First and foremost congratulations to Glencar Manorhamilton on their senior league final victory. It no doubt eases some of the pain from their county final defeat and the end of their drive for five.
As I’ve said many times before, their success over the last few years has been phenomenal and the hunger they were able to bring to Pairc Sean on Sunday shows exactly where their ambitions lie: to remain at the top of Leitrim football for as long as they can. If anyone was in any doubt that the club’s pride had been hurt by their county final defeat then you should have witnessed their great celebrations at the final whistle. The league had been somewhat diminished by the high number of unfulfilled fixtures in recent weeks but it was placed on a high pedestal by the two league finalists – the two most consistent teams in the competition over the past few years. 2012 made it Manor’s third league title in five years.
(I also just want to mention the Aughawillan club at this time. They fulfilled our last league game despite the fact they had nothing to play for. We had beaten them heavily in the county semi-final and started in the same vein in the first half of that league game. However, they dug really deep and out-scored us six points to three in the second half. It’s a great club, with a wonderful legacy and it was great to chat with likes of Pat Prior over a cuppa and some sandwiches in their lovely new clubhouse after the game.)
I’ve been left in a somewhat difficult position as I sit down to write this. I have a duty as a columnist to write honestly about what I believe and my reading of all events, games and situations I comment on, but as a journalist I need to remain objective at all times too. The second obligation ain’t easy when you are part of one of the two clubs involved in a match. So I’m going to try and fulfil both those remits over the next few paragraphs or so.
Manor won the game by keeping the Gaels scoreless in the first half. That was achieved by a level of ruthlessness I have never seen Manor employ before (and some wayward shooting on our behalf). Don’t get me wrong, I’m not giving out about their tactics. In fact I admire them for it. Ruthlessness is something many Leitrim teams (and I’m talking inter-county here for the most part) have been accused of lacking or failing to bring to the field. Ruthlessness is also something many teams try to bring into a game so when the opposition does so there can have no complaints.
Manor clearly studied the county final DVD very carefully in the intervening weeks and identified exactly who and what hurt them in that game. They set out with a definite plan of targeting certain players and areas and it really worked for them in the first 30 minutes. Did they push the boundaries? Certainly, but no more so than other successful teams like the Kilkenny hurlers. We’d do the same thing if we got away with it. There is no crime in pushing boundaries when the referee allows you to do so. Okay, they lost Adrian Croal in the second half (to a second yellow) as a result of the tactic of stopping our defensive runners but I think Adrian could feel reasonably hard done by to have seen the sideline considering some of what was let go at other times on the field. Later, Stephen Clancy was sent off for the Gaels, and while I have yet to see the replay, I think it will be looked back upon as very harsh again in light of previous incidents in the game.
Both teams brought a real physical element to the game and an intensity that left the match difficult to referee, I don’t doubt. However, that was hardly surprising. It was always going to be a physical encounter. In such matches it is the prompt and decisive actions of the referee early on that will dictate how the game pans out.
But in the end the difference between the two sides was not hunger or physicality, it was a goal that came from the best move in the game. I found myself in a two against one situation under a long searching Manor clearance towards midfield on the stand side which Darren Sweeney intelligently tapped down to Shane Loughlin. Shane’s excellent cross field ball for once deceived Fabian McMorrow and James Glancy finished with style past Gareth Phelan. We had the possession in extra time to get at least a draw out of the game but we were a little careless with it at times – but credit is also due here to the pressure applied by Manor all over the field.
Finally, on top of giving credit where credit is due to Manor, I would like to make one plea in relation to some behaviour amongst supporters from both sides at the final. The Gaels and Manor have an enduring rivalry that will, I believe, help raise the standard of club football across the county in the coming years. I envision the two teams going head to head in many important games. We all love the atmosphere both sets of our fantastic supporters bring to these derbies and the excitement, colour and atmosphere they added to both finals this year.
However, I would hate to see a continuation of the booing of the free taker from either side. There has always been an unwritten rule in the GAA that you don’t boo when a free is being taken. I’ve seen it sneaking in increasingly at inter-county level (particularly when the Dubs have the Hill filled to capacity) but I think it is something we can do without. Save your voice and your energy to cheer on your own team in a positive way.