From great hope to great despair
Leitrim will want to forget 2013 despite rare title

Leitrim's players celebrate the victory over Sligo in Markievicz Park as the county football team was the centre of national attention in January 2013 when the Green & Gold won the FBD League for the first time and the first piece of adult silverware since the 1994 Connacht Senior Championship title. Photo by Willie Donnellan
It would be hard to find a year more turbulent for Leitrim GAA than 2013, a year that started with so much promise and ended with so much despair and recrimination.

It would be hard to find a year more turbulent for Leitrim GAA than 2013, a year that started with so much promise and ended with so much despair and recrimination.

With a draw that potentially opened the door to a first Connacht Senior Final appearance in 13 years and a rejuvenated Green & Gold after two inspiring Qualifier displays, 2013 looked as if it was going to be a signature year for Leitrim GAA.

And it was harder to escape that feeling when Leitrim opened the year with an unprecedented three victories in a row in the FBD League before going to win, for the first time ever, the “Home” Final against Sligo at the end of January.

Granted, Leitrim fans weren’t losing the run of themselves but it was the manner of the victory that inspired as a focussed Green & Gold side fought out three successive one point wins to reach the final, displaying a killer instinct that had been lacking in previous years.

The Final was no different as Leitrim dominated against a team they would potentially meet later in the Summer and the celebrations in Markievicz Park seemed to spell the beginning of a campaign full of exciting possibilities.

Reality hit hard just a week later when a larger than usual crowd made the journey to Limerick for the first round of the Allianz League Division Four campaign.

The Limerick game displayed much of what would be on show for the League - periods of brilliant Leitrim play but frustratingly, far longer periods where nothing went right.

Many point to the losses against Clare and Offaly as the turning points in the campaign but the stalling of the early season momentum in Limerick was something Leitrim never recovered from. Indeed, in both games against Clare and Offaly, Leitrim couldn’t sustain periods of excellence against opposition who hung in before claiming deserved victories.

An impressive victory over Carlow in Dr Cullen Park lifted hopes but a topsy turvy Waterford game where Leitrim won by seven points but could have conceded six or seven goals and a hammering from Tipperary drained the belief from supporters.

The final game of the campaign against London gave more than a few hints of the Summer to come as the Exiles were desperately unlucky to lose.

The trip to Gaelic Park offered a chance to get the year back on track and the demolition of New York in the first game of the Championship more than hinted of a team ready to make a big push for a Provincial Final appearance.

New York were desperately poor but the 4-19 to 0-7 victory is one of Leitrim’s highest ever scores in championship football and brought optimism flooding back to the ranks of supporters.

That optimism swelled immeasurably when London shocked Sligo on May 26, a result that meant Leitrim would be hosting the Exiles for a place in the Final.

But it was events off the field at home in Leitrim that same weekend that would have a much greater and far more decisive impact - the dropping of Wayne McKeon, Conor & Tomas Beirne and Shane Moran caused a tidal wave of recrimination.

We’re not going to go over the saga here, it has been debated, argued and fought for far too long with far too little coming out of it, but the loss of the four coupled with the loss of Paddy Maugire was a body blow th, compounded when Emlyn Mulligan was injured in training just three days before the drawn London game.

Mulligan lasted but five minutes against the Exiles and his presence was badly missed as Leitrim missed a lot of good chances in Pairc Sean that would have sealed a win. Yet you would have to say that London deserved the draw as it was Leitrim desperately trying to rescue a draw and very nearly a win.

The replay was again a complete contrast - Leitrim were hung, drawn and quartered in the first half by a London team giving a display the equal of any team in the country. The second half was the complete opposite as Leitrim fell agonisngly short.

With 12 first choice players injured and four absent through other reasons, facing Armagh in the Qualifiers was never going to be easy but few envisaged the humilation to follow as the Orchard county inflicted a 8-13 to 0-10 defeat on the Green & Gold.

It was inglorious, deeply shattering end to a year that promised so much and the task remains to pick up the pieces, no easy task with supporter sentiment greatly reduced by the events of the Summer.

Hagan looks for new start

One of the first statements made by new manager Sean Hagan was that there would be a clean slate for all associated with the County Senior team after the trauma of the past year.

The Longford man said “There will be a clean slate for everyone with a shadow of a doubt.”