The first year might have ended in defeat but Shane Ward has seen enough of the Leitrim “project” to believe that better days lie ahead.
“There are positives, massive positives,” Shane said when reflecting on his first year in charge, “I’m really, really enjoying it, enjoying working with the boys because they are absolutely doing everything they can.
“To take a guy out of the U21s, who train twice a week and has one championship game a year, in last year’s case two, and that has been the limit of their inter-county experience and to put into a set up where they are 24/7 working, recovery sessions, gym sessions, it is a massive massive step-up.
“This is one of the advantages the bigger counties have, their younger players are playing top, top level consistently so when they step up, it is a seamless transition. It is not an excuse, we have to work especially hard with the younger guys, they don’t get the exposure to the high level stuff.”
The introduction of young players pleased Shane and the manager was delighted with the commitment shown by the Leitrim players all year - “We brought on a couple of players there with 20 minutes to go, Mark Plunkett 18 and Conor Farrell who is up and coming. Thomas Mulvey played in the Galway game but didn’t see action today, Shane Quinn, Alan McLoughlin.
“You can see the way we’re going with the young guys, they have done reasonably well. They wouldn’t have played many high profile games so stepping up to this level has been a massive experience for them. They will only improve when they get games under the belt and we intend to provide that for them.
“It will take time because obviously we don’t get a long enough run in the championship to get those guys games. It will take time and the National League will prove vital next year. There is no doubt that they believe in the project.”
And there is no doubt that Shane sees the “project” as a long term plan - “We have talked enough about it in great detail. The players need to know where we’re going to, they need to know where the ship is being steered to and what role they will play in it.
“Without the players doing what they need to do, there is no ship. They need to identify their roles and how important it is for them to work hard at this and move forward. I cannot question their commitment this year, their effort and hard work has been fantastic.”
Shane agreed that Leitrim snatched at chances in the second half - “We did snap at things but I thought there was an element from frustration. The guys were really well focussed coming into the game, they were well prepared and were in really relaxed form and I think the fact that we let the game slip away from us, it disappointed them.
“They put in a lot more work and a lot more commitment than they ever would have in this county before and that has told on them as well, that they haven’t got the just reward for that. I know they have improved as footballers but sometimes you want so bad to get that win and when it doesn’t come, frustration does creep in.”
Looking at performances in Drogheda, Fergal said “Certainly Fergal Clancy was on fire tonight, he was on exceptionally good form, it was one of the shining lights for us. Matthew Murphy came into the game well, I thought Niall Woods was extremely good.
“Shane Quinn had his first championship start since the U21s last year and I thought he did well, I think he made some massive tackles and he drove us up the field more times than you could ask for. I thought Darren Sweeney was excellent in the middle of the park.”