For a while there on Saturday, it was as if Leitrim had misunderstood the instruction to put the clock forward and had instead wound it all the way back to 1994, when they won the Connacht title.
Leading by 0-6 to 0-3 with 21 minutes elapsed, and having also shot six wides in that period, the tiny Connacht county was on a roll and fans were having a party at Croke Park.
In just their fifth game ever there, and chasing a first win, they were ultimately unable to keep up the fight, however, as Derry made off with the Division 4 title pretty much as everyone expected.
For Leitrim manager Terry Hyland, it was their wides tally, nine in the first-half and 13 overall, that killed caused their dream of a win at Croke Park to turn to ashes.
“The wides ultimately killed us, yes,” said Hyland. “We have statisticians and experts but the biggest statistic is always the scoreboard. If you don’t keep that right it doesn’t matter about the rest of the stats.”
Yet with 16 points registered, by 10 different players, the smallest county in Ireland wasn’t disgraced and enjoyed a memorable day with an estimated 10,000 of their supporters - one-third of the population of Leitrim - turning out to roar them on.
“It’ll be immense for them because, to be fair, they’ve never been up at this level before,” said Hyland, who managed Cavan to the All-Ireland quarter-finals in 2013. “It’ll give them that little boost and that bit of confidence.
I think they have the ability to come back here next year if they apply themselves and work hard. I said that to them in the dressing-room, I’ve no problem saying it publicly either, because I think there’s more in these lads.
Six Derry points in a row efore half-time allowed Damian McErlain’s side to go in 0-10 to 0-7 ahead at the interval and with the wind behind them in the second-half they stretched the gap to four points by full-time.
Shane McGuigan was terrific for Derry with five second-half points while captain Christopher McKaigue boomed over two beauties.
In truth, it was no more than we expected from a Derry side that won the Division 2 title in 2013 and competed in the Division 1 final in 2014. McGuigan and McKaigue were two of seven Slaughtneil players in the lineup who also started the 2017 All-Ireland club final.
Still, Hyland felt Leitrim made life easy for the favourites at times. “We probably lost our kick-outs just before half-time and handed them possession,” said Hyland. “We probably got a little bit lazy, we didn’t make the runs to create the openings.”
Leitrim’s Ryan O’Rourke, with 4-22 to his credit prior to the decider, added another six points and displayed his class at times, underlining the talent that exists in the lowest tier.
“Maybe sometimes the hierarchy in Croke Park forget that there’s 32 counties in Ireland, they usually only talk about the top 16,” said Hyland. “But if we didn’t have the other 16, we wouldn’t have an All-Ireland championship.”
There have been bigger days for Derry at Croke Park, much bigger ones, so they weren’t lighting any bonfires around Bellaghy, Coleraine or Ballinderry afterwards.
In fact, the feeling was that if they start as slowly again on May 12 against Tyrone in the Ulster championship, there may be no way back.
“It’s better it happened now than against Tyrone,” acknowledged Derry manager McErlain, who managed the county’s minors to the 2017 All-Ireland final.
If we give ball away like that against Tyrone they will just score. Those are the learnings, that’s the difference and we have to try to bridge that gap between Division 4 and the level we’ll face in the Championship.
“Leitrim and ourselves were probably significantly the two best teams in Division 4, but we’ve now got to step it up another gear in terms of pace, athleticism, opposition punishing your mistakes and all of those things. We’re by no means the finished article but we have Tyrone there to absolutely sharpen our focus.”
Scorers for Derry:
S McGuigan (0-6, 1 free, 1 mark); R Bell (0-4, 1 free); C McKaigue, E Bradley, C Bradley (1 free) & E Lynn (0-2 each); N Toner & P Cassidy (0-1).
Scorers for Leitrim:
R O’Rourke (0-6, 4 frees); E Sweeney (0-2, 1 mark); M McWeeney, P Maguire, R Mulvey, M Plunkett, S Moran, D McGovern, D Flynn (1 free) and E Mulligan 0-1 each.
T Mallon; B Rogers, K McKaigue, P McNeill; M McEvoy, C McKaigue, N Keenan; E Bradley, C McAtamney; P Cassidy, E Lynn, C Doherty; S McGuigan, R Bell, C Bradley.
B Heron for Lynn & N Toner for Bell (50); J Rocks for Doherty (59); E McGill for K McKaigue (64); R Dougan for C Bradley (71).
C McCrann; A Flynn, M McWeeney, P Maguire; R Mulvey, S McWeeney, C McGloin; M Plunkett, S Moran; S Quinn, R O’Rourke, D McGovern; D Flynn, E Mulligan, E Sweeney.
P Dolan for McGloin (32); D Rooney for Mulligan (45); D Moran for S Moran (50); C Reynolds for A Flynn (60); J Heslin for D Flynn (65).
B Cawley (Kildare).