Having visited Rusilip three times as a player for the Connacht Championship, joinit Leitirm manager George Dugdale is all too aware of thre threat posed by London to the Green & Gold on Sunday week, June 3, despite Leitrim scoring a victory over the Exiles in the National League.
As he put Leitrim through their final pace ahead of the championship, George isn’t reading anything into the League encounter that Leitrim won by five points. “I don’t think you can take a whole lot from it ,” he said frankly. “League and championship are completely different, London are in Rusilip and having been there as a player on three different occassions it’s never going to be an easy match.
“Last year they put the All-Ireland semi-finalists Mayo to extra time so they’re going to be a difficult proposition. They’ll be well fired up for Leitrim but we’re focusing on what we’ve got to do ourselves to achieve the result and that’s the most important thing as far as we’re concerned, that we know that if we play to our potential we have the ability to win that match.
“Every time Leitrim play, whether it’s League or Championship it’s always a championship match because the odds are always stacked against us and we’ll be taking nothing for granted. We’re preparing meticulously for London and we’ll be ready for them come June 3.”
Similarly Leitrim’s other joint manager, Barney Breen, is equally aware of the threat posed by London having spent a period of time playing his football there. “I played club football in London with Tir Conaill Gaels, I know the mindset. They’re grasping every opportunity that the whole country of Ireland doesn’t want them in the competition, they’re looking for something extra and fair play to them.
“They got the opportunity to rise a bit of a rabble in their dressing room and that’s fine, we’d be doing the same ourselves. But at the same time, that won’t win a game for you.”
“London is a tough place to go, a tough championship game. I’ve seen us playing over in London in the nineties when we had a so-called good team and when we were maybe playing higher divisions than we are now and struggling to beat them. Look at Mayo last year but the glory of it this year is that we won’t be taken them for granted. We can’t afford to look beyond them because of our League positions.”
The two 1994 Connacht Championship winners are taking nothing for granted and George delivers an honest and frank assessment of the performances of Leitrim have played so far under his stewardship - “The league campaign, you would have to say, was disappointing because we didn’t get promotion and that was what we set our sights on but having said that there was positives to be taken from it. We got to look at a lot of new players, guys that hadn’t much game time got plenty of game time.
“We had some very good performances, some not so good. It’s a mixed bag as such but there are lots of positives to take from it in that fellas got game time. We got to see how fellas perform under pressure and we learned a lot from the campaign even though we didn’t get promotion. That was disappointing because we were aiming for it but look, we’ve got to rebuild and refocus for the championship.”
Since the heavy defeat in Enniskillen that brought Leitrim’s league campaign to a conclusion, attention has switched to the encounter with London. Explaining how preparations have gone since the end of the League, George noted, “After the end of the National League we went away for a weekend, we regrouped, we refocused and training has been good and intense. We’ve had a few challenge games and things are going well so far.
“With Championship around the corner, the guys, their focus improves and I think the weekend that we had and the bonding that took place, the guys got to know each other and that was important. We had a few chats about what we want to do and guys are doing it as we wanted them to do it and we’re getting focused.”
In recent weeks there was plenty of speculation as to who would be available for London with the ‘Seanie Johnston’ rule threatening to deprive the exiles of up to 12 players but George insisted that was something he didn’t pay too much attention to.
“I don’t even bother looking in to that, that’s all media speculation. Whatever team London send out on the day we have to beat, that’s our job. It’s up to us to put in a performance no matter who they send on the field, so that we can get the result that we want.”
“Our job is to focus on getting ourselves ready, we don’t want to worry about London too much, we’ll treat them with the respect they deserve but we’re focusing on getting ourselves ready and geting in place the things we need to do to ensure we get the result and we’re confident we can do that.