegal 0-5
The defensive prowess of Leitrim was critical in negating any proven goal chances for Donegal over the hour in this senior football contest.
As the game progressed deeper and deeper towards its conclusion, it was very apparent that the lack of firepower up front was going to prove critical for Donegal. Former all-star Mark McHugh was at center back for the side, but they needed a player of that caliber closer to their opponent’s goal to break down Pa Ryan’s excellent defense.
Due to the dominance for long periods of both sets of defenders, the game became akin to a rugby match. Hitting, lots of it in the middle, the ball moving 21 to 21 and a severe lack of trys. A few more yellow cards may have forced the sides to concentrate on the football side, but they did not arrive.
The game opened in a very physical way. Paddy Kelly was on the ground immediately, but akin to last year’s final, when the former Kerry senior gets hit he plays better and better. Nicky Joyce had a Leitrim point after five and James Moynagh had a Donegal reply on 10.
It was a low scoring struggle, with Hughes and Creegan already showing their excellence for James Mitchell’s side. Brian Connor had a brilliant point from a sideline but Donegal dropped four balls into Ryan’s hands at the other end to make the point look like a waste river to cross.
Joe Bell did have a bullet point with 10 minutes left in the half. It was touched over by Ryan but that was the full extent of the scoring for his side in the first half.
Leitrim finished the half with points from Connor, Freeman and Joyce, all well executed as Kelly directed proceedings alongside Connor.
Three further points to open the second half made it an 0-8 to 0-2 lead, and they also had a Keith Quinn shot saved by Brian Cuilinan.
Donegal finally had back to back scores with a quarter to play from James Moynagh and Conor Lynam, but Leitrim finished the contest out with six of the next seven scores as they nullified the threat of McHugh with suffocating defense and the arrival of the very lively Eoghan Carew.
Pa Ryan led with his display for the winners. His save on Bell was important and he fired the ball out to the big midfielders from the sickouts letting them do what they do best.
Breen had a very good second day out. It always seems to take a game for new players to acclimatize. He looks like a quality addition with his tackling and ball handling. Ciaran Hughes is an excellent full back; he switched with Breen for long periods.
Mike Creegan is very tenacious and was unlucky to get booked for a tackle on McHugh. Certainly a number of players did far worse. Paddy Kelly is a bull in the center, one with deft touches and wonderful ball handling ability. Memo to all, stop hitting him and try and play football, the other business inspires. Brian Connor kicked three majestic scores and his battle with Quigley was intense and interesting.
Shane Moran improved as the game went on. Keith Quinn is underutilized at full forward. He is a quality player and it just seems that he doesn’t get enough ball to show his talent when he is that deep. Darren Freeman covered a lot of ground and is the image of the Sloweys from yesteryear when in flow.
Eoghan Carew was terrific off the bench and is pushing for a starting role. Third midfielder may be his best slot. He did a lot of work in the trenches and kicked a good point.
Donegal need a scorer in chief. Conor Lynam is just not getting ball inside, and it doesn’t help that he played a serious hurling game an hour earlier. Not easy being a dual player in any country. Dan Geraghty, Michael Clarke and Mark McHugh in passages all impressed in the back. McHugh may need to be given a free roaming slot from the forty to fully utilize his undoubted talents.
Brendan Quigley kept battling and never once complained about the heavy knocks. He just kept getting up and taking the free. Ken O’Connor did a lot of good work as a sweeper, but the forward line needs supply and a little help.
Leitrim: 1 Pa Ryan, 2 Peter Fahey, 3 Nathan Breen, 4 Mike Creegan, 5 Ciaran Brennan, 6 Ciaran Hughes, 7 Cian Maher, 8 Brian Connor (0-3), 9 Paddy Kelly, 10 Lonan Maguire, 11 Shane Moran (0-1), 12 Darren Freeman (0-1), 13 Dan Doona (0-1), 14 Keith Quinn (0-2), 15 Nicky Joyce (0-4). Subs: Eoghan Carew (0-1), Ronan O’Flaherty (0-1).
Donegal: 1 Brian Cuilinan, 2 Paul McGinley, 3 Danny Geraghty, 4 Michael Clarke, 5 Steven Duffy, 6 Mark McHugh, 7 Peter McNeilus, 8 Brendan Quigley, 9 Adrian O’Connor, 10 Colin Devlin, 11 PJ Flanagan, 12 Joe Bell (0-1), 13 James Moynagh (0-2), 14 Ken O’Connor, 15 Conor Lynam (0-2). Subs: Jackie McHugh.
Referee: Martin O’Connor.
Man of the match: Paddy Kelly (Leitrim).