It may have got off to a slightly shaky start but last Saturday's Final of the first U-13 Regional Development competition promises to be a great asset for Leitrim football as demonstrated by the young footballers of Lough Erril Gaels and Belhavel Gaels in Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada.
LOUGH ERRIL GAELS 5-16
BELHAVEL GAELS 3-6
The final margin of victory may suggest a far from competitive encounter and the young footballers from Mohill, Gortletteragh, Bornacoola and Annaduff who came together to form Lough Erril Gaels did prove a step above their opponents drawn from Ballinaglera, Drumkeerin, Dromahair and Allen Gaels.
Lough Erril ran riot in the first half as their greater physical strength set the tone for the encounter, brushing aside the smaller Belhavel players to run up a total of 3-8 to no score during an awesome first half display.
The second half was a very different matter.
Whether it was Lough Erril easing off or Belhavel repeating what they did in the round robin game when they also fought back from a first half mauling, the second half was an incredibly competitive affair which Belhavel won by a point, 3-6 to 2-8.
What was interesting was the contrast between the teams – the physically bigger Lough Erril ran far more with the ball in the hand and hand-passed the ball to a huge extent, relying on their powerful running and off-the-ball support play.
Belhavel, for a smaller and lighter team, concentrated far more on kicking the ball, demonstrating some wonderful skills. In terms of winning a match at U-13 level, it may have been the wrong approach as it gave Lough Erril a good chance of winning possession but for developing skills, it was refreshing to see and will stay ingrained in this players for quite some time.
The U-13 Regional Competition met with a mixed reaction, some teams embracing the concept and others not putting as much effort into the competition. But if last Saturday showed anything, it showed the benefit of bringing together the county's best players, getting them playing against each other and developing team-work and skills that will only benefit Leitrim football, both club and county, in the long terms.
It will also be interesting to watch the development of all these players in the years to come – Lough Erril are a very talented bunch of footballers, with fine skills but the edge their physical strength gave them was particularly noticeable and when the Belhavel players physically mature, the clashes between these teams will be particularly interesting.
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