Here are some things that have been rattling around in my head since I left Pairc Sean on Saturday evening.
1. That was one of the best Leitrim performances I have seen. Despite what some people may say or think, a lack of belief did not lose that game to Laois, rather our lack of depth and options resulting in players being left on the field long after their bodies could offer any more. I would say 12 of our starting 15 put in optimum performances, a remarkable achievement for any team on any given day. Unfortunately, having all 12 players sustain that level of performance for 70 minutes in the modern game of Gaelic football is not possible, and that is why our game fell off in the second half.
2. We should have made changes earlier, despite our limited appropriate options on the bench. For example Darren Sweeney had given his all (despite carrying an injury into the game) and deserved to be replaced. I know we didn’t have another midfield option after Rob Lowe came on for young Moran but Rob isn’t a midfielder either and his introduction freshened things in the middle of the park. Should extra cover have been drafted into the squad for the middle sector considering this was the team’s main Achilles heel against Wicklow and considering the additional injuries that befell the squad in the past weeks? I think so. But I also respect the management’s decision to stick with the squad they had worked with all year. It would have been a tough call.
3. Kevin Conlon put in the best individual performance I have seen in a Leitrim jersey since Declan Darcy single-handedly defeated London in Ruislip in 1997. It wasn’t just Kevin’s exceptional individual scores, including that peach of a goal, it was his constant showing for possession, his use of the ball, and his ability to remain mentally tuned in after being mistakenly substituted only to return to the fray with another exceptional point. Every young lad and lassie in Leitrim should be shown a video of his performance and be reminded that while size and physique can help, they are no prerequisite for county football and certainly no substitute for class. (I always knew Kevin had that ability, and so did Mickey Moran and John Morrison when they brought him onto the panel late in 2010. They made a mistake by throwing him into the fray against Roscommon in the Hyde that year (he wasn’t yet ready at that stage) and was substituted again. His double substitution on Saturday will be talked about by Leitrim fans for all the right reasons for many years to come – well done Kevin.
4. Emlyn Mulligan is one of the best free-takers in the country and his recovery from two successive cruciate knee ligament injuries appears finally complete allowing him return to his full (exceptional) potential from open play also.
5. Playing in goals is the toughest job on the pitch. Cathal made one mistake. Every other player on the field made at least one mistake over the period of the game too. The call by the referee to award that final free was an error in my eyes. Cathal anticipated the cross-field pass perfectly to prevent a certain goal and the ball bounced just before he lifted it. Who’d be a goalkeeper?
6. The replacement referee Martin Higgins made one mistake too, and he’s entitled to that. Both men in black (Rory Hickey pulled a hamstring after 14 minutes) had excellent games, with Higgins notably learning from his mistake in not playing the advantage for Ray Cox’s point before playing the rule to perfection for Conlon’s wonderful goal.
7. Ray Cox played his best game for Leitrim. He tortured Jamie Kavanagh at corner back, and even pulled a few balls out of the sky, with his point before half-time giving the team the ideal response to Laois’ goal. Fair play Ray.
8. Could Paddy Maguire/Alan Wynne be the new Mickey McGuinness/Dermot Reynolds? They have the potential.
9. Eight Laois men scored. Four Leitrim men scored. I said in last week’s column we would need a greater spread of scorers. We didn’t achieve that and paid the price. Our economy of return on chances was once again exceptional, however.
10. Enda Williams should be employed as the new Leitrim GAA tackling coach. I bloody love a good tackle, and Williams knows exactly how it should be done. His timing, positioning, strength and use of his body more than makes up for any perceived lack of speed. An excellent performance overall, great sweeping from centre back.
11. Laois made use of all five subs (two in the first have when things needed changing). Leitrim used three (excluding the double Conlon substitution error) despite the fact we were the team tiring the most.
12. The Leitrim fans were brilliant, and lifted the side time and again, and more than played their part. I feared the transition from player to supporter but there really is no better place to meet up with old friends than a Leitrim game. Within minutes of walking into the stand I had bumped into the full-back (Ray Tubman), wing back (Ray Greenan) and nippy (yes nippy) corner forward (Fergal McGill) from the first U16 Leitrim team I ever played on. Behind the goals, as ever under the Lurganboys on Tour flag, was our then roving wing-forward Pat McEneaney, (his Dad Paddy was sitting beside me, and reckons he’s still roving!). Everywhere I looked were old mentors, chairmen, referees and team mates like Martin McGowan, Michael McGowan, Jimmy and Enda Stenson, Padraig Kenny, the list goes on. A quick glance left and the Mohill crew were in situ – Maureen Lynch and her posse, enquiring how they all were in Bormeo. They were all asking for you Maureen! There were Leitrim Ladies footballers scattered everywhere. It’s like a school/family/friends reunion all rolled into one, days like these in Pairc Sean. Now let’s keep it going and remember the lads need us all on the cold days of February even more when the National League kicks in again. It won’t be long coming around. Take ownership of this team and be part of it.
13. This squad – with some key additions – have the ability to get us out of Division 4 and George and Barney (along with their great backroom team and the backing of this County Board) are the men to orchestrate that. That should be our sole focus for 2013, and once it’s achieved let the momentum of that success sweep us into the championship. I’m looking forward to it already. I just wish I was playing!