Out gunned and out played. You could really leave the match analysis of our game against St. Brigid’s at that. We came up against a team at a different level to ourselves right now and in periods of the game they taught us a lesson in clinical finishing and opportunity taking.
St. Brigid’s level of intensity in the tackle, their pressure game and their ability to generate scores from an array of attacking options was something this Gaels team has never encountered in Leitrim and were not capable of dealing with. It was closer to county football in terms of the time you had on the ball. They were operating on a different plane to what our lads were used to. In fairness, St. Brigid’s are probably operating at a different level to most clubs in the country at the moment, and that is why they were odds on favourites to win the Connacht title before yesterday’s first round game. A beautifully balanced team, they have a great mix of experience and youth with match winners in Senan Kilbride and Frankie Dolan who were outstanding yesterday, even if their markers were not helped by the time allowed to those delivering consistently advantageous passes their way.
We were unfortunate to get them on a day when everything clicked for them. Speaking to Senan Kilbride’s father Sean – a good friend and former colleague of mine in Croke Park – after the game he said that was the best he had seen them play for some time. They have the ambition and what looks like the ability and drive (if yesterday’s performance is anything to go by) to win an All Ireland title this year. They face a tricky journey to Pearse Stadium in Galway next but it’s hard to see them being beaten in Connacht at any rate.
People were disappointed at Glencar Manorhamilton’s inability to get a win in four attempts at Connacht, but really we only have ourselves to blame for that. We (as in all the other senior clubs in the county) were sending the Manor lads out without having been truly prepared by being consistently tested in their county championship. The Gaels got a taster of the step up required to compete at provincial level on Sunday. It’ll stand our lads in good stead. Hopefully it’ll make them realise that there is life and opportunity outside Leitrim football even if you aren’t a county player and that they will start each championship season with the aim of not just winning the Fenagh Cup but the Shane McGettigan Cup also. If you only turn your attention to a higher level of performance a week after celebrating your county final win you will never be able to reach that level in time. It has to be talked about and, planned towards, and spoken about from the very first training session as a team at the start of a new season. That is if the group of players and their management team has that sort of ambition. If they don’t then the Fenagh Cup is all any club in Leitrim can ever aspire towards. I believe this Gaels team has the potential to compete at inter-county level and I think they have the management team that can help them realise that goal. But they must want to and then they must be willing to make the commitment and sacrifices necessary. They have already given incredible commitment to the club over the past two seasons in going from Leitrim Intermediate football to Connacht senior football. But as we all saw on Sunday there’s another level necessary altogether if you want to play with the big boys.
But we’re not as far away as Sunday’s scoreline would suggest. St. Brigid’s got a run on us in the last ten minutes of the first half to turn a one-point game into a seven point lead. They were devastating in this period but we didn’t help ourselves with some untypical errors and lapses in concentration. The lads looked a little shell-shocked at half-time: incredulous that such a bright and promising start could end with a half-time scoreline of 0-5 to 0-12. When the game reached the 30th minute I turned to Martin McCarron beside me on the subs bench (whom, by the way, I neglected to point out in a previous column was also on our 1998 championship winning team, along with ’98 panel member Anthony Tiffoney, who also came on as a sub on Sunday) and I said a four point lead would be very generous for them at half time. By the time the three additional minutes were played that was out to seven!
We had given them an inch and they took a mile. The second half we lost our shape completely and they ran riot. But they boys never dropped their heads and the good thing about such a drubbing it that you can’t really have any excuses. You can only examine it in the true light of day and take it on the chin. If it’s something that you can learn from or be motivated by to improve it will prove a worthwhile experience in the long run.