Waterford's Mick Ahearne on the move (as a Leitrim player goes head over heels!).

Waterford's Mick Ahearne on the move (as a Leitrim player goes head over heels!).

Waterford 0-13 Leitrim 0-10

New Waterford manager John Owens got off to the perfect start in the National Football League when they enjoyed a hard-fought three-point win over Leitrim in Ballinamore last Sunday.

This was a victory that will live long in the memory as for large periods of the second half a win seemed highly unlikely as Waterford struggled to get their hands on the ball and the home side threatened to run riot. However, Waterford responded to the adversity well and a sterling final 10 minutes was enough to claim two vital league points.

Owens’ men started well as debutant Michael Donnelly slotted over a free inside the first minute which was added to a couple of minutes later by a Wayne Hennessy effort from play.

Leitrim eventually found their feet and dangerous corner-forward Philip Howard opened their account with a point from play after 6 minutes.

The Deise lads came to Ballinamore in a determined mood and pulled further ahead when centre-forward Conor McGrath broke through to score a point.

Philip Howard was giving the Waterford defence plenty of problems and his second point of the afternoon in the 11th minute reduced the deficit to the minimum.

Brian Wall and Leitrim full-forward James Glancy then traded frees before Mick Aherne exchanged points from play with Howard.

Another free from Glancy looked to have left the sides level at the break but a free deep in injury time from Brian Wall left Waterford with a single-point advantage at the interval.

Waterford were fully deserving of the half-time lead as they brought an intensity to their play that for long periods the home side failed to match. The home side were dealt a serious blow towards the end of the first half when their dangerous corner-forward, Philip Howard pulled a hamstring and he failed to reappear for the second half.

Storming comeback

Whatever Mickey Moran and John Morrison said to the Leitrim players at the break seemed to work as they looked like a different side at the start of the second half. A David O’Connor point from play soon had them back on level terms before another free from Glancy put Leitrim in front for the first time.

Waterford were now struggling all over the field and Leitrim pressed home the advantage. Despite landing three balls directly into the grateful hands of Tom Wall, Leitrim still extended their lead through points from Philip McGuinness, Declan Gilhooly and Daniel Beck.

With 12 minutes left on the clock a Waterford win looked impossible as they trailed by 10 points to six having failed to score for 23 minutes. This barren spell included a missed penalty from Robert Ahearne which many people felt was harshly awarded. Conor McGrath was pulled back as he raced through on goal. Referee Vincent Neary awarded the penalty to Waterford when most people in the ground felt that the foul was committed outside the square. Robert Ahearne struck his penalty very well but it was brilliantly saved by Leitrim goalkeeper Gareth Phelan.

When the time came for men to stand up and be counted, centre-back Shane Briggs stormed up the field and knocked over a point. A point from Conor McGrath reduced the deficit even further before a free apiece from Brian Wall and Wayne Hennessy had Waterford level with six minutes remaining. Two more points from the impressive Hennessy and another free from Brian Wall sealed a superb victory for John Owens men.

This was a valuable victory for this Waterford team as they attempt to gain promotion to Division 3. There were several fine performances throughout the field, none more so than centre-back Shane Briggs who led by example throughout. In midfield, Mick Aherne put in a tremendous amount of hard work, while up front Wayne Hennessy and Conor McGrath showed up well.

Leitrim will see this as a blow to the promotion hopes as they would have seen the visit of Waterford as an opportunity to take two points. However, they have been severely hampered by the weather and up to Sunday’s game they had only had five collective training sessions.

This may go some way to explaining their second-half collapse. They were also dealt serious blows during the game when their two best forwards, Colin Regan and Philip Howard, had to be replaced.

Waterford: Tom Wall, Justin Walsh, Thomas O’Gorman, Maurice O’Gorman, Tony Grey, Shane Briggs, Paul Ogle, Mick Aherne, Eamonn Walsh, Wayne Hennessy, Conor McGrath, Brian Wall, Michael Donnelly, Robert Ahearne, Stephen Cunningham. Subs: Conor Phelan for P Ogle, Liam O’Lionnain for M Donnelly, Tommy Prendergast for S Cunningham.

Scorers: W Hennessy 0-4 (0-2f), B Wall 0-4f, C McGrath 0-2, M Donnelly 0-1f, M Aherne, 0-1, S Briggs 0-1

Leitrim: Gareth Phelan, Barry Prior, John McKeon, Dermot Reynolds, Daniel Beck, Gary Reynolds, James Glancy, Clifford Richardson, Darren Sweeney, Philip McGuinness, Michael Foley, Colin Regan, Philip Howard, James Glancy, David O’Connor. Subs: T Byrne for D Sweeney, M Croal for M Foley, E Mulligan for C Regan, D Gilhooly for P Howard.

Scorers: P Howard 0-3, J Glancy 0-3,  D O’Connor 0-1, P McGuinness 0-1, D Gilhooly 0-1, D Beck 0-1

Referee: Vincent Neary (Mayo).