After a few week’s rest in December, the GAA calendar is back in action this weekend as the county senior team make the short journey to Elphin to face old rivals Roscommon in the opening match of this year’s FBD League (2.00 throw-in).
While the result will have little significance on determining how successful the year will ultimately be for either team, a win against the near neighbours would certainly be seen as a good start to the new year.
The fact that the goals of progression from Division 4 and a Connacht Final appearance failed to materialise in 2012 would suggest there is plenty of room for improvement from a Leitrim point of view but there are also plenty of positives that can be taken from the past 12 months.
Having been given the task of rebuilding a squad that had been hit by emigration and retirement the managerial team of Barney Breen and George Dugdale have stressed the importance of being able to evolve the squad over a period of time rather than having to introduce too many new players at the beginning of every year. With a settled squad, now in their second year of the Breen/Dugdale regime, it would be realistic to expect improvements this year.
Promotion from Division 4 of the National Football League will once again be one of the priorities for the year but as has been demonstrated on numerous occasions in recent years, getting out of this division is incredibly difficult. In fact several teams who have made the step-up have gone on to enjoy back to back promotions indicating the gap in standards between divisions three and four is not as big as many may think.
With the likes of Limerick, Clare, Offaly and Carlow set to ensure the route to promotion will be anything but straight forward, Leitrim will have no shortage of competitive football under their belts before they depart for New York for the Championship clash in Gaelic Park on May 5.
While promotion would please all supporters of the green and gold, the ultimate goal remains a third Connacht Championship triumph and the prospect of the Nestor Cup returning to Leitrim. The result in Castlebar last June indicates the size of the challenge that lies ahead of Leitrim but it is also clear that 2013 represents the best opportunity of reaching a provincial final in a number of years.
A win in New York would set-up the possibility of Pairc Sean MacDiarmada playing host to a semi-final against Sligo who will be strongly fancied to survive their trip to London.
If Leitrim are to get the better of a Sligo side, who will be desperately seeking revenge for the defeat that was inflicted on them in 2011, a few things will have to go Leitrim’s way. At crucial stages last year Leitrim lost players to injury meaning that in the latter part of the qualifier match against Laois, there was no recognised Leitrim midfielder on the pitch.
In order to get the better of Sligo and put down a signal of intent Leitrim need to have the likes of Wayne McKeon, Paddy Maguire, Emlyn Mulligan, James Glancy and Cathal McCrann playing at their very best.
Returning to Sunday’s clash with Roscommon it would be easy to suggest that it is all about increasing match sharpness. While that is a key part of preparations Barney Breen and George Dugdale will be looking to see what they have been working on in training reflected in the heat of battle. It may also afford an opportunity for one or two players who may have caught the eye during the Club Championship to see if they are able to make the step-up to inter county football.
Rocommon may be without the St Brigid’s stars who are once again at this time of year focusing on All-Ireland club glory but even without the likes of Senan Kilbride, Karol Mannion and Peter Domican new manager John Evans will be expecting a lot from his team. Having rejuvenated the fortunes of the Tipperary footballers in recent years hopes will be high in Roscommon that the Kerry native will be able to bring similar success to his new county.
While Leitrim tasted victory in the corresponding fixture last year in Ballinamore ultimately the result will not be all-important but victory over the near neighbours is always enjoyed and is sure to warm matters up, no matter what the weather is like.