For the third year in a row Leitrim will face off against Kerry for the New York title after the 2012 champions barely got by Cork in a pulsating encounter on Sunday evening.
In a contest that Cork will feel they left behind, Leitrim used all their knowledge to scrape through by the skin of their teeth. It certainly helps when you spring two former inter-county players off the bench for vital contributions, Nicky Joyce and Dan Doona. Both had scores in what was a low scoring affair. More on that later.
Cork had pushed into a four point lead with four minutes gone in the second half when Jason Kelly blasted a brilliant goal, but in what can only be called falling asleep at the most critical time, Leitrim swept down the field and got the goal back when Keith Quinn used his athleticism to out jump the Cork keeper. It kept his side within shouting distance.
When time was ticking down, shout they did with back to back scores from the aforementioned Joyce/Doona combination, and despite some brain freezes Leitrim held on to win.
The first half was a low scoring affair with the sides level at four a piece when the break arrived. Goal chances went a begging for both sides.
Mikey Lenihan drove wide for Cork in the second minute while Gary Lowney stopped a Shane Moran drive with a fisted clearance under pressure.
One glaring fact was the wides that Cork was racking up. They were playing Adrian Flynn around the middle of the field and he was getting on a lot of ball firing into the corners to Lenihan and O’Callaghan.
Wides came and went, however, and Leitrim were staying close. Two points from Ciaran Brennan pushed the winners into the lead, smartly taken as he was being used as a defender marking Kelly; the second was fisted over when in traffic. They also had a drive from Moran hit the top of the upright and went wide.
In what was a powerful output for the first 30, three of the points came in the last five minutes. Dave O’Callaghan set up Rory Stafford for a score and then cancelled out a Moran point with a lovely for him tap over -- for the rest of us a long distance drive.
Who would take the first step to the final and break the game open? It seemed like Cork did when they fired 1-1 in the first three minutes of the second half. After O’Callaghan pointed a free from the sideline, when he had no need to be fouled, Kelly followed with his brilliantly taken goal.
He seemed to be pushed into the corner as he headed for the end line about 20 yards from the left post. He burst past the defender and then side-stepped another before rifling the ball to the net, off Pa Ryan’s hand, and the Rebels were four up.
Immediately, however, Leitrim headed down the right side from the kick out. Darren Freeman had possession on the wing and fired a speculative drive to the goal mouth. Keith Quinn jumped highest and flicked to the net to again bring his side back to a point down 1-5 to 1-4.
They followed with Moran firing a thundering drive that Lowney did exceptional well to parry and also had a wide from Brennan. Cork recovered to answer with a Kelly 50. It sailed over the lathe but in a two point outburst by Leitrim, in the 11th and 12th minutes the sides were level for the fifth time in the game.
Quinn had the first, while Brian O’Connor had a score for the ages, a sideline from the 50 yard line in front of the stand.
The midfield battle was now swaying to Leitrim’s favor, with Eoghan Carew doing a lot of hard work, battling, finding the ball and distributing. He found Ronan Gallagher with a pass but the sub’s screaming shot went wide with the goal at his mercy. Carew then followed with a pointed free as the game entered the final 10 minutes.
Subs were now critical, and the depth of both benches started to become a factor. Hugh Curran had back to back scores, the first when Stafford set him free, the second when he fisted over from a tight angle.
Leitrim went to the bench and introduced Doona and Joyce. Former Galway All-Ireland under 21 winner and senior panelist Joyce used his guile to fist over when he pulled down a rebound on the left of the Railway goal, to level the tie for the last time. Doona then followed it with a free when he was fouled 30 yards from goal.
Cork attacked again but were denied on their first go round; they then had a free from the 50 yard line when Curran was fouled. Directly in front of goal, it would have been in Kelly’s sight lines but it was taken quickly before he could get to the sector and the chance went a begging.
Leitrim retained possession with two frees but slowly taking the first they were penalized with a throw up. They did win the loose ball, however.
On the second O’Connor drove into Cork hands on the Leitrim 50 yard line, but again in the aftermath the defense stuffed the chance. Time expired with Leitrim moving the ball across their defensive end, and Cork’s season expired.
It was a balanced Leitrim performance with a number playing roles in the win, none more so than Eoghan Carew as he used tireless tackling to lead the way. He also had positive production each time he was on the ball.
Paddy Maguire, Lonan Maguire in second half, and Nathan Breen all did well at the back. Paddy Kelly and Brian O’Connor battled to a draw in the center with Rory Stafford and Brian Gallagher. The extra man in this area won the accolades, Carew and Ciaran Brennan, in Leitrim’s case.
Brennan’s points were critical. Keith Quinn did a lot of hidden work, and his goal was the most important of the year for any side. Shane Moran and Darren Freeman both had scores but they were tough to come by against Cork’s defense. The introduction of Doona/Joyce was pivotal in that they knew exactly what to do in the couple of possessions they had each in a tight game in waning minutes. You can’t buy experience.
Another year, another defeat for Cork. A broken record since the 1950s.
While captain Lowney would love to have the goal back, he did have a good hour. Paul O’Connor gave nothing to Moran; an excellent outing by the Ilbracken man. Alongside him Furlong, Raftery and the very good Morrissey shone. Morrissey moved the ball brilliantly on his wing, and time and again he fired passes into the forwards.
Adrian Flynn had a good opening half when he played behind midfield, Connell Kelly was a loss through injury which happened on a strong run up the center. O’Callaghan has set the bar so high that four points is a bad day at the office for him, but he was one of the top three this summer.
Leitrim: 1 Pa Ryan, 2 Mike Creegan, 3 Paddy Maguire, 4 Lonan Maguire, 5 Cian Maher, 6 Nathan Breen, 7 Ronan O’Flaherty, 8 Brian O’Connor (0-1), 9 Paddy Kelly, 10 Keith Quinn (1-1), 11 Shane Moran (0-1), 12 Darren Freeman (0-1), 13 Ciaran Brennan (0-2), 14 Damien Moran, 15 Eoghan Carew (0-1). Subs: Dan Doona (0-1), Nicky Joyce (0-1), Ronan Gallagher.
Cork: 1 Gary Lowney, 2 Conor McCarten, 3 Paul O’Connor, 4 Mike Furlong, 5 Keith Scally, 6 Alan Raftery, 7 Adrian Morrissey, 8 Rory Stafford (0-1), 9 Brian Gallagher, 10 Jason Kelly (1-1), 11 Connell Kelly, 12 Sean O’Neill, 13 Dave O’Callaghan (0-4), 14 Adrian Flynn, 15 Mickey Lenihan. Subs: Hugh Curran (0-2), Shane McCarthy.
Referee: John Fitzpatrick.
Man of the match: Eoghan Carew (Leitrim).