Extra-time ecstasy for juniors

Connacht Junior Football Final Roscommon …………. 2-10  Leitrim ………………… 0-13 Paul Hickey  A goal straight from the heart of Frenchpark that came three minutes before the end of extra-time secured a great victory for Roscommon in the final of the 2008 Connacht Junior Championship at Salthill last Sunday afternoon. With Roscommon leading by one point after 77 minutes of even fare, Western Gaels’ Derek Moran was selected to take a 55 metre free-kick from out in the left half-forward’s position. Moran cleverly lashed the ball high into the air and allowed it to hover over the left edge of the Leitrim square until it was met by the fist of his in-running club mate Kevin Higgins.  Higgins, a noted boxer for Ballinagare in the past, met the ball perfectly and angled it into the net to the Leitrim goalkeeper’s net. It was a simple but very cleverly executed goal, and it gave Roscommon a four-point lead for the first time since the sixth minute of the first half. Roscommon bainsteoir Mick Jordan leaped into the air as the ball hit the net, and it was clear that the Connacht title belonged to Roscommon. It had been a tense and very keenly contested game. Leitrim held the lead for just one of the 80 minutes, but they trailed by just a point at half-time, and by the smallest margin for most of the second half. Extra-time was similarly evenly contested, and Roscommon only took a lead a minute before Higgins’s goal when Derek Moran kicked a great point. There were great performers for Roscommon all over the field. Ronan Brady underlined his undervalued skills with yet another flawlessly accomplished 2008 performance at inter-county level. St. Croan’s player Brian Mullin, who has been playing competently at midfield for UCD for several seasons, had an excellent opening 25 minutes at centre-forward. Cathal McHugh scored a superb goal in the sixth minute, when he got possession on the run and lashed the ball into the top corner from 15 metres. Captain Ray Cox, who, at 32, was the oldest player on the team, performed solidly at full-back. Mark Miley performed flawlessly in goals. Martin Reynolds caught several excellent balls in midfield. James McKeague played very well in the first half. David Flynn used his strength to great effect in the second period.  Roscommon began strongly and, playing in front of a crowd that grew from c 5,000 to 11,500, they hit the front after three minutes. Following a great point-blank save by Mark Miley the ball was worked upfield to Kevin Higgins who kicked a point. McHugh followed this score with his goal, and Roscommon led by four after six minutes. James Holohan and Brian Mullin then swapped points, before Ray Cox and Damien O’Donnell pointed for Leitrim to reduce the margin to one point. Derek Moran’s tremendous 40-metre free gave Roscommon a two-point cushion at half-time. The second half was very tense, and Roscommon lost their shape at times. Their dedication was always discernible, however, and with Jordan and Jim Gaffney pulling the strings on the line, Leitrim never took the lead. Kevin Higgins’s point in the 48th minute was Roscommon’s most important score in the second half: he lashed the ball over the bar from 40 metres to give Roscommon a two point lead after a sustained period of Leitrim dominance. The last three minutes of full-time were very exciting, with Declan Gilhooley’s curled point in the 58th minute forcing an extra 20 minutes of play. Patrick McGowan gave Leitrim the lead with a point in the first minute of added time.  A good score from the effective Mullin restored parity thirty seconds later, and Roscommon quickly took the lead when Moran curled over a great score from out on the right wing. Declan Gilhooley’s free in the 13th minute of added time equalised the score again, but then the Western Gaels’ duo took over, with Moran’s point and Higgins’s goal sealing the championship for Roscommon. Roscommon: Mark Miley; Niall Carty, Ray Cox, Ronan Brady; David Flynn, John Nolan, Colm Garvey; Michael Killilea, Martin Reynolds; Kevin Higgins (1-2), Brian Mullin (0-2), James McKeague; Fintan Cregg, Derek Moran (0-5, 0-3 frees), Cathal McHugh (1-1). Subs used: Ian Kilbride for Killilea (45 mins); Paul Garvey for McKeague (51 mins); John Harte for Nolan (53 mins); Mark O’Donohue for McHugh (56 mins). Leitrim: Cathal McCrann; Wayne Gilgunn, David Flynn, Liam Ferguson; Aidan Bohan, Michael Greene, Daniel Beck; Daniel Lowe, Noel Doonan (0-2); Patrick McGowan (0-1), Damien O’Donnell (0-4, 0-2 frees), Christopher Prior (0-1); Ray Cox (0-1), Declan Gilhooley (0-2, both frees), James Holohan (0-2). Subs used: Emmett Lee for Bohan (inj., 5 mins); Karol Scollan for Cox (half time); A Cullen for O’Donnell (51 mins); O’Donnell for Prior (69 mins); Nigel McGuire for Lowe (74 mins); John Cullen for Gilhooley (76 mins). Referee: D. Corcoran (Mayo). Player of the match: Ronan Brady was Roscommon’s outstanding player in the Connacht Junior final. Brady has played very competently for Roscommon in 2008 and should be considered for inclusion in the senior squad for the All Ireland qualifier in nine weeks.