London Exiles finally make it to Main Street after beating Leitrim
Connacht SFC Semi-final replay: London 2-11 Leitrim 1-13
London’s Greg Crowley tries to break past Leitrim’s Barry Prior at Dr Hyde Park on Sunday. Photograph: Mike Shaughnessy/Inpho
The Exiles have just made it to Main Street. After seizing the day, then very, very nearly letting go, the footballers of London will play in the Connacht final for the first time, assuming the sheer disbelief of this game will have worn off by then.
When it comes to writing history the championship still knows no bounds: coming into the season London had only ever won a single game in Connacht; now they’ve won two, back-to-back, surviving the first game and then the near-seizure of this replay, to set up another sling shot at the Goliaths that are Mayo, in next month’s final.
That’s set for Mayo’s own territory of Castlebar, on July 21st, not that London are strangers to entering lions’ dens. They rarely do things straightforward either, and that was certainly the case here.
Because not many teams get to enjoy a 14-point advantage at half-time, and not many would let it slip down to one-point by the end, either.
Indeed this wasn’t just the classic game of two halves, but acts of stage fright, playing as if lives depended on it, tanks being emptied all across the field, along with various kitchen components being thrown about in both directions.
“Well going in at half-time we knew the game wasn’t over in any shape or form, because there was a very strong wind,” London manager Paul Coggins admitted after, once his heart had stopped racing.
“We just didn’t want to concede a second goal. That was the major thing. Once they got a goal, in that time left, it would have been trouble, because our backs were definitely to the wall.”
Lording of the game
While the “stiff” breeze blowing down the field from the town end definitely favoured London in the opening 35 minutes, it’s doesn’t alone explain their complete lording of the game for the opening 35 minutes, nor Leitrim’s utter inability to put together any proper attacking strategy.
It didn’t exactly explode in London’s favour, either: Emlyn Mulligan chipped over the opening free after two minutes, although even then was looking a little wobbly, his right calf tightly strapped, still badly torn from last week’s draw.
He would need a miracle to get through but instead reality struck after 14 minutes when he limped off.
By then Leitrim had also lost midfielder Darren Sweeney, who lasted only 11 minutes before an old ankle injury flared up, forcing his replacement.
Sweeney had helped steady the ship last weekend and his absence from midfield suddenly became glaring.
Meanwhile, London went about emptying those tanks.
Cavan man Lorcan Mulvey was showing the way, from play and placed ball, ably aided by Eoin O’Neill and wing back Tony Gaughan, with all Leitrim defenders being skinned alive.
After hitting Leitrim with seven points without reply, London then hit them with a left hook, given the simple build up that ended with Greg Crowley’s goal, on 22 minutes.
O’Neill proved the final pass, but a succession of London players went by their men as if they weren’t even there, the simplicity of Crowley’s finish amplifying Leitrim’s pure carelessness.
Three more London points without reply followed – one from the boot of Ciarán McCallion, one from a completely unmarked Cathal Magee, and another for Mulvey, pushed London 11 points clear.