Nothing to stop winning becoming a familiar feeling for this Leitrim team

I’m sitting here with a beam on my face that even a special Frontline double-bill on Ireland’s financial woes couldn’t wipe off. Our lads did us and most importantly themselves proud in Marcievich Park on Sunday and in the process spread a smile across the globe.

I’m sitting here with a beam on my face that even a special Frontline double-bill on Ireland’s financial woes couldn’t wipe off. Our lads did us and most importantly themselves proud in Marcievich Park on Sunday and in the process spread a smile across the globe.

Messages on social media sites from Leitrim natives in Canada, Australia, Scotland, London, France, Asia, America and beyond were all along the same vein: ‘Proud to be Leitrim, smiling broadly, wish I was there, keep it up.’ We were trending on Twitter for goodness sake. Not an easy feat these days unless you happen to have a bit too much horse meat in you, believe me.

And regardless of what people think, winning the FBD isn’t an easy feat either. Leitrim teams have been trying to do it for years without success. Sligo has only won it once in the past. They wanted to win that game on Sunday. Just as Roscommon wanted to win back in Elphin on January 6, and Mayo wanted to win in Ballinamore on the 13th, and GMIT wanted to win in the same venue a week later.

I’ve always harped on about the habit of winning and the importance it plays in sport. Mickey Harte, a man who knows more about winning than most managers in this country, considers the McKenna Cup a ‘rite of passage’ for his younger players. It’s where they learn to win, he has said. They picked up another one at the Athletic Grounds on Sunday brushing aside Monaghan in the final. Leitrim’s first silverware in 19 years – and only our fourth in formal competition in the history of the GAA – should also act as a rite of passage for this young squad. They now have four wins on the trot and some silverware as a physical reminder of the physical effort they endured on the training field to

achieve that. They also see what it means to so many people to witness Leitrim not just competing but winning. That’s an unquantifiable quality that can be stored in the recess of the mind to be called upon when most needed in the heat of league and championship battle. That winning habit is something that becomes infused with your DNA and makes you do the right thing at the right time when a game is there for the winning and when those without it start making mistakes and wrong judgement calls.

I’m absolutely delighted for the lads. Looking at the picture in the Irish Independent’s sports section on Monday you can see the delight in all their faces. And what a brilliant bunch of young lads we have representing Leitrim at the moment. I find it hard to believe that Cathal McCrann is one of the most senior players on that squad now. It seems just yesterday that a ridiculously baby-faced Leitrim Minor approached myself and Gareth Phelan in Carrick-on-Shannon after a championship game and said he was aiming to be as good a ‘keeper as Gareth and take over from him in the senior nets some days. Well he’s done just that on both counts and once again Cathal played a vital part in Sunday’s win with a point-blank save 25 minutes into the first half; a goal for Sligo then would have given them the foothold they sought to really get into the game.

The defence in front of Cathal continues to gel and work for each other. Great to see Ciaran Egan bouncing back from an under par performance a couple of weeks ago: a sure sign of a maturing footballer. Paul Brennan is growing more and more into the influential role of centre back. All great teams have great centre backs, and many of them bring varying styles in the role. Declan Darcy was always coolness personified and seemed to have the game set in a pivot around him. Glen Ryan would gladly have stepped in front of a runaway train for his Kildare teams and would have stopped it in its tracks just as he did to so many attacks from opposing teams. John ‘Delivery’ Divilly acquired that fitting sobriquet for his ability to turn defence into attack for Galway with a swing of his deadly accurate right boot. Kieran McGeeney used to eat opposition centre forwards for lunch. Brennan has a ways to go to match these illustrious examples but there’s with his pace, strength and driving breaks forward he can do so if he puts his mind to it.

Other significant moments in the game were Cian Reynolds’ second half point at a vital stage (welcome aboard Cian), Danny Beck’s score from wingback (nothing new there Danny) and Brian McDonald’s point from play (we’re all wishing you an injury free season Bruno). But most noteworthy was Wayne McKeon’s overall contribution from midfield. There’s no substituting class, and when Wayne manages to combine his class with honest endeavour and a tireless work ethic no one can put a hand on him. I suppose I should also mention our own Emlyn Mulligan who didn’t have a bad weekend either. He picked up his Leitrim County Player of the Year gong at the county awards night on Friday (congratulations also to BB Brennan on his Club Player of the Year award); two days later they are celebrating together again as Mugsy lifts the FBD Cup.

The Leitrim Supporters bus to Limerick for next Sunday’s league match is filling up fast and understandably so. I won’t be there as I’m participating in Ireland’s toughest 10K challenge ‘Hell & Back’ in Wicklow the same day. Recently retired Sligo legend Eamonn O’Hara is also participating. I intend keeping Leitrim’s 2013 winning habit going by beating my old mate. Here’s hoping the lads do likewise in Limerick. Liatroim abú!