The Connacht minnows are through to a daunting semi-final date with Mayo after a dramatic late show at a sodden Emerald’s Grounds.
The only side to have ever lost to London in the Connacht championship avoided a repeat by kicking three points in the final five minutes.
It was no more than they deserved though, it must be said. Aided by intelligent use of the bench by joint-managers Barney Breen and George Dugdale, Leitrim dominated the final quarter, but it was only in the dying moments that the scores arrived.
“It was a game where we had to remain patient and not panic,” said Breen, whose side trailed by 1-5 to 0-5 at half-time.
“We seemed to panic with 15 minutes to go, going for opportunities from far out and taking wrong options. We had a nice breeze in the second half, and it was just a matter of staying calm and picking them off, which we were lucky to do.”
Nerves looked to be a factor for Leitrim in the early exchanges, as a high error count presented London with a host of chances. However, the home side managed just one single score from a dominant opening 10 minutes, going through three different free-takers but finding no joy.
Midfield was an area where London were predicted to hold the upper hand, but they were unsettled by the sterling work of Darren Sweeney and Daniel Lowe, who opted to palm the bar of soap towards supporting players rather than attempt to catch it.
It yielded four unanswered points midway through the half, while at the other London continued to struggle from dead balls.
Needing inspiration, Paul Coggins went to make a change, but no sooner had he handed the slip to the fourth official, Padraig McGoldrick — the man he was set to substitute — buried a stunning low shot past Cathal McCrann on 32 minutes to put London back in front.
It was the Sligo native’s final touch, but London remained on the front foot for the remainder of the half and two Lloyd Colfer frees gave them a three-point lead at the interval.
London opted for a route one tactic at the start of the second half, which saw them increase their lead within one minute of the restart.
However that would be their last score from open play, as the arrival of Enda Williams off the Leitrim bench coincided with them dominating the remainder of the game.
Within two minutes Williams — who transferred from Longford this year — had teed up Emlyn Mulligan for his fourth point of the game, while also cutting off the supply to London’s inside forwards.
Coggins threw on midfielders but they remained a distant second around that sector. Their only saving grace was Leitrim failed to make it count on the scoreboard.
It was only a matter of time though before they caved. Substitute Shane Moran kicked a fine point on 65 minutes to level things up, before Mulligan and Glancy scored within seconds of each other in the final minute to give them some breathing room.
London cut the lead back to one with a late free, but a dramatic equaliser was beyond them.
“We’re desperately disappointed,” said Coggins.
“It’s hard to put it into words. The boys gave it everything they had. We had our chances in the first-half, maybe if we’d taken our time and converted those things [it] would be different.
“Our season isn’t over yet. We’ve a lot to look forward to. To run a county from Connacht after all the changes we’ve had this year is a credit to the lads. We’re pleased that we brought it that far, but disappointed we couldn’t make the breakthrough.”
Scorers for Leitrim: E Mulligan 0-5 (3fs), J Glancy (Glencar-Manorhamilton) 0-2, C Clarke, A Croal, E Williams, D Sweeney, S Moran 0-1 each.
Scorers for London: L Colfer 0-5 (4fs), P McGoldrick 1-1, S Kelly, E O’Neill (f) 0-1 each.
Subs for Leitrim: Subs: R Lowe for McGowan (ht), E Williams for Glancy (St Marys) (40), S Moran for D Lowe (45), K Conlon for Croal (61), C Ryan for Brennan (65).
Subs for London: C Bonner for McGoldrick (32), J Scanlon for Mulligan (44), P McDermott for Mullins (51), C McCallion for Colfer (55), P Finn for O’Leary (67).
Referee: R Hickey (Clare).