Ladies one step away from Division 3 League Final

After missing out on a League semi-final last year by the narrowest of margins, a rejuvenated Leitrim Ladies side are setting their sights on a Bord Gais Energy Ladies Division 3 Final appearance at the very least when they take on Down in Clones next Sunday (2.00 throw-in).

After missing out on a League semi-final last year by the narrowest of margins, a rejuvenated Leitrim Ladies side are setting their sights on a Bord Gais Energy Ladies Division 3 Final appearance at the very least when they take on Down in Clones next Sunday (2.00 throw-in).

By David Goulden

After missing out on a League semi-final last year by the narrowest of margins, a rejuvenated Leitrim Ladies side are setting their sights on a Bord Gais Energy Ladies Division 3 Final appearance at the very least when they take on Down in Clones next Sunday (2.00 throw-in).

The Leitrim Ladies Senior team have really been riding on the crest of a wave recently. Not only have they progressed through Division 3 of this year’s Bord Gáis Energy National League with six wins out of seven, the county has also received two prestigious awards for manager Niall Kilcrann and top scorer Aine Tighe.

Kilglass Gaels clubman Kilcrann was named as March Manager of the Month last week and Tighe, who has been in sensational scoring form throughout this year’s campaign, has received an All-Star nomination as reward for her fine form throughout last year’s Championship.

But although he is thrilled with his and his star forward’s accolades, Niall is keeping his and his team’s feet firmly on the ground. After an impressive league campaign, with wins over Westmeath, Wicklow, Down, Sligo, Wexford and Roscommon, he is looking forward to facing the Mourne County again next Sunday in the Division 3 semi-final in Clones.

“I recieved a phone call last Thursday from Croke Park that I had been given the award, which was not expected. I’m delighted to get the nod, but it’s down to my team and staff and I share the award with them. No player or coach is bigger than the team and as I always say to my team; you can do it without me, but I cannot do it without you.”

On Tighe’s nomination for an All-Star and winning of the TG4 Intermediate Player of the Year, Niall simply said “Aine goes out there every week and does a great job and she deserved the award. She also gives great confidence to the younger girls around her, such as Shauna Glancy and Laura O’Dowd.”

Leitrim face Down at St Tiernach’s Park next Sunday, a difficult task as Kilcrann’s charges have to guard against over-confidence. The ladies came out of last February’s meeting in Ballinamore with a comprehensive 5-9 to 1-5 win over Down on their way to finishing level at the top of Division 3, but Niall feels his team will face a totally different prospect in eleven days time .

“It has been a long time since we played Down and with it being a northern venue, they will know it a little better than us. They hit some good form after we beat them at home and they’ll be going out to win the game as much as we will. It will be 15 versus 15 on the day and we’re taking absolutely nothing for granted.”

Leitrim have an almost fully fit squad going into the week of the game, but Niall knows with club games being played over the next week or so, how things can change. “There are one or two small injury worries, but overall things are looking good for us. Our physio is working with the girls and they should be OK for the tie. Of course, with club games taking place in the mean time, there is no guarantee, so I’ll sit down with my selectors in the next few days and see where we go from there.”

On the other side of the draw, All-Ireland Intermediate Champions Westmeath face a strong and powerful Armagh side and given that Down were quite a bit adrift of the three top teams in the table, all three finishing level on points, Leitrim would seem to have a slightly easier path to the League decider, on paper at least. But there will also be a degree of wariness ahead of the contest.

Considering that Leitrim lost the services of key players in Anna Conlan, Sarah McLoughlin and Sinead McWeeney from last year’s championship team, their progress this year with a lot of new, young players has been nothing short of remarkable and the odds would be on them extending that run next Sunday against Down.