Light at the end of tunnel

In counties such as Leitrim they don’t measure success with trophies.

Light at the end of tunnel

Indeed, they don’t even use victories to chart progress, so when Emlyn Mulligan queried afterwards when was the last time they had four championship games in a season, you just knew how important this win was.

Leitrim were the only side never to win a game in the All-Ireland SFC qualifiers and you just feared that was going to continue when Mayo inflicted a 22-point hammering in the Connacht semi-final.

But Leitrim are a resilient lot. Having lost half a county team in the economic crisis you could understand why a three-point win over Wicklow, the only Leinster county never to win a senior provincial title, should spark off such great celebrations in the sunshine at Páirc Sean MacDiarmada in Carrick-on-Shannon on Saturday.

But what’s rare is wonderful and after so many agonising defeats in the qualifiers, this was a great win for Leitrim.

They fully deserved their win against a Wicklow side who never once looked like winning the game, even if the sides were level half a dozen times in the opening half.

Wicklow just could not score despite plenty of possession and you could see the frustration rising all the time in big midfielder James Stafford as hard-won ball out the field was wasted time and again by an attack which was badly off their game.

The loss will set Wicklow football back quite a bit and while the decline is hardly surprising, Garden County supporters must wonder what happened to all the optimism which surrounded the hyped-up appointment of Mick O’Dwyer a few years ago?

As often happens when two lower division sides clash in the championship, the ball went across the pitch as often as it went forward as both tried to hold on to possession in the absence of penetrative attackers.

But Leitrim had two match-winners. Mulligan may have kicked all six points from frees, but he showed a great willingness to drop the shoulder and take the man on, while inside James Glancy was superb at full-forward.

Glancy’s first instinct was to look for the posts and the full-forward punished Wicklow with three first-half points, albeit if one of them looked to have pulled wide from the left.

Mulligan also hit three in the opening half while Joey Kelly, a late replacement for Wicklow, landed a hat-trick as well but faded after the restart.

They exchanged scores six times but Mulligan’s third free edged Leitrim 0-7 to 0-6 in front at the break.

The opening score of the second half was going to be crucial. Leitrim got it when Mulligan expertly steered a free from the hands on the right over the bar. He repeated the dose moments later and suddenly Leitrim were a goal in front after 40 minutes.

Ger Hickey put clear water between them after 49 minutes and suddenly the Leitrim followers began to believe this might be their day.

But doubts began to creep into Leitrim minds as they retreated in numbers. Nicky Mernagh picked off a point for Wicklow, Stafford fluffed a goal chance but then Dean Healy and Seanie Furlong found the range and suddenly it was 0-11 to 0-9 with seven minutes left.

Another tale of woe seemed to be scripting itself for Leitrim but they crowded the defence where Daniel Beck, Fabian McMorrow and Enda Williams did not stand on ceremony, and Mulligan’s sixth free brought relief.

But a McGrath point at the other end saw the anxiety levels rocket again for Leitrim as they defended a two-point lead in the dying moments and the release of pressure was palpable when Glancy, under pressure, let fly for his fifth point in stoppage time.

Scorers for Leitrim: E Mulligan 0-6 (6f), J Glancy 0-5, R Cox, G Hickey 0-1 each.

Scorers for Wicklow: J Kelly 0-3, S Furlong (1f), J McGrath 0-2 each, T Hannon (1f), N Mernagh, D Healy 0-1 each.

Subs for Leitrim: D Sweeney for Hickey (25), S Moran for Lowe (56), K Conlon for Croal (63), R Cox for McDonald (73).

Subs for Wicklow: A Byrne for Gaffney (40), D O’Sullivan for McGraynor (42), T Hannon for Mernagh 48), J Kelly for Dalton (65).

Referee: Barry Cassidy (Derry).

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