Tuesday 28 January 2020

McKeon return boosts Leitrim for New York trip

Cliona Foley

LEITRIM have a clean bill of health for the first time this year, just in time for next weekend's Connacht championship opener in New York.

A terrible run of injuries contributed to deflating the high hopes engendered by their historic FBD League title last January.

But co-manager Barney Breen has refused to use their heavy casualty list as an excuse for finishing fifth in Division 4.

"Too many Leitrim managers in the past have used injuries as an excuse for their failures and myself and George (Dugdale) have always been adamant that we wouldn't do that," he stressed.

"Yes, we were unlucky with injuries but you have to get on with it with the players who you still have and we actually have a stronger squad this year."

A one-point loss to Offaly and their second-round loss to Clare, when they were eight points up, added to some freak injuries dashed their promotion hopes.

But they have re-grouped for the earliest and lengthiest outing of this year's football championships: the transatlantic trip to Gaelic Park in the north Bronx.

Crucially, they have got three key men – goalkeeper Cathal McCrann, midfielder Wayne McKeon and top forward Adrian Croal – back in time.

McCrann and Croal both suffered freak injuries in that Clare game, when the goalkeeper broke his arm in a fall and Croal suffered a serious concussion after getting accidentally kneed in the head by an opponent.

With their regular substitute goalkeeper Philip Farrelly already out with a cruciate injury, Leitrim had to call up Leaving Cert student Brendan Flynn (19) to take over between the sticks and he performed admirably for the rest of the league.

McKeon, who had been deployed in midfield this season, also missed part of the campaign so Breen is relieved to welcome him back.

New York may have only scored 0-6 when beaten by Sligo last year but Breen acknowledges that Leitrim will approach the trip with extreme caution.

"We're flying over on Thursday and will get to play on the 3G pitch at Gaelic Park on Friday and Saturday which will help us to acclimatise," he said.

"It's a first trip to New York for some of these lads and we cannot afford any distractions.

"Connie Molloy from Donegal, a brother of Anthony, is managing them (New York). His son is one of their stars, and their squad also includes Rory Woods, who used to play for Monaghan."

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