JAMES Horan’s second coming as manager of Mayo produced high drama at Carrick-on-Shannon this afternoon where history was made when the first ever inter-county game went to a penalty shoot-out.
This FBD Connacht League game finished 2-13 apiece at the end of normal time but the equalising score from Leitrim in injury-time was shrouded in controversy as Dean McGovern, who was given a second yellow card, followed by a red card, did not leave the pitch and was involved in the move which set up the score which sent the game to a penalty shout-out following a remarkable comeback from Leitrim who trailed at one stage by eight points.
In fact, the home side will feel they had the winning of the game, blowing a great goal chance close to the end of the game, but they were showered with a lot of praise from the Mayo manager who watched his team score four penalties to Leitrim’s one to book a semi-final place against Galway next Sunday in Tuam.
“I thought Leitrim were very good and I was very impressed with them but we stood off them in the second half having played really well in the first half,” was the manager’s candid assessment afterwards.
Despite a poor second half when they were outscored by Leitrim by 2-5 to 0-4, Horan had a lot of praise for some of the newer players, particularly James McCormack, Fionn McDonagh and Colm Moran, while he also noted the big performances of Brian Reape and Fergal Boland.
And it did look as if Mayo had done enough damage in the first half to ease into the semi-final as they led by 2-9 to 0-8 at the break.
Despite a tardy start when they found themselves trailing by 0-3 to 0-1 after four minutes, Mayo stamped their authority in the game with two well-taken goals in a space of three minutes, the first fired to the roof of the net by Brian Reape, while Fergal Boland, who made a big impression in the Mayo attack, finished with the second following another good move from Mayo from the back.
The late arrival of Leitrim on the pitch for the second half was an indication that the half-time pep talk took longer than normal and it showed in their attitude on the pitch as they got stuck into Mayo.
The spaces that were there in the first half for Horan's men were no longer there and Leitrim had now taken a firm foothold in the middle of the field.
With the Mayo full-back line under increasing pressure it came as no surprise when they found the net with two goals, Evan Sweeney finishing the first and Ryan O’Rourke nailing their second as they tore Mayo's defence wide open and suddenly it was a one-point game - 2-10 to 2-9.
Domhnail Flynn had the game tied when he nailed a free with 15 minutes remaining but Mayo kicked two ahead again, Fergal Boland from play and Jason Doherty from a free, edging them closer to the winning line.
Sweeney made it a one-point game with a free but Boland scored what looked surely like the winner on the stroke of 70 minutes, but Leitrim weren't going away and came with two late points, the last one from substitute Damien Moran to force what many expected to be extra-time.
However, it soon became clear that the Connacht Council had decided that fading light might be an issue and any draw would go to penalties.
It fell to captain for the day, Jason Doherty, to fire Mayo in front from the first spot-kick.
Leitrim squared it when Ryan O’Rourke just about beat Robbie Hennelly with his side's first penalty-kick, but Leitrim kicked one wide and another hit the post as Mayo’s Brian Reape, Fergal Boland and Evan Regan found the net to see them through by 4-1.
Asked about the new rules, Horan said he remains unconvinced but said decisions would need to be made soon concerning their implementation for the National League but he has already gone on record as not being a fan.
“We just don’t know, certainly not from one game, but the three hand-pass rule is confusing for players and will also put pressure on referees,” he said.
Mayo: R. Hennelly (0-1, '45), E. O’Donoghue (0-1), G. Cafferkey, B. Harrison, L. Keegan, J. McCormack, D. Vaughan, S. O’Shea, S. Coen, F. McDonagh (0-1), J. Doherty (0-3, 3f), F. Boland (1-3), C. Moran (0-1), B. Reape (1-1), E. Regan (0-2, 1f).
Subs used: C. Crowe for Cafferkey (ht), J. Kelly for Coen, B. Doyle for E.O’Donogue, O. McLoughlin for Moran, C. Tracy for McDonagh.
Leitrim: D. McKiernan, P. Maguire, F. McTague, A. Flynn, C. Reynolds, R. Mulvey, S. Quinn (0-1), D. McGovern (0-1), S. Moran (0-1), S. McWeeney, C. McGloin (0-1), J. Heslin (0-2), E. Sweeney (1-3), P. Dolan (0-2), D. Flynn (0-1, 1f).
Subs used: M. Plunkett for A. Flynn. R. O'Rourke (1-0) for McGloin, G. Reynolds for J. Heslin (inj) D. Moran (0-1) for P. Dolan.
Referee: J. Molloy (Galway).