Plane home can’t come soon enough

The number of text messages I received on Sunday evening following Leitrim´s defeat of Wicklow in round two of the All Ireland Qualifiers series reminded me just how much a win like that means not only to Leitrim people but GAA enthusiasts everywhere.

The number of text messages I received on Sunday evening following Leitrim´s defeat of Wicklow in round two of the All Ireland Qualifiers series reminded me just how much a win like that means not only to Leitrim people but GAA enthusiasts everywhere.

One in particular summed things up. It came in from Dave Billings, head of GAA in UCD, All Ireland winner with the Dubs in 1974 and selector with both Tommy Lyons and Pillar Caffrey in the 1990s.

I got to know Dave well while studying my Masters in UCD two years ago. He knew what the win would have meant to me and Leitrim followers everywhere. His text simply said: `’Congrats to all Leitrim men and women. A great result.’

I received the text while sitting in Bormeo on the northern Basque Coast (home town to Oihiana whom married Allen Gaels Donncha Lynch here last October) and I could relate to our ex-pats all across the world who were tuned into the game over the internet or receiving calls and texts from the stands from family and friends. I have no doubt there were Leitrim jerseys and colours flying proudly on every corner of the globe over the weekend.

I was being kept up to date throughout the game and I would have been more surprised to hear we lost this one than to receive the welcome news of the lads´deserved victory.

I can´t comment on the performance as I wasn’t there in person but all the updates I received referred to the consistent level of performance achieved by the team. Achieving that was always going to put us in a strong position to win at home to Wicklow. Everyone involved in the team deserves great credit. It was no mean feat to keep the boys in a positive frame of mind following the Mayo game (from chatting with the Melvin Gaels contingent this was clearly achieved).

Neither was it easy for the squad members to keep faith in their methods and approach and even more importantly their own abilities. But the Wicklow draw came at the perfect opportunity, and the squad and management had the wherewithal to turn that opportunity into a winning performance.

I know I made some comments in this column on the over-riding state of Leitrim football following the Connacht semi-final, but I never doubted the ability of this group of players to pull out a performance. They proved that with a tricky trip to London this year and last year against Sligo in Markievicz Park.

Now comes the real test of putting two great performances back to back. And of course the further you go in the Qualifiers the more difficult the task becomes as your opposition improves. And we must remember this is the first Leitrim squad to have ever reached the third round.

Once more I think the draw has been relatively kind. Laois in Carrick-on-Shannon is the sort of game this team will relish. Don´t get me wrong, it is an enormous challenge but one within the grasp of this squad. Getting past Monaghan (courtesy of two goals) shows this Laois side are one to be reckoned with despite their relegation from Division 1 this year.

It´s been some time since we played Laois competitively. We regularly faced them in the league in the late 1990s before they stepped up to a new level on the foundations of some successful underage teams.

Today their star has begun to wain as Justin McNulty has found it hard to gain any ground in the Leinster championship. They have some considerable players to contend with, none more so than John O’Loughlin, Brendan Quigley, MJ Tierney, Ross Munnelly and Colm Kelly.

They are known for their ability around midfield and we will have to contest this area frantically if we are to compete.

But I’ve no doubt we can cause them some trouble too, especially if James Glancy and Mr Mulligan can maintain their current form (we do need to get some more people on the scoreboard however, if we are to stand a chance). All in all it promises to be a great occasion - a novel championship pairing in Pairc Sean with everything to play for.

The plane home can´t come soon enough.