Now that the intense celebrations have died down, newly crowned Leitrim Champions Melvin Gaels turn their thoughts to taking down another powerhouse of club football next Sunday when they face Connacht kingpins St. Brigid’s of Roscommon in the AIB Provincial Club Championship first round in Kiltoom (2.30 throw-in).
The Kinlough men will start as major underdogs against a St. Brigid’s team who have contested All-Ireland Club Finals and twice seen off Leitrim opposition over the past seven years but freed of expectations inside the county, Melvin Gaels are plotting a shock next Sunday in Kiltoom.
However, the Leitrim champions have seen their preparations for their first provincial appearance at Senior level since 1998 badly hit by the fact that they have twice seen opposition concede games in the Gallogly Catering Division One League over the past two weeks, last Saturday’s walkover against Mohill following on the failure of Ballinamore Sean O’Heslin’s to field.
The two walkovers may have ensured that the Gaels are in the League Final but hard quality matches are what manager Billy Gavigan will have been looking for in the run-up to the clash with St. Brigid’s but the two concessions mean that the Leitrim champions haven’t had a chance to get their feet back on the ground properly yet.
I’m sure that Billy Gavigan will have tried to arrange Challenge games but nothing beats a competitive game for concentrating the minds and a meeting with Mohill last Saturday, where a League Final place may have been at stake, would have been the perfect preparation for next Sunday’s encounter.
Recovering from the celebrations after their victory over Glencar/Manor is no easy task either, as Leitrim Gaels themselves found in the Provincial Championship last Sunday. The Kinlough Gaels have had three weeks to recover but the change in mindset is perhaps the toughest opponent to overcome.
From the minute Melvin Gaels won the Intermediate Championship last year, their sole focus was on knocking their neighbours off their pedestal and that they accomplished in some style - and it would be natural if the intense drive to secure a first Fenagh Cup in 14 years has diminished.
However, the Kinlough men have always been immensely proud of their status as Leitrim champions and knowing Billy Gavigan, their desire and work-rate will be stoked up nicely for the visit to Kiltoom.
Taking on St. Brigid’s in their own back-yard won’t be easy - the Roscommon men drew with Kiltubrid in 2005 in Carrick but were far more comfortable when the replay took place in Kiltoom. Even on their visit to Carrick to face Glencar/Manorhamilton two years ago, St. Brigid’s weren’t completely comfortable although they did resist the Manor men with a bit more ease than the score-line suggests.
Roscommon and St. Brigid’s star Karol Mannion contends that St. Brigid’s are all too aware of the threat posed by Melvin Gaels - “Melvin Gaels won the Intermediate championship in 2011, just like Pearses in Roscommon and they obviously had the ambition to go one step further and win the Senior. Now I’ll expect that their players will bring their ambitious nature to the Connacht campaign and try to push on.
“We’ve always found it tough against Leitrim opposition. We needed a replay in 2005 against Kiltubrid and we were nearly caught two years ago against Glencar/Manorhamilton So we’re expecting a serious challenge on Sunday.”
St. Brigid’s pose a serious test - Mannion is a quality performer and Frankie Dolan remains a real threat in attack. With Senan and Ian Kilbride and a host of Roscommon underage stars coming through the ranks, the Roscommon men rightly start as hot, hot favourites.
Melvin Gaels will be without the injured David McSharry and the emigrated Jesse McGuinness and they will need big time performances from Emlyn Mulligan, Paul & Brendan Brennan, Fabian McMorrow and Stephen McGurran if they are to cause a shock.
Very few teams new to the Provincial championship make a big impact in their first year, Kiltubrid and St. Mary’s in 1995 the only real exceptions, as the competition offers a much different challenge. Melvin Gaels have the talent to do so but against a St. Brigid’s side who have yet to hit top form, you have to say that the odds favour the Roscommon men, although the Gaels have proven adept in shattering such odds!