Sport Gaelic Football

Sunday 18 March 2018

Momentum building around Leitrim feel-good story


ASIDE from the tragic death of Philly McGuinness, the Leitrim football squad has been decimated in recent years by retirements and emigration. So it wasn't entirely surprising that they had failed to win a Connacht championship match of significance in six years.

Last Sunday, however, they spun their fortunes around in Markievicz Park with just three players that started their 2010 championship clash against Roscommon in tow -- and with seven championship debutants. Out of the 17 players used against Sligo, the survivors were Wayne McKeon, Tomas Beirne and James Glancy, who is their oldest player at just 28. Last year's goalkeeper Enda Lyons and corner-back Danny Beck were on the bench. Full-back for the Rossies clash, John McKeon, is injured, while Dermot Reynolds from St Mary's -- his Annaduff namesake featured against Sligo -- is troubled by a hamstring injury.

There are two James Glancys in the squad -- the St Mary's player featured against Roscommon but sat on the bench against Sligo. The Manorhamilton man, meanwhile, performed in both affairs.

Shane Foley has emigrated, while Shane Canning was a sub in Markievicz Park. Two others used against Roscommon, wing forward Colm Clarke (among the subs on Sunday) and centre-forward David O'Connor (emigration) were both missing. Another influential attacker, Michael Foley, took a year off to focus on exams, while Ray Cox left the panel after the league. Ray Mulvey is injured.

That amounts to a turnover of 12 championship starters within 12 months. Such a statistic is even more intriguing when you factor in that the county has a population of only 29,000 and just 26 clubs. Their pool is also greatly restricted with only 2,300 males aged between 18 and 32 living in the county.

"Most people would look at the turnover from last year and assume that emigration was to blame for these figures," says county secretary Diarmuid Sweeney. "But while we have lost two inter-county and 20 decent club players to emigration, 15 club players have also moved to the county, so it's not the massive factor we think it is.

"But there has been huge movement within the squad over the past year and for some reason I've seldom seen a Leitrim team with better morale. The win against Sligo has galvanised everyone.

"Our supporters' club is celebrating 40 years in existence and some of the stalwarts behind that group may have been planning on moving aside, but instead this win will reinvigorate them. The supporters' club is organising a golf classic which raised €30,000 for us last year and that will now enjoy an added impetus.

"We're a small county but we're doing massive work off the field. Our Centre of Excellence at Annaduff should be ready next September [2012] and that's costing us almost €2m."

That development will feature two full-sized pitches, a dressing-room complex with kitchen facilities, an indoor handball alley and a weights room. It's a huge burden, considering the recent redevelopment of Pairc Sean MacDiarmada set Leitrim back almost €3m.

"Yes, it's a huge commitment but the debt on Pairc Sean is well on the way to being cleared and we're working to a structured budget," Sweeney explains. "Our end of year accounts even showed a tiny surplus. The win against Sligo gives us a home game against Roscommon and that's why winning senior championship games is a massive lift for everyone -- the players and manager, the board and the sponsors."

With Leitrim so difficult to beat on home turf, this feel-good story might not be finished yet.

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