Full-forward Conor Beirne — one of seven debutants in Leitrim’s starting 15 — rifled a terrific goal 14 minutes from time for the matchwinning score as the visitors built on an industrious first-half.
Ragged tempers and misplaced challenges resulted in three dismissals in the closing stages — Sligo centre-back Brian Curran picked up a straight red card with two minutes remaining and in stoppage time there were second bookings for Eamonn O’Hara (Sligo) and Emlyn Mulligan (Leitrim).
Standby referee, Clare’s Rory Hickey, was the match official who showed these cards as the original match official, Joe Curley, Meath, cried off after just five minutes with a leg injury.
Goalscorer Beirne was one of several stars for Leitrim along with midfielder Daniel Lowe and wing-back Wayne McKeon. Sligo, minus the classy presence of David Kelly and Johnny Davey, suffered in most sectors as they repeated much of the listlessness that had dogged their Allianz Football League campaign.
The introduction of Sean Davey and Mark Breheny sparked a revival of sorts and they shot three unanswered points to draw level (0-8 each) by the 16th minute of the second-half. The equalising score came from Adrian Marren — his fourth of the day — but Sligo, who never once led were undone within five minutes when Beirne scored 1-1.
Sligo were never able to generate sufficient momentum after conceding that goal and only scored once more in the remaining 19 minutes with David Maye pointing in added time.
The winners’ manager, Mickey Moran, was brimming with praise for his heroes afterwards.
This was Leitrim’s first win in the Connacht championship since 2008 and now Moran plans for a provincial semi-final against the defending champions, Roscommon, on June 12.
“I’m thrilled for the lads — the players were so determined coming into this game, not just to win the match but to win with style,” said Moran, who managed Sligo for four Connacht campaigns.
“We lost it a bit in the second-half when Sligo stepped it up and they had us rattled. But the lads held it together — we could have won with a few more insurance points on the board,” the Derry native added.
I’m delighted for the Leitrim people, it was great to see them after the match on the pitch in such a happy mood. Hopefully people realise that in the so-called weaker counties there is plenty of football, spirit and passion.”
Moran’s counterpart, Kevin Walsh, didn’t dilute the occasion. The day belonged to Leitrim and he wouldn’t disagree.
“Youth has no fear — there is a good bounce in the step of those Leitrim players and they brought that here (Markievicz Park). We knew that they were unearthing good players.”
Sligo’s sluggishness aside, top scorer Adrian Marren’s first-half goal chance after 30 minutes — when he lashed a shot over the crossbar after Eamonn O’Hara’s knock down — was, even at that stage, a significant moment.
Walsh rued his side’s inability to get motoring after drawing level at eight points apiece.
“We had a few wides at that time which, if score, might have got our noses in front and we would have started asking questions of the opposition. Leitrim got a point against the run of play — a good point — and we didn’t respond to that and then the goal went it. With the amount of chances we were making up front and the amount of wides, it was always going to be hard to pull back a four-points deficit and it just didn’t happen.”
With the Qualifiers to come, Walsh has to reinvent the team. “Maybe we just didn’t push on and find new leaders, if we are going to go forward we are going to have to find leaders.”
Scorers for Sligo: A Marren (0-4, 2f), M Breheny (0-2, 1f), T Taylor (0-1), F Quinn (0-1), S Coen (0-1), D Maye (0-1, 1f)
Scorers for Leitrim: C Beirne (1-3, 1f), E Mulligan (0-2, 2f), J Glancy (0-1), A Croal (0-1), P Brennan (0-1), W McKeon (0-1), T Beirne (0-1)
Subs for Sligo: B Kennedy for R Donovan, 20 (‘blood’ sub); S Davey for S Gilmartin, 27; M Breheny for K Sweeney, 34; D Maye for F Quinn, 61; B Egan for A Costello, 65; K Cawley for M Breheny, 69
Subs for Leitrim: B McDonald for P Brennan, 55; D Sweeney for D Lowe, 56
Referee: J Curley (Meath) / R Hickey (Clare).