Even if this game was played in the other Hyde Park — the big one beside Buck House rather than the Roscommon version — London couldn’t, in their wildest dreams, have envisaged enjoying a 14 points lead in a Connacht SFC semi-final.
Not only that, but they were worth every bit of their remarkable lead. And yet they almost blew it all, hanging on in the end as Leitrim, who reduced the deficit to just a point, wasted two good chances at the death to force extra-time.
London’s interval lead of 2-10 to 0-2 might have been more reflective of the contrasting population bases — 12 million versus 32,000 — but it was simply a case of one side knowing how to use a lead and another whose challenge was weakened by further injuries when midfielder Darren Sweeney and skipper Emlyn Mulligan were forced off through injury.
“It was mystifying we were so off the pace in the first-half,” said Leitrim joint manager George Dugdale. “It’s not as if we weren’t ready for it. I don’t know what happened. One thing led to another and it was like a cancer spreading through the team in the first-half. We kept losing all the personal battles.
“But fair play to London. They have been working hard under Paul Coggins for the past few years. They have beaten Sligo, who are a division three side, and they have now beaten us. They are no longer the whipping boys, that’s for sure.”
The win — and a final date with Mayo in Castlebar in three weeks — is a huge boost to the GAA in Britain and manager Paul Coggins, calm as ever despite the magnitude of the win, knows how significant it is.
“It has taken us three years to build this team but it goes back much longer than that and for us to get to a Connacht final is a reward for all the people who put the work in down through the years in London. I’m sure it means the world to all those people.
“It is all about lads working hard. We put everything into it and it was a tremendous first-half by us. We couldn’t have asked for any more in the first-half but we needed every bit of it. Leitrim are a top team. We have now beaten two top teams in Connacht, two counties with a great history and tradition.”
But what of Mayo? Can they dream the impossible? Surely they won’t win that as well?
“You can do anything,” noted Coggins with an assassin’s smile. “But we will enjoy tonight first. Mayo are a fabulous team, let’s not go anywhere regards that. But we will work hard for the next few weeks, we are a good team and we will go into the final and do our best and let’s see what happens.”
Former Cavan player Lorcan Mulvey laid the foundation with a string of good frees as the exiles slipped into a 0-7 to 0-1 lead after 19 minutes and then four minutes later it looked like they were out of sight when Greg Crowley fired home their first goal after a great move which opened the Leitrim defence.
Any doubt about the outcome seemed to disappear when Ciaran McCallion got their second goal before the break to leave them 14 points to the good at the break.
The Leitrim revival got an early boost when Kevin Conlon landed four placed balls inside five minutes of the restart. London faded. Mulvey’s 43rd free ended up being their only score of the second-half. In the end it was the winner.
Leitrim kept chipping away at the deficit, Robbie Lowe landing some good points and Conlon keeping the frees flowing.
The James Glancy got a fist to a delivery from Conlon and it was 2-11 to 1-9. Five points and eight minutes left. It was possible the Leitrim faithful, who made up the bulk of the 5,217 crowd, knew it.
Conlon got three more frees and Paul Brennan landed one from distance. Just one more point.
But it never came. Conlon saw a free go wide and Glancy, brave enough to have a go, lofted one wide of the target as the tackle came and London survived to chalk up their most famous victory ever.
They have written musicials in the West End about less.
Scorers for London: L Mulvey 0-5 (5f), C McCallion 1-1, G Crowley 1-0, E O’Neill 0-2, T Gaughan 0-2, C Magee 0-1.
Scorers for Leitrim: K Conlon 0-8 (7f, 1 ’45), R Lowe 0-3, J Glancy 1-0, E Mulligan 0-1 (f), P Brennan 0-1 (f).
LONDON: D Traynor; P Butler, S Curran, D McGreevy; S Hannon, S Mulligan, T Gaughan; P Geraghty, C Doyle; D Dunleavy, G Crowley, C McCallion; C Magee, L Mulvey, E O’Neill.
Subs: E McConville 6 for Hannon (35), S Kelly 6 for McCallion (44), C Daly for Geraghty (Blood 47-58), B Mitchell 6 for Dunleavy (54), Daly 6 for Doyle (60), B Collins 6 for Magee (63).
LEITRIM: C McCrann; G Reynolds, C Egan, F McMorrow; D Beck, E Williams, B Prior; D Sweeney, B Brennan; P Brennan, K Conlon, P McGowan; J Glancy, E Mulligan, R Lowe.
Subs: C Clarke 7 for Sweeney (10), B McDonald 6 for Mulligan (14), S McWeeney 6 for Egan (35), R Cox 6 for McDonald (52).
Referee: C Reilly (Meath).