We were scheduled to have a league match on each of the two weekends since our county final win a just over a fortnight ago but in both cases the clubs were unable to field a team. Melvin Gaels had to withdraw from an intermediate match earlier in the year scheduled due to a large number of injuries and lads travelling back to their respective homes around the country (the game was scheduled for 7pm on a Sunday evening) so I’m not taking any moral high ground here.
The biggest issue for us is that the cancellations came at such a late stage we were unable to arrange an alternative challenge match and we now head into the Connacht championship lacking some of the match sharpness we would have wanted.
Personally, I was particularly disappointed as I need game time and was really looking forward to getting some time against Mohill who are always a great team to play against. I was also looking forward to getting the chance to play on the newly refurbished Philly McGuinness Pairc (hopefully I’ll experience that privilege another day).
Instead I had to make do with a session on my own on Dollymount Strand! Not ideal but you make do with what you can. It’s never easy living so far away from where your club is located. I had planned to travel directly to Mohill from Dublin for the game but just as I was getting in the car I got a call to say the game was off. The lads had arranged to meet in Kinlough at 12.30pm before hitting the road for south Leitrim and Billy (our manager) had decided to go ahead with training at that time and I was never going to make it.
In the wider context it raises the question of the timing of leagues and championships, especially if this is going to be a common occurrence. Speaking to Billy on the phone on Saturday he said he was amazed at how well the schedule was run off last year in Leitrim. The league was concluded before championship ended and every fixture ran to clockwork.
It hasn’t been so smooth this year, and the recent cancellations would suggest that once championship is over players lose interest in the league, or at least don’t hold it in the same regard (nothing new there I hear you say).
Sean O’Heslin’s had nothing to play for sitting in the middle of the table but Mohill are still in with a fighting chance of making the league final. The two walk-overs means Melvin Gaels has already secured its place in the league final and it looks like it will be a repeat of the County Final with Manor following close on our tails with 16 points in the bag – one ahead of Mohill – with both those clubs having two games to play.
We would have much preferred to have played two hard fought matches to earn those four points. St. Brigid’s are the bookies favourites to win Connacht this year (repeating their successes of 2011, 2010, and 2006) and are one of the top four clubs teams in the country these past few years.
I was at their All Ireland final clash with Crossmaglen two years ago and they were not far off the pace with Crossmaglen’s experience telling through in the end. They have a formidable management team of Kevin McStay and Liam McHale at the helm this year but in their county final they were pushed all the way by Padraig Pearses. Pearses, like the Gaels, had won the Intermediate title last year and made it all the way to challenge for the senior title in 2012. It took some of St. Brigid’s old stalwarts (and some of my old Roscommon nemeses!) to pull them through with Frankie Dolan hitting 2-4, while Karl Mannion and Senan Kilbride also contributed to their 2-7 to 0-8 win.
Dolan was a real thorn in Leitrim’s side for years but he is a class footballer and will take serious watching. Fortunately we have a serious man marker amongst our ranks, and I anticipate a number of intriguing battles around the field. Where they are strong we are strong, so a lot will depend on how the more peripheral players stand up and are counted on the day.
Only three of our players – the two Phelans and I – know what it is like to play in the Conancht club championship before. I found our 1998 game against Roscommon Gaels a really liberating experience and a great challenge.
I’ve been told by some it was my best performance in a Melvin Gaels shirt – I’m hoping another few Gaels put in a lifetime best performance come Sunday. We’ll need a few of them to get us over the line.