rivalry is at the heart of the GAA, rivalry between local communities, rivalry between friends and neighbours and next Sunday’s Connacht Gold Senior Championship Final between Glencar/Manorhamilton and Melvin Gaels features a perfect example of the intense rivalry.
As part of the build-up to the final, this week’s Step Back in Time features both the exploits of Melvin Gaels and Glencar/Manorhamilton and their various triumphs over the years.
From the archives recalls both teams first ever Senior Championship victories while both clubs annexed the title within a year of each other at the end of the nineties.
But next Sunday’s Final will be the first time the two have met in a Senior Championship Final as both have had their periods of dominance at a time when the other was in the doldrums.
Melvin Gaels became the first ever club from the north of the County to win the Senior title back in 1959 while Glencar/Manorhamilton are now chasing an unbelieveable five in a row, something that not even the great Ballinamore teams of the 60s and Aughawillan team of the 80s and 90s have come close to emulating.
Of course, if they were to win next Sunday, Glencar/Manor would still have some way to go to match the legendary Cloone team of the 1940s and early 50s that claimed an incredible seven titles in a ten year span - so something to aim for there!
But the game we look back at in today’s main piece is the 1999 meeting of then champions Melvin Gaels and a hungry GlencarManorhamilton team inspired by Aidan Rooney.
In a game that over my 22 years with the Observer few have equalled, the two north Leitrim giants produced an epic encounter that saw Glencar/Manorhamilton dethrone the reigning champions 0-14 to 0-11, leading to the headline “Magnificent Manor dethrone Champs led by awesome Rooney!”.
Our report led with “Most of the crowd had travelled to Pairc Sean expecting a dour, niggling battle between neighbours but instead, we got the best game of the championship by far - a classic game that was breathlessly fast with brilliant football from both sides.”
1994 star Aidan Rooney was the man who drove Glencar/Manorhamilton past their neighbours, as the Observer reckoned that the Manor man had given one of his finest ever displays in Pairc Sean - quite a statement given his exploits with Leitrim.
The report went on to note “The victory was built on an incredible commitment and will to win with Manorhamilton players throwing themselves at every ball, especially during the second half. That ferocious commitment meant that Melvin Gaels could never build up any sort of momentum.
“Itwas also an incredibly fast game with both teams hardly taking time to breath. Melvin Gaels non-stop running style was matched by psyched up Glencar/Manor and it led to one of the most open and free flowing games in this year’s championship.
“Granted the early exchanges were heavy and no prisoners were taken throughout the game but it never developed into the bitter battle that many expected” - words that everyone would be delighted to see repeated after next Sunday’s intensely awaited final.
Glencar/Manorhamilton went on to take the title, beating Fenagh St. Caillin’s with a dramatic late goal as recounted elsewhere on these pages, but strangely neither of those particular teams ever again attained the heights they displayed in that epic contest, at least not until recent years.
In many ways, the roles are reversed next Sunday with Glencar/Manor the team defending the title and Melvin Gaels the ravenous pretenders to the crown.
Glencar/Manorhamilton and Melvin Gaels still remain the only teams from the north of the county to lift the Fenagh Cup but such is their current dominance, their age profile and strength in depth, it is hard to see anyone stopping them from dominating in the years to come.