For the first time in years, last Monday’s Connacht Gold Leitrim Senior Championship draw in the Bush Hotel didn’t have clubs immediately plotting their path to the final as a new format for the Senior, Intermediate and Junior A competitions leave everyone guessing for the rest of the Summer.
With three groups of four and an open draw for the quarter-finals, it means that clubs won’t be able to see what their path to the final may be like while the addition of playoff for the final quarter-final spot means that there will be everything to play for in every single game of the championship.
The scourge of emigration, which has seen former County player Damien O’Donnell transfer from Cloone in recent weeks to a London club, has hit many clubs very hard and it all adds an air of uncertainty for this year’s championship.
To illustrate the point, last year’s defeated finalists St. Mary’s would normally start among the hot favourites for the Fenagh Cup but the loss of five of their final starting team from last September must seriously dent their chances.
County Board Chairman Joe Flynn agreed that many clubs were suffering in the difficult economic conditions due to the loss of players but said that the GAA would continue to meet all challenges.
“It has been a difficult year for many clubs,” Joe said, “but the GAA are renowned for responding to difficult times and I’m sure that Leitrim GAA will respond. The new format was prompted to have a better club championship and a better standard for the Connacht Club championship. There will be greater difficulty for clubs in going through and I’m sure that it will spice up the Championship.”
As for the new format making it easier or harder to end Glencar/Manor’s reign, Joe said “It is hard to know, it doesn’t make any difference when you get Glencar/Manor, on paper they still look like the team to beat in the County.”
As always, there is a Group of Death with the championship due to get off to a blistering start with a first round clash of champions, four-in-a-row Senior champions Glencar/Manorhamilton taking on last year’s Intermediate Champions and the team most people are predicting could end the champions reign, Melvin Gaels.
Add in the always favoured Mohill and Carrigallen and the group immediately takes the title of the Group of Death.
Gortletteragh will start the GWP Intermediate Championship as hot favourites after their final appearance last year but will face serious exams from the likes of St. Patrick’s Dromahair and Eslin while Glencar/Manor’s second string can’t be discounted as many clubs are suffering from emigration.
In the Junior A Championship, Leitrim Gaels are the only first string team remaining in the grade but as they found last year, that is no guarantee for success. For the third year in a row, they meet St. Mary’s in the group stages but there will be a difference as they face St. Mary’s second string in 2012.
All in all, it adds up to the most intriguing championship in years and one that will be well worth watching.
For more on the Club Championship draw, see this week’s Leitrim Observer.