Things are at a definite crossroads in Leitrim football at the moment and I’m not just talking about our collapse against Fermanagh in Enniskillen on Sunday. I’m talking about at every level on both the club and county scene.
By Colin Regan
It’s a topic and a subject very close to my heart and I have the utmost respect for the players and managers who sacrifice countless hours of their time for the cause not to mention putting their bodies and reputations on the line for their clubs and county week in week out. But there is a feeling inside and outside the county that we are starting to lose ground against our neighbouring counties and it’s something I felt I need to address in this column.
It’s a topic that will require more than one column to cover the myriad of element, but let’s start with the senior county scene today. At senior level we are suffering from a dearth of players largely due to a lot of retirements and emigration. It’s a problem hitting a lot of smaller counties at the moment, but one that can’t be used as a crutch either. I was delighted with what I heard from George Dugdale when, as newly appointed Leitrim joint-manager, he spoke in January at the Leitrim Supporters Club annual launch in Dublin.
He said he and his joint manager Barney Breen were only interested in working with the players they had available to them. George was always a player to let his actions on the field do the talking and his matter of fact, to-the-point assessment of the challenges and opportunities in front of the Leitrim senior football team in 2012 was refreshingly honest.
We have some talented players in the Leitrim set-up this year, but a lack of experience throughout the team is undoubtedly causing us serious problems. I have to hold my hands up and say I was partly responsible for our defeat in Brewster Park on Sunday. I didn’t make the trip to support the team on a day I knew they would need all the support they could muster. The last game I saw them play was in Aughrim and while I was encouraged by the defeat of Waterford in Pairc Sean, I knew Fermanagh was coming into the game in the knowledge an undefeated league run had already secured their promotion and they were planning a big home win to further buoy their growing support base.
A Fermanagh friend of mine was updating me (with a little too much enthusiasm) on how the game was progressing on Sunday. A former county player, this time last year he was lost in a sea of anger and frustration concerning how his team had fallen from their dizzy heights of All Ireland quarter and semi-finals in 2003 and 2004 respectively to relegation to Division 4 of the league. This was promptly followed by championship defeat to London and he was at a loss as how to explain how this had happened.
A few short months later and a new manager in Peter Canavan returned a feel-good factor to Fermanagh football and from his first game in charge the people of the county turned out in great numbers to get behind a man they had no allegiance to whatsoever. A legend in GAA football, naturally, but not one of their own.
In Leitrim, we have two of our 1994 heroes at the helm yet they received no out-pouring of support in return for sticking their heads above the parapets of football management.
In fact, the Leitrim support at the Wicklow game was amongst the smallest I have seen in years and I could have named all who would be there before I ever arrived: the same few people who stick with the team regardless, year in year out, through thick and thin.
We need to realise there is a disconnection between our team and our supporters and something needs to be done about that. Those who turn up in Pairc Sean on championship days – like the grey one against Roscommon last year – and sit in seats they hadn’t darkened in the previous 12 months have no right to express an opinion on the team that represents our county’s green and gold, regardless of the standard of their performance on that given day.
Pairc Sean was swelled with support because our lads had excelled against Sligo to pull off a great win in Markievicz Park a few weeks previously in front of a relatively meagre but loyal band of Leitrim supporters.
After the Roscommon game I met a woman who would be more at home on the 18th Green than Pairc Sean declare: “that’s the last time I’ll come out to support them”. I’d say she couldn’t remember the last time she had! Don’t get me wrong, such fair-weather supporters are more than welcome to get behind the team when the opportunity presents itself and we need everyone we can muster on such big days.
But all growing things need continual nurturing and support, especially when the soil is particularly barren or there are dark storm clouds overhead. Then, when the sun is shining, we’ll make hay. There is some fear amongst even our most loyal supporters of the challenge London will provide in Ruislip come June 3. I don’t fear the challenge our exiled Gaels offer us, I look forward to it.
Just as we should all look forward to getting out and supporting our county teams at any available opportunity. It’s impossible to make all the games, but if we all make those we can, it makes a difference to the players, believe me.
There is currently a campaign gathering pace in the county opposing the proposed exploration of our natural gas reserves called ‘Love Leitrim’. Rather than simply opposing ‘Fracking’ and offering a tired, repetitive ‘anti- everything’ stance those behind the campaign rightly decided a more positive approach would garner more positive results. It’s an ethos many Leitrim Gaels could do with exploring.