Speaking shortly after seeing his side exit the All-Ireland Championship, it was hardly surprising that Leitrim joint manager Barney Breen was understandably somewhat downbeat but he was still able to be proud of what he and his players have achieved this year.
When it was put to him that despite the loss, the performances against Wicklow and Laois mean that Leitrim have ended the year on a high, Barney agreed to an extent - “Yeah, although it doesn’t feel like that at this point and time but I suppose when you reflect back over the next few weeks it does.
“The Castlebar dressing room and coming out of it and the next night, it was a lonely spot. Myself and George like we do after every game, there was a lot of self reflecting. You look back and you wonder are you doing things right.”
Paying tribute to the manner in which the Leitrim players responded to that defeat in Castlebar and how they transformed their championship year, Brian reflected - “The week after the Mayo game we put the challenge out to them and every man stood up and was counted so in that sense you have to admire them for their reaction and how they reacted to the Mayo loss. Probably at the beginning of the year a lot of them were boys, they were men today.”
While bitterly disappointed not to have emerged victorious against Laois, Barney was able to take positives from the defeat. The fact that his team showed they are capable of acquiting themselves against a team who were this playing Division 1 football was a positive which he believes will help further galvanise the team.
“Maybe for next year they’ll be looking at it saying the priority is we can get out of division 4. It’s not the be all and end all but because our goal this year was to get out of division 4 but we didn’t get it but we weren’t a failure because of it. You have goals but you have to reset them as you go along and that’s the way I is.
“I will say that they responded magnificently over the last couple of weeks and we just couldn’t ask any more of them, even from today.”
Reflecting on the game like most supporters Barney felt the Laois goal before half time was a body blow for Leitrim but he certainly didn’t feel that was the losing of the game from a Leitrim point of view.
“Going in five points up at half time would have been nice but these things happen. It was probably a mistake alright but Laois had 18 wides and they’ll be looking at that but overall we have to commend the lads.”
One area where Leitrim have some work to do catch up the likes of Laois is in terms of physicality and while Barney agreed there is room for improvement he explained the process has already begun.
“Towards the end it (Laois physicality) may have taken its toll, the two midfielders are big strong men and we weren’t able to match them in that sense but our own physical fitness and power was excellent on the day.
“We have a fantastic physical trainer in Ollie Cummings so in that sense we’re not lacking. As regards physical development we have so many guys there on year one of the strength and conditioning programme. For example on our panel there today we had several club guys who are 27/28 years of age that would have no structure (in physical development). If you look at Quigley and Begley, they’re there. We’re always struggling but we have to find ways to counteract that and that’s what we had to do today.”
Paying tribute to his players for the efforts against Laois and throughout the year Barney said, “They put in a huge shift there today and we can’t ask any more of them for this year. We’re delighted with the progress and our only hope at the end of the year is that we can try and keep some of the lads because every new year we start off with four or five players missing. The immediate goal is to try and get fellas to stay in the country and get jobs for them. The work isn’t done in that sense.”
Speaking about the importance of the last few weeks for Leitrim football as a whole Barney issued a reminder that it wasn’t long ago Leitrim would not have been afforded the opportunity to have such memorable days in the sun.
“You look at the situation a couple of years ago where Division 4 teams couldn’t play in the qualifies and automatically went in to the Tommy Murphy Cup, it got rid of days like today and especially last week because they won. Days like them, you can’t buy them, for minors, U-21s, U-16, 15 or 14, they’ll want to play for Leitrim on a day like today.
As for staying on in the job, Brian said “We hadn’t planned for losing today, it wasn’t part of the discussion about the future. What we’ll do now is take a couple of weeks and see where it brings us. It’s hard to know, obviously we were here for a two year stint with a review after one year so we’ll have to sit down with the county board and see where next year will bring us but there is progress being made.
“It’s important that other people step up to the plate around the county and try to get jobs. I don’t want to be dealt the hand that we are at the beginning of every year, it’s an awful struggle and you put in a lot of work to then have to start from scratch the following year.”