Lack of depth leaves Leitrim men stranded
The problem for Leitrim football teams, and all of the other smaller counties as well, is that they just don't have enough quality players -- other than the occasional 'once in a lifetime' squad, if they are lucky. Longford won a Leinster title in 1968, Clare won a Munster in the 90s and Leitrim themselves won the Connacht championship in 1994. But they were the only major titles in a combined 300 years of trying by this trio.
Many times, weak counties have many excellent players, often as many as 10 or 12, but rarely have they a universally strong 15, let alone a few subs of similar stature. This was shown clearly in Carrick-on-Shannon yesterday by the fact that Leitrim had to juggle around their best players in an attempt to compensate for lesser ones. Sadly, for the home team, they did not have enough such front-line players once it became known a few weeks ago that several of their best men would be absent through injury.
The two best examples of the problem confronting Mickey Moran and his selectors was shown at the start when first-choice full-back John McKeon was moved out to centre half-back and outstanding full-forward Declan Maxwell was played at wing-forward and midfield.
Both players would be first-team players for nearly any county team in Ireland in their best positions but that's the tragedy for Leitrim -- they have to spread their resources too thinly.
Maxwell, had he been at full-forward, would surely have brought a lot more cohesion to their attack which, after losing corner-forward James Glancy in the 21st minute, became a disorganised group that struggled badly to get scores. Philip McGuinness from Mohill is exempt from any criticism as he was possibly the outstanding players on the Leitrim side through his bravery and commitment as well as scoring.
John McKeon was badly missed for most of the game in his usual full-back role, especially in the first half when Roscommon full-forward Senan Kilbride did serious damage when getting under the many high balls sent in there.
This was a very entertaining game for about 60 minutes at which point it became clear that Leitrim simply did not have the firepower to save a game they had trailed in for over 50 minutes. It was skilful for long periods, there were some excellent scores and not a headbutt or shin-kick to be seen. Roscommon lorded the game at midfield in the second half, mainly through the towering Michael Finneran and scoring responses by Leitrim were all too sporadic during this time.
With five of their All-Ireland-winning minors of three years ago and three subs in action in this game, it is clear the route Roscommon have set out upon and their youth policy got a huge boost yesterday.
Yet the part played by more experienced men, like Kilbride, Karl Mannion and full-back John Nolan was crucial in this result and will be even more important in the next game against Mayo.
Overall, Roscommon played more direct football for most of the game even though, in the final 20 minutes or so when well ahead, they did resort to slowing things down and frustrating their opponents.
Against a team like Leitrim, this is usually a successful tactic as there is a tendency for their players to panic when they do not get regular scores and there was a bit of that yesterday when Leitrim went searching for a goal in the final quarter when points would have been sufficient.
Obviously, there was a lot of interest at this match in seeing the tactics that joint-managers Mickey Moran and John Morrison would implement after a full season in charge of Leitrim.
Unfortunately for them, their plans had been seriously disrupted by injuries in advance of the game -- most importantly to their outstanding forward, and free-taker, Emlyn Mulligan, who was hit with a cruciate ligament injury. Frees were a bit of a problem yesterday for Leitrim and at least two were wasted.
The published Leitrim line-out was changed all over the field when the ball was thrown in with about 10 players in positions that did not match the programme.
It amazes me that so many managers still persist with this childish behaviour, much to the extreme annoyance of spectators who, yesterday, paid €3 for a programme.
In general, the Leitrim team was very well organised, played to a plan, had a few good tactical successes during the game and will surely have built a foundation which will see them start at a much higher level next autumn, not to mention the qualifiers -- assuming the two Ulster men stay on.
But, as with all weak counties, once injuries strike, the show is over for any particular competition, particularly the championship.
Roscommon, as always, will have no fear of playing Mayo, even in Castlebar. But they are a young team and their defence will be a lot more severely tested than was the case yesterday.
FOOTNOTE: At this time of year, we journalists visit many GAA grounds, but nothing any of us have seen in recent years can match the facilities for spectators and the working journalists in the brilliant new stand in Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada.
There is ample space for ALL media people with special facilities for each and the latest technology on call for all.
It just shows that small counties with the right attitude are often far better at providing facilities for players, spectators and media people than the bigger counties. Well done to Leitrim GAA.