The Leitrim senior footballers begin their National League campaign on Sunday next and they will be hoping a win over Limerick in the opening round will help ensure the team’s fourth successive year playing in Division 4 is their last at this grade.
By Philip Rooney
It could be argued that Limerick are owed something as it was a defeat in Kilmallock in April 2008 that condemned Leitrim to Division 4 football but at the same time this is a completely new team and not one of 19 Leitrim players who saw action that day in Kilmallock will be taking to the field in Pairc Sean MacDiarmada on Sunday for the game which throws in at 2.30pm.
Barney Breen and George Dugdale have done incredibly well in a short a short space of time to lift the morale of the county’s footballer supporters after losing such a vast amount of players as well as manager Mickey Moran since last year.
In going back to basics and emphasising the importance of hard work above all else the Leitrim team took to the field for the FBD league with no burden of expectation but those who saw them in action in Ballyhaunis, Ballinamore and Strokestown would have been pleasantly surprised with the rapid progression the team have made.
New players such as Alan Wynne and Gerry Hickey look as though they have been wearing a county jersey for several years while the return of a fit again Ciaran Egan has been a significant boost to the full-back line. In the coming weeks and months the panel will be strengthened further as players such as Emlyn Mulligan and Brian McDonald return from injury while those who were unable to line-out for the team due to college commitments in other competitions are once again eligible and there is also the prospect of a few exciting U-21 players coming in to contention.
While everything appears to be going to plan thus far, George and Barney will certainly not be complacent and while Cathal McCrann (interview on page 36) insisted the mood in the camp is a positive one ahead of the National League, they will be all too aware of just how hard it will be to fight their way out of Division 4.
The saying goes that you never see a poor bookmaker and one national bookie was offering odds of 12/1 that Leitrim will win the Division. Only London and Kilkenny are available at longer odds and that gives an indication of the challenge facing the Leitrim team.
Fermanagh, Limerick, Wicklow and Waterford are leading the pack in terms of prices being offered while Clare and Carlow are also ahead of Leitrim in that regard.
Limerick may have a slumped to a 12 point defeat at the hands of UCC in the McGrath Cup, but that result will certainly not lead too any complacency as UCC are very much a force to be reckoned with while Limerick’s starting 15 that day was widely described as experimental.
A win against Limerick on the opening day would be the ideal start for Leitrim as it would leave them with the prospect of travelling to Carlow a week later knowing that a victory in their second outing would leave them in a very strong position before the break.
Of course thinking that far ahead is of little benefit at the moment and what is crucial is that Leitrim once again adopt the philosophy of hard work and the team ethic that has been drilled in to them over the past number of weeks.
There is no doubt they go in to the game as underdogs, but that is nothing new for a Leitrim team but perhaps this team can cause an upset by recording a memorable victory on Sunday afternoon.