Adrian Croal may still be considered a young footballer but in terms of experience he could be regarded as a veteran. Although just 23, Adrian will be competing in his fifth successive Connacht Gold Senior Championship final and as an established figure in Leitrim’s full-forward line Adrian’s talents and eye for a score have long been held in high regard in Manorhamilton and much further afield.
Looking ahead to Sunday’s final, Adrian acknowledged this has been a particularly difficult year for him as an illness earlier in the year meant he was below par but now that he is back to his best he is eagerly anticipating the clash of the two great north Leitrim rivals in Sunday’s final.
“At the beginning of the year, the illness took its toll on me and towards and towards the end of the championship with Leitrim, I wasn’t finding form but thank God it’s come back to me and it’s good to be back enjoying football again. In the early months of the year when things weren’t going right, it was frustrating but it’s good to be back enjoying it again.”
Although there is no talk of a ‘drive for five’ in Manorhamilton when asked what the secret to Manorhamilton’s success in recent years has been the corner forward replied, “It’s probably hard work. When you get the taste for winning it’s hard to give it up and hopefully it will be the same result at 5.30 on October 7 as well. It’s just hard work, when you get the taste of success it’s easier to keep going when you’re winning games and people are fighting for places and that’s probably what keeps us going.”
This year has seen the arrival of a new manager taking charge in Manorhamilton and when asked what Fergal O’Flaherty has brought to the team Adrian replied, “It’s just a change more than anything. Any manager we’ve had I felt we got on with them and things have been going good so far this year.
“It’s probably down to the players themselves when they give the workrate it’s probably easier for the manager. The manager has a tough job trying to pick the team but once the players give the commitment it’s pretty much the same thing, it doesn’t matter who is in charge once you’re willing to make the effort.”
While they have made their way to a fifth successive final without defeat, the Glencar/Manor players are their own strongest critics and they are the first to admit their form in this year’s championship hasn’t hit the heights of previous years as Adrian acknowledged.
“We’re probably not finding our form like other years but we’re still getting through the games and hopefully in these tight games we’ll have a bit of experience coming in to it. It’s on the day, it will come down to who wants want it more. Melvin Gaels seem to be the form team of the championship so far. I suppose in the final it will come down to who wants it most, the other results don’t matter.”
Glencar/Manor came close to bowing out of the Championship at the semi-final stage when it took a late Adrian O’Flynn point to see off the challenge of St Mary’s but as Adrian pointed out when the chance arose to clinch victory, his team knew exactly how to close out the game.
“We were flying in the first half, we were playing well and we might have eased off a bit in the second half but they came back at us and they threw everything at us. They were unlucky, they missed a few goals but I suppose in the last few minutes we showed that we have bottle and we know how to win tough games. We made sure we got one chance and we took it and that was probably the winning of the game.”
The fact that Melvin Gaels have arguably been more impressive en route to the final means Glencar/Manor are in the somewhat unusual position of not being red hot favourites ahead of the final but that is not something Adrian is reading anything into.
“I don’t think you can get caught up in the hot favourites and underdogs, you just go out and play your game. If you look at anything else you can get caught up in it so we’ll just take it on a game by game basis as we have done in other years and we’re doing the same this year and we’re not getting involved in any of that.”
Turning his attention to the final and what kind of a game he envisages Adrian believes it will a fiercely competitive encounter and is hoping to come out on the right side of a slender victory.
“I’m sure it will be a tough game, it will be hard fought between the two teams, there’s not much between the teams, as you saw earlier in the year it was a draw but once it’s a point in our favour I’ll be happy.”