The meeting of Gortletteragh and Leitrim Gaels in Sunday’s GWP Junior A Championship Final in Cloone (3.00 throw-in) is an intriguing one as Leitrim Gaels, the only first team playing at this grade look to make the breakthrough to the Intermediate football while Gortletteragh look to complete an incredible year for the club by matching last year’s achievement of Melvin Gaels by winning both the Intermediate and Junior A Championships.
Both Leitrim Gaels and Gortletteragh have been among the form teams of the competition, with both comfortably winning their groups. The other team to win their group, Dromahair, were comfortably dismissed by Leitrim Gaels in the semi-final with that win against a fancied team issuing a real signal of intent.
The success enjoyed this year by Gortletteragh at Intermediate level seems to have galvanised everyone within the club and the momentum they built up during the run to the final and their subsequent win has evidently helped their Junior team while their minors also reached last weekend’s final.
With several experienced campaigners including Derek and Terry Kelleher eligible to compete at this level all involved with Gortletteragh seem to be on the crest of a wave and the feel good factor surrounding the club cannot be underestimated. As well as contesting their third final in as many weeks, Gortletteragh are also looking to gain promotion from Division 2 and while Leitrim Gaels are many people’s favourites for victory, the momentum that Gortletteragh have enjoyed in recent weeks is in stark contrast to the fact that Leitrim Gaels haven’t seen as much action in recent weeks. In fact their last outing was their semi-final win on September 15.
In their quest to advance from the Junior grade there has been much heartbreak for Leitrim Gaels, none more so than two years ago when they were beaten in the final by Eslin. However, the heartbreak of two years ago seems to have galvanised Leitrim Gaels and after failing to advance past the quarter finals last year they are back stronger than ever this year.
The youth and drive offered by Aidan Flynn and Conor Guckian proved too much for Dromahair in the semi-final while the likes of Eunan Tracey, James Keane and Michael McManus are others who will be key to Leitrim Gaels’ chances of victory.
Perhaps the most influential player in the Leitrim Gaels ranks is the almost unstoppable Ricky Wynne whose speed and close control has been confusing defenders for years and his five points in the semi-final went a long towards securing his team’s place in Saturday’s final.
However, if Leitrim Gaels are to emerge victorious they will be all too aware that there are a number of potential match winners on the Gortletteragh team. Similarly to their first team the spine of the Gortletteragh team is very strong with Sean Costello in defence, Padraig McGarry and Cathal Quinn in midfield and minor forward Padraig Gallagher.
The physical presence of Cathal Quinn was something Dromahair struggled to contend with in the Intermediate final and if Leitrim Gaels are similarly over powered Gortletteragh could well be on course to compete in both the Senior and Intermediate football championships next year.
The impact of Padraig Gallagher cannot be underestimated either. The youngster, who represented Gortletteragh-Fenagh in last weekend’s Minor final scored a hugely impressive 1-8 in the semi-final win against Allen Gaels.
Quite how the draw in last Sunday’s County Minor Final will effect the Gortletteragh men as both Gallagher and John Reynolds are key members of the club’s second string team - will their focus be fractured or will it be a welcome distraction for two young players.
Another strange fact is that Leitrim Gaels are already preparing for their Connacht Junior Championship campaign before a ball is kicked and will be in action just a week after next weekend’s Final and they will certainly be anxious to go into that game as Leitrim champions rather than the county’s representatives.
The fact that this is Leitrim Gaels’ first team means they are favourites to claim the title on Saturday and it has hard to argue with that view on the basis that they have a fine mix of experience of youth and experience, steel in defence, mobility in midfield and efficiency in front of goal and importantly the pain of the final two years ago will still be gnawing away at them to ensure there is a real hunger for victory.
However, Gortletteragh will not be showing up with the sole intention of congratulating one another on reaching another final and Saturday’s game promises to a hard fought and fiercely competitive encounter.