Former All-Ireland winner Michael Duignan was full of praise for the Leitrim Sports Star Awards last Saturday night, highlighting the manner in which the Leitrim Sports Partnership Board organised event brings so many different sports and its heroes together in a night of celebration.
“It is actually brilliant, I think it is a great initiative,” Michael told the Obsever, “We don’t have anything like this in Offaly and I think it is a brilliant idea to bring the different sports together, I don’t think enough of it goes on.
“We get very focussed on our own particular sports and I think it is lovely. A great night for all the people who are nominated and of course, whoever wins, it is a very special night for them and their families. I’m delighted to be down here and it is great to be asked.”
And the RTE pundit admitted he was impressed by the scale of Leitrim’s sporting achievements - “Ireland as a country fights above and kicks above its weight and then to see a small county like Leitrim with the issues that you have with emigration so it is fantastic to see the heights that some of these people have reached.
“To compete on the world stage is fantastic and of course, a proud little football county as well. And you learn as well, it is amazing.
“Prior to being asked to come down here, I would have been in the dark about all of this, about who was who and just reading about it and getting your head around it.
“To have a sports night like this I think is fairly unique in my experience and fair play to the organisers and the Leitrim Sports Partnership and I think it is a fantastic idea.”
Offaly hurling and Leitrim might seem to have little in common but the Offaly hurling story highlights just what can be achieved with small numbers, a lesson that Micahel believes can be applied to Leitrim football.
“It can be done and people often ask how did it happen but I have no real answer. From maybe a seven mile radius of Birr, we won a Minor All-Ireland in 1986 with 12 players from two clubs on the first 15 which I think is incredible.
“We were well aware of the pitfalls but we had a great 30 years, 40 years with hurling and football from 1970 on, winning All-Irelands in both codes. It is when you haven’t had success for a number of years and you stand back and say, Jesus, that was unbelievable with the pick we had and the small amount of clubs.
“It shows it can be done but you need a lot of things going for you, a bit of luck, a crop of players and we had a couple of very strong schools at the time in Banagher and Birr at the time, we had a couple of nurseries and we had a particular couple of players over a period of time. The first team came in the 80s with seven or eight of them and they made the breakthrough.
“The challenge is trying to keep it there, we’ve fallen back a bit now and I think that is where you need the numbers, you need the mass that you have enough people coming through.
“I’m hoping that we can get back again, that it is not a flash in the pan and it won’t be forgotten what we did and I don’t want people talking about us for the rest of their lives.”