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.
If what happened next didn’t stun London it did everyone else in Dr Hyde Park, as McCallion waltzed in for their second goal, right on 30 minutes, Damian Dunleavy finding the unmarked Séamus Hannon in the foundation.
Just before the break, Leitrim managed to raise an attack, Robbie Lowe bursting forward, his shot at goal clipping the crossbar and skirting over.
Little did we realise then, but it was a sign of things to come. Still, some of us in the press room had to adjust our laptops, trying to type in the half-time scoreline: London 2-10, Leitrim 0-2, or 14 points in front.
Indeed Leitrim were greeted by a hushed silence when appearing for the second half, their loyal supporters clearly fearful how much worse things might get, even with the wind in their backs.
But they were soon cheering, then roaring, and eventually hysterical as one of the potentially great championship comebacks looked well underway.
Four sweet placed kicks in succession for Kevin Conlon was a sign of things to come (he’d finish with 0-8), Leitrim’s run of scores only briefly interrupted on 43 minutes by another from Mulvey. London would not score again.
Every ball Leitrim touched turned to gold, but they needed a goal, and knew it too. When it came, on 61 minutes, Conlon’s long ball deftly flicked into the net by James Glancy, it suddenly seemed like Leitrim’s game to loose, even with a four-point deficit to close.
More incredible again is the fact Leitrim probably could have snatched it, or at least forced a draw, had two late and very open scoring chances not been sent either side of the posts: a 70th minute free taken by Conlon, perhaps a little hastily, was clipped slightly left; 90 seconds later Glancy finally worked himself into a scoring position, only to drift his shot slightly right.
By then time had run out for Leitrim, and run just perfectly for London in the moment of GAA history.
LONDON: D Traynor; P Butler, S Curran, D McGreevy; S Hannon (capt), S Mulligan, T Gaughan (0-2); P Geraghty, C Doyle; G Crowley (1-0), D Dunleavy, C McCallion (1-1); E O’Neill (0-2), L Mulvey (0-5, 0-4 frees), C Magee (0-1). Subs: E McConville for Hannon (half-time), S Kelly for McCallion (44 mins), B Mitchell for Dunleavy, C Daly for Doyle (both 60 mins), B Collins for Magee (64 mins). Yellow cards: P Geraghty (22 mins), C McCallion (24 mins), G Crowley (31 mins), T Gaughan (64 mins), C Doyle (68 mins), (70 mins).
LEITRIM: C McCrann; F McMorrow, C Egan, G Reynolds; D Beck, E Williams, B Prior; D Sweeney, B Brennan; P Brennan (0-1, free), E Mulligan (capt) (0-1, free), P McGowan; K Conlon (0-8, 0-6 frees, one 45), J Glancy (1-0), R Lowe (0-3). Subs: C Clarke for Sweeney (8 mins, inj), B McDonald for Mulligan (14 mins, inj), S McWeeney for Egan (half-time), R Cox for McGowan (51 mins). Yellow cards: B Brennan (58 mins)
Referee: Cormac Reilly (Meath)