The Ulster Senior League team pictured before Friday night's game against Leinster.
The Ulster Senior League fell to an agonising defeat in Friday night's FAI Intermediate Inter-League Tournament opener at Mervue.
Ulster Senior League . . . 1
Leinster Senior League . . . 2
First-half goals by Glenn Walsh and Gary Seery put Leinster in command, but the second-half was dominated by Anthony Gorman’s USL, who saw Mark Moran pull a goal back on 67 minutes.
The USL were camped in the LSL half for much of the second period, but just couldn’t reel in the arrears.
The night was perhaps best summed up seven minutes from the end. Moran’s cross clipped off a defender and just when it seemed as if it was dropping to the net, a combination of ‘keeper Andy McNulty and the base of the post kept it out.
McNulty, somehow, got up to turn over a blistering follow-up by Lee Toland. From the subsequent corner, Sam Todd shot into McNulty’s grateful arms.
Moran’s goal arrived just seconds after his introduction for the injured Sean McCarron, who had to be carried off.
Pajo Rafferty, whose introduction added a renewed energy to the USL charge, challenged the out-rushing McNulty and the ball broke. Moran seized the moment to finish and it was game on.
With Leinster still reeling, Ronan Doherty had a big chance to level it but, off his lesser-used right foot, shot at McNulty.
Leinster had taken the lead in the 16th minute. Tony Griffiths floated in a free from the left-hand side and big centre-back Walsh rose to power a header beyond Gavin Cullen. The towering Walsh had few equals and the Bluebell man’s header gave Cullen little chance.
The USL ‘keeper couldn’t be faulted for Leinster’s second either, as Seery flicked home from 10 yards after being picked out by a cross from the well-traveled Dean Ebbe, recently of Inverness Caledonian Thistle and now of Bluebell.
The USL won the Michael Ward Trophy back-to-back in 2013 and 2014, while the Peter Moran-managed class of 2016 missed out following a final day defeat to Munster, but they left themselves with a mountain to climb following those concessions.
Both sides were under new management this year with Leinster under the charge of Bluebell United boss Andy Noonan, who included no fewer than ten of his own club’s players in the LSL squad.
It was Leinster who had the better of the first half, though much of the trouble endured by the USL side was of their own doing.
After Walsh’s opener, the USL breathed a collective sigh of relief when Dean Kelly fired wide after a mistake in the USL rearguard.
Griffiths, after taking receipt of a ball in from the left by the under-pressure Seery, riffled over the top while Seery shot inches wide of Cullen’s left-hand post after a devastating break by the Leinster outfit.
Serry made no mistake with a clever second and Leinster were good value for their 2-0 interval lead.
That being said, Malachy McDermott did head off the crossbar late in the half while Jimmy Bradley had the ball in the net, though the offside flag had already been hoisted.
The USL were dealt a further blow 19 minutes into the second half when McCarron was felled by a dangerous tackle by Walsh who, remarkably, escaped sanction. McCarron was helped off and the Letterkenny Rovers hitman’s weekend appears to be over.
The USL are back in action on Saturday when they take on the hosts, Connacht, at Eamonn Deacy Park.
Ulster Senior League: Gavin Cullen; David Shovlin, Sam Todd, Peter Doherty, Lee Toland; Michael Funston, Malachy McDermott (Mark Moran 66); Adrian Delap (Tony McNamee 52), Jimmy Bradley, Ronan Doherty (Laurence Toland 88); Sean McCarron (Pajo Rafferty 64).
Leinster Senior League: Andy McNulty; Glen Shannon, Jeff Flood, Glenn Walsh, Anthony Murphy; Gary Seery (Adam Heyden 58), Aaron Robinson, Tony Griffiths (Keith Quinn 78), Dean Ebbe; Dean Kelly (Lenny McMillian 67), Craig Walsh (Sean Byrne 76).
Referee: Trevor Conlon.
FAI Intermediate Inter-League Tournament
Friday, November 17, 2017
Leinster Senior League 2-1 Ulster Senior League
Connacht Football Association 0-2 Munster Senior League
Saturday, November 18, 2017, 2.30pm
Ulster Senior League v Connacht Football Association Eamonn Deacy Park
Munster Senior League v Leinster Senior League Mervue
Sunday, November 19, 2017, 11.30am
Leinster Senior League v Connacht Football Association Eamonn Deacy Park
Munster Senior League v Ulster Senior League Mervue