Leitrim’s record in the All-Ireland Qualifiers is not something that strikes any fear into opponents but joint manager Brian Breen is calling on supporters of the Green & Gold to turn out in force next Saturday in Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada in an effort to propel the County Senior footballers to a first ever Qualifiers victory against Wicklow.
Speaking to the Observer, Brian typically refused to sugar-coat the situation Leitrim find themselves in after a horrendous series of results for the county – “It is a home game and we badly need the support.
“There is no denying that the whole of Leitrim football, taking in the Minors and everything, we’re at a low ebb, there is no denying it and the easy thing to do is walk away from it and not support it.
“But we badly need support. It is very easy to support a team when they are winning but we’re looking for that help now and any little bit of help we can get in beating Wicklow, we’ll surely take it and if it means a couple of extra hundred coming out on Saturday evening, all the better.”
If the low ranking of Leitrim football rankles Brian, he is enough of a realist to know that it is up to Leitrim themselves to alter the situation – “The expectations were so low against Mayo and nobody really believed that we would do anything different and that is fair enough.
“Expectations were low and it is justifiable in one sense but I hate buying into it, myself and George and are winners at heart and losing hurts hard and it has to hurt hard for players too. It is very easy when you are getting beat year in and year out to become defeatist. Sometimes it doesn’t hurt enough for lads but it doesn’t happen overnight.”
With a record of ten losses in ten Qualifier appearances, some might regard the pressure as being off Leitrim next Saturday but Brian believes that the pressure is on Leitrim to overcome that record - “I don’t know if it is fair to say that the pressure is off, it is in some ways but having said that the pressure is on this year to win a qualifier game.
“We’re very much well aware that we have a big fat zero in our rankings from previous years in the qualifiers.
“It is important that this group of players are determined to show progress within this group for the year. If we can get a win, it can possibly redeem some factor of our big loss against Mayo.”
Brian conceded that attitude may play a part in Leitrim’s disappointment in the past, particularly against teams like Sligo, Longford and next Saturday, Wicklow, and the former Leitrim star admits to taking a different approach to the problem this year.
“It could be attitude, the qualifiers are a tough one. It all depends on how the group of players react to it, no matter who it is against and every year is different. Last year, we had our problems after the Sligo game and that was well documented. This year, we gave them the week off, whether that was right or wrong remains to be seen but that won’t make a difference in the result.
“We’ve regrouped, there is good form in training. You can see the vibe is back in them. We sat down for a good while after training on the first night back, talked about the Mayo game and where we wanted to go and the mood was very, very positive and that’s good.”
Part of Brian’s disappointment stemmed from the poor reward for the efforts that the Leitrim players have put in this year – “I was gutted for the players because nobody really appreciates how much effort them lads put into it. It is easy for myself and George, these guys have to do all the travelling and put in the physical work.
“When you look back at it, and I’m not one for making excuses, the loss of Wayne and Shane and Daniel Lowe not being available was probably too far a gap to bridge. Having said that, we made too many simple mistakes that cost us the second goal against Mayo. We have to learn and for this bunch of players in the future, whether myself and George are involved or not, is to try and get these guys to focus for the full 70 minutes.
“That was our downfall all year, we tend to have a five minute moment of madness and it has cost us in so many games this year, whether it is that five minutes before halftime and it always seems to be that area we are targeting.
“That is a long term thing we have to address, the whole mental aspect of it, that’s the difficult part. We’re aware of it, number one, and we’re working on it number two and hopefully on Saturday, these bunch of lads will get a chance to redeem themselves.
“It is easier for us to bury our heads and make all the excuses we want and every year you can get away with that. But we have to learn as well to take it on the chin, look at what went wrong, what happened in the first 25 minutes that we couldn’t have done in the second 25 minutes and that is the way we have to look at it objectively.
“If we start feeling sorry for ourselves, we’ll never make any progress. That fact that they are a new bunch of lads, there is no baggage with them and every single one of them is a great bunch. They all want to play for Leitrim and that’s the bottom line.”
Wicklow are tough opponents and Brian sees the results of sustained development in the Garden county ranks – “It is totally a work in progress but when we’re working from a total clean slate at the beginning of the year every year, it is hard to make that amount of progress in one year for to make a difference.
“When you look at the Wicklow team, they have Hannon around a fair number of years, you have seasoned players there and they’re probably on year four or five of a scale. They don’t have to do those simple things, there able to move on.”
Wicklow used a high ball into the full-forward line in the League game to see off the Leitrim challenge in Aughrim and Brian expects the same next Saturday – “They hurt us in there in the League game and they’ll probably be saying that’s the way we beat them the last time, this is the way this time. They’ve a big guy, McGaynor, six foot six, so I’ve no doubt that they will use him in there.
“We have the players we have and we’re going to have deal with it, we’ll take it as it comes and make provisions for that. We’re going to have to expect everything to go our way on the day. We had provisions made for Mayo in the sense of a defensive strategy but when we lost Wayne, that went out the window.”