Leitrim looking for another silver lining
Win or lose in FBD final, McCrann insists team will keep feet on ground this time as league looms large
A YEAR ago Leitrim famously beat Sligo to win their first trophy in 21 years, but it is a very different green and gold side who will be defending their title in tomorrow's FBD final against Roscommon in Carrick-on-Shannon.
Not long after that victory they came back down to earth with a thud in a league season that veered from one injury catastrophe to another, followed by a summer that brought controversy and mortification.
It was a particularly tough season for their talented goalkeeper Cathal McCrann, who actually plays outfield for Gortletteragh and is also a talented hurler.
Against Clare, in the second game of the NFL, he came out to clear a ball and an opponent's elbow caught his forearm. It was only on the next ball, when he felt a severe pain in his hand, that he knew he was in serious trouble.
That game proved to be a portent of Leitrim's season.
McCrann had to go off with a broken arm and corner-forward Adrian Croal wasn't long after him with a head injury.
They were leading by eight at the time and it was only in hospital afterwards that McCrann heard that they had lost.
"And, after losing our first game to Limerick, that was us out of the running for the rest of the league," says McCrann
For any GAA player breaking an arm impinges on their work, but when you're a farmer and running the family's 70-cow dairy herd, the consequences are particularly disastrous.
McCrann is up at seven most mornings and has milking again in the evening, which sometimes forces him to dash to training.
He also works as an agricultural contractor, doing baling, silage and hedge-cutting for other farmers, so summer is his busiest time.
Today, for example, he is heading as far as Portadown to check out some machinery, but must still get back in time for training. Imagine doing work like that with your arm in an L-shaped cast for the best of two months?
"It was a bit of a freak accident, but the cast was long and up around my elbow, so my arm was permanently bent across my chest. I couldn't even reach my mouth or scratch my nose," he explains.
He was stuck in the cast for seven weeks and a less restrictive one for two more.
"I have a young fella who works for me, so he did a lot of extra work, but I just had to get back on the horse after two weeks," he reveals.
"It was sore at times and very awkward, but I just had to try and work around it, because it was the driest spell we had in a long time and I had to get a lot of things done."
He was equally disgusted not to get back with Leitrim until three weeks before the championship, which started promisingly when they rattled 4-16 past New York.
But then it all went south. Management dropped four players for disciplinary reasons; they subsequently lost to London – the injury loss of Emlyn Mulligan was definitely a mitigating factor – and then they leaked a mortifying 8-13 to Armagh in the qualifiers.
Little wonder that the memory of winning that FBD title is now so distant.
McCrann actually believes it may have played a part in their downfall.
"There was a lot of praise going around after the FBD win, a lot of patting on the back, but we sort of took our eye off Limerick in our first league game, which was always going to be a tough test," he says.
"I think we got a bit carried away because we hadn't won anything before, but we've learned a lot from it."
That's partly why they're so focused on their league opener against Antrim in a week's time.
Their new manager, Longford-native Sean Hagan, and selectors Christy Carroll (Leitrim) and Aidan McCarron (Tyrone) have stressed that the league is their new priority.
"Sean is having a look at a lot of players.
"Last year we'd only maybe 22, but this year we've got 37 on the panel at the moment, so there's competition for places, which is also new for us," McCrann adds."
"The Armagh thing was a terrible way to end the year, but Sean's come in now, put it all to bed and given everyone a new start."