As a man who picked up a Connacht Senior Championship medal as a player and expects the highest standard of his teams, Brian Breen takes his Leitrim team to London next Sunday admitting that the low expectations in the county for the Green & Gold is not something that pleases him.
Speaking to the Observer, Brian admitted “There are low expectations around the county and I don’t like that because I have high expectations of both myself and George as managers and of the players. We look for high standards from the word go and I have high expectations of this team.”
Agreeing that results mightn’t have inspired supporters, Brian is nevetheless calling on Leitrim fans to truly get behind the Green & Gold in Ruislip - “Ok, maybe results in the last few years don’t light supporter’s candles and that’s fair enough, you’re dictated by results.
“But we have to be realistic about it, where Leitrim are at the moment with fellows we’ve lost. We can never walk away from that, even though I don’t like to focus on it. I would love if the supporters really got behind us and came out in big numbers rather than stay at home.
“I would love if they came out and start supporting us, that is when you really need support when fellows are down. I think there will be big numbers out because for the London trip and the New York trip, people go over to see relations, it is a bank holiday weekend and it is a great weekend.
“People time a trip over there when they mightn’t necessarily go to Pairc Sean for a match. We’re hoping for a good crowd and a good day and that is our expectation of the day.”
As proud Leitrim men, both himself and George Dugdale are all too aware of the threat in Ruislip, having lined out in championship matches against the Exiles themselves - “It is about getting a good start. From my own experience, we used to know that if we could get a good start, keep the pressure on, we knew they would drift away in the last 20 minutes, that was always the way.
“Unfortunately, since playing in the League, the one thing I’ve noticed about London, is that their fitness levels are way up, they can last the 70 minutes.
“Over the last few weeks, we’re doing our home-work on them and I’ve talked to several managers that have played against them and the one thing they claim they’ve noticed is that their fitness levels are so high, they’re lasting the 70 minutes, not 45 or 50.
“So we have to be totally on our guard and utilise all our big guns on the day and play to our strengths. But I have no doubt that if we do that, we will win but if we get off to a bad start, start doing silly things, we may pay for it but we don’t intend for that to happen.”
Brian admits that a win in Ruislip was the main target for the year but he is not playing down the size of the task facing Leitrim - “I’ve said all along that that is the only thing we are focussing on. I didn’t even know the date of the Mayo game, I only found out a week or two ago, it’s on the 24th. We’re still focussing firmly on June 3, we can’t look beyond that and if we do, we could be in trouble. “
And even a heavy defeat in the last League game of the year might have been a blessing in disguise - “I feel that especially since the Fermanagh game, when we got our eyes opened unreal, we can look back at that and say it was a blessing in disguise.
“We’ve knuckled down savagely since that and really put our shoulders to the wheel. The players have really taken serious ownership of the whole thing, which is what we have been striving towards for the whole year.
“I think they realise now that as a panel, and this is the good thing, that every single one of them realise they have an opportunity to play against London.
“In previous years, the team picks itself – you know who is going to be playing centre-back, you know who is going to be playing corner-forward. At the moment, we don’t know, which is a good thing and I think the players don’t know so that makes the whole thing more competitive.
“We’ve a fair idea of what we want our team to be but in hindsight, injuries have brought a blessing in disguise in a sense that you try out fellows you mightn’t have considered and they have stepped up.
“We’ve given them the opportunity, given them the freedom. They are playing without pressure, there was always talent in them. I’m not saying that myself and George are great managers, it is just the way things have gone that they have got the opportunity and they’ve taken it with both hands.”