Leitrim trio start search for Connacht glory

Now that the celebrations have died down, Glencar/Manorhamilton & Melvin Gaels set their sights on glory in the AIB Connacht Club Championship next Sunday as both face Sligo opposition in Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada, with Leitrim Gaels taking on Creggs in the Junior grade.

Now that the celebrations have died down, Glencar/Manorhamilton & Melvin Gaels set their sights on glory in the AIB Connacht Club Championship next Sunday as both face Sligo opposition in Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada, with Leitrim Gaels taking on Creggs in the Junior grade.

By John Connolly

Glencar/Manorhamilton take on a highly rated Tourlestrane side in the Senior competition, throw-in 3 pm, while Melvin Gaels start off the day in the Intermediate against Coolaney/Mullinabreena at 1.30. Away in Hyde Park, Leitrim Gaels make their debut in a Provincial competition when they take on Creggs in the Junior Championship.

But it is Pairc Sean where most attention will be as Glencar/Manor aim to win their first Connacht championship game while many are predicting that Melvin Gaels could finally be the team to win a first ever Provincial Club title for a Leitrim club.

The dominance of the north Leitrim clubs in this year’s club championship is striking and nobody should under-estimate the motivation Melvin Gaels are deriving from seeing Glencar/Manor so comprehensively dominate the club scene in Leitrim.

Talking to anyone connected with the Kinlough club and even in the midst of all their success, the topic quickly turns to their neighbours and the desire to end their dominance.

That rivalry could have unintended benefits for Glencar/Manorhamilton & Melvin Gaels on Sunday as neither team will want to let the other get one over on them and it could be the spring-board to Provincial success.

Senior: Glencar/Manorhamilton v Tourlestrane

Given their incredible record in Leitrim, Glencar/Manor have something to prove next Sunday against Tourlestrane, everyone agreeing that the north Leitrim men seem unstoppable in Leitrim but also pointing out that their Connacht record is a bit of a milestone around their neck.

So much so that Glencar/Manor are the team under pressure to perform next Sunday. In the last two years, they came up against two of the country’s best club sides in Corofin and St. Brigid’s and the feeling is that if Manorhamilton can make one break-through, they will be very hard stopped.

Manager Glenn Young will hope that Adrian Croal is back near his best after his nose injury as Manor will need more from the lively corner-forward if they are to advance next Sunday.

Tourlestrane may be without Eamon O’Hara, a long term injury victim, but they demolished Coolera Strandhill in the Sligo Final, Brian Egan’s eight points leading them to a comprehensive 1-12 to 0-8 victory a few weeks back.

Tourlestrane have some County experience as Brian Kennedy & Brendan Egan were both members of the Sligo Senior panel this year while Gary & Noel Gaughan were both members of the Sligo team who won the Connacht Junior Championship, while former Senior star Gerry McGowan is another on Manor’s radar.

Leitrim’s last win in the competition came when Kiltubrid saw off Coolera Strandhill in 2005, a good omen but Glencar/Manor’s first outing in Connacht saw them suffer a demolition against Eastern Harps, a fact that the Leitrim champions need no reminding of.

The word from Manorhamilton is that the County Champions are preparing well for this encounter and one feels that this could be the year they make a breakthrough. But to take an experienced Tourlestrane for granted is dangerous and there could be very little between the teams at the final whistle.

There is a strong feeling that the standard in the Senior Championship this year has dropped; that is not the fault of Glencar/Manorhamilton but until they win a Connacht Club game, questions will be asked about their legacy and next Sunday’s game is a great chance to finally put those to bed.

Intermediate: Melvin Gaels v Coolaney Mullinabreena

Melvin Gaels go into Sunday’s Intermediate game with Coolaney Mullinabreena with a great deal of expectation, their status as Division One leaders reinforcing the view that the Kinlough men were something of an anomaly in the Intermediate grade.

There can be few Intermediate teams with the same depth of talent that Melvin Gaels possess – Emlyn Mulligan, Paul & Brendan Brennan, Fabian McMorrow, James Phelan, Stephen McGurran are quality performers while there are quite a few young up-and-coming players who can make a big impact in their ranks.

Playing as the curtain raiser to the Manor game will also serve as motivation for Melvin Gaels who are determined to lay down a marker for next year’s Senior championship and there is a desire to make the most of this opportunity.

Coolaney will take some watching, however, as they weren’t expected to over-come Drumcliffe Rosses Point in last Saturday’s replay. But overcome they did, winning by 2-15 to 1-13.

Incredibly, Coolaney have been involved in four Sligo Intermediate Finals that went to a replay so there is a degree of experience there. In the drawn final, Coolaney rescued the game in injury time and produced a powerful second half to see off Drumcliffe in the replay.

Coolaney are a young side with former County player Barry Kivlehan at centre-forward their main creative force. Kieran Finan, centre-back Cian O’Dowd and 17-year-old Criostoir Davey are also players to watch as the Sligo men feature a lot of players from their 2010 Minor championship winning team.

Yet one gets the feeling that Billy Gavigan is sure to have his team’s feet on the ground and their Junior A championship victory demonstrates the depth of talent available to the Kinlough side ahead of next Sunday’s game.

Coolaney mightn’t have had enough time to recover from their Sligo Final exertions, although they are sure to be in peak championship form but one still feels that Melvin Gaels should prove too strong next Sunday.

Junior: Leitrim Gaels v Creggs

The Junior Championship is something of a misnomer as neither team won their County title, Creggs losing the Roscommon final to a strong Clann na Gael second string 2-10 to 1-6 while Annaduff dumped Leitrim Gaels out of the championship at the Quarter-Final stages.

Neither result is ideal preparation for next Sunday’s meeting in Hyde Park, although the Roscommon men may have an advantage in that they were in competitive action less than two weeks ago when they lost their Junior Final on the first Sunday in October.

Incredibly, Leitrim Gaels haven’t had a competitive game since the last Sunday of August and the lack of match practice is something that the Gaels must be concerned about, particularly as it is so hard to maintain focus.

Creggs may have lost to Clann na Gael but they had big wins over Western Gaels, Roscommon Gaels, Michael Glavey’s and St. Croan’s in the run-up to the final and have been playing regular League games. James McKeague was a regular on Roscommon underage teams while they also have good talent in Colin Canny, Sean Quinn and Roscommon CBS All-Ireland B medal winner David Brandon.

Leitrim Gaels have some good talent themselves in Aidan Flynn, Ricky Wynne and Conor Guckian but they will find it difficult to raise themselves for next Sunday’s first round clash. Creggs have to be favoured but if Leitrim Gaels can rediscover their best form, they will give it a great shout.