So dreams do come true after all. That’s the glory of sport. But one team’s dream is another team’s nightmare. I said last week that Sunday was all about winning for us while Glencar Manorhamilton had wider aspirations of becoming the first team in history to win five consecutive Leitrim Senior football titles. The Drive for Five proved a journey too far.
On Shannonside radio on Saturday, John Lynch asked me how I felt the game would go. I said that having won the previous four finals Manor clearly had the edge on us in big game experience and in knowing how to get over the line in a final but I felt that our hunger would be the deciding factor in the end. It proved to be the case.
We won both throw-ins – a small but noteworthy detail – but the hunger was most evident in our commitment to the breaking ball. BB Brennan typified that when he threw himself between a swinging Manor boot and a loose ball to win dirty possession after a turnover in the middle of the field midway through the first half. He took a nice crack to the ribs but nothing he couldn’t dance off on the streets of Kinlough later.
This is the best Melvin Gaels team I have been involved with. We had a nice side in 1998 and one that should have won more than the one senior title, but we didn’t have the balance and the strength in depth this squad boasts. Every player that started on Sunday did so in the position best suited to them. In the past we always struggled when we had to turn to the subs bench but this year those who came into the fray added to the performance.
Peter McGowan scored a beautiful point at a crucial stage in the second half while Jessie McGuinness’ goal sealed the win. The fact that we are able to absorb the loss of our captain David McSharry to injury so early on also showed great character and belief especially considering he had started so brightly winning every ball that went his way.
While it made my day to get on for the last ten minutes I was more thrilled to see Tom Lipsett coming in off the bench with a few minutes to go. The roar that greeted his arrival must have brought a wide smile to his new wife Donna.
The happy couple tied the knot on Friday, with BB their best man and the rest of the Gaels as the unofficial groomsmen. Poor Donna watched Tom being stretchered off in the semi-final when he sprained his ankle badly. If the prospect of a groom on crutches wasn’t bad enough she then learned that the final was being pushed back a week due to the All Ireland Hurling final replay, two days after the wedding date! Who’d be a footballer’s girlfriend? At least we sign up for and accept the capricious nature of sport as part and parcel of the game.
The girlfriends and wives simply have to look at us and wonder when will we ever grow up and stop worrying so much about whether a piece of air-filled leather goes under or over a bar.
But the normal rules of life are suspended momentarily when you take to the field of play and cross the white line. The worries of work, the pressures of money, the stresses of your wedding day (Tom and Donna may dispute that one) can be parked as all perspective becomes warped in the strangest way allowing you feel more alive than you can ever experience during the daily struggles of everyday life.
And sometime, just sometimes, all that hard work and effort and sacrifice and compromise pays off and rewards you with a win like Sunday’s. A win that brought a community together and tears to old men’s eyes.
I noted last week that stopping Glencar Manorhamilton winning five-in-a-row wasn’t a motivation for our team. It turns out that our achieving that made some Gaels very happy indeed.
A number of the great Gaels from the 1950s and 60s – the last team to win four Leitrim titles in a row – were present at the game on Sunday and they duly thanked us for not letting their record be beaten.
Glencar Manorhamilton did equal it, however, and they remain the team against whom all others in the county must grade themselves. We have taken the first step in emulating their achievements. And judging from the banter in Kinlough on Sunday night this group of players definitely have the ‘Gu for Two!’