Welcome to part two the Leitrim Observer Sports Review of 2017 as we look back over a year filled with triumphs, disappointments, highs and lows and plenty to talk about.
In this week's review, we have asked This Sporting Life columnist Colin Regan, former Shannonside commentator John Lynch, Leitrim Sports Star of the Year Eanna Madden and our own Willie Donnellan and John Connolly to look back on 2017.
EANNA MADDEN - ATHLETICS
Highlight of the Year: My highlight for 2017 was to represent Ireland in the 100m sprint at the European Team Championships in Vanessa, Finland. It was a fantastic experience and I always enjoy the craic and camaraderie among the Irish team.
Team of the Year: I greatly admired the performance of the British and Irish Lions in New Zealand. They delivered sterling performances in the 2nd and 3rd Test matches against a top class All-Black Team! Unlucky not to win the series in the end.
Best Event: The Beirne family from Mohill delivered a fantastic performance in Irelands Fittest Family. They emerged as deserving winners and displayed a fantastic mix of sheer grit, determination and ability. We don’t get many All-Irelands coming to Mohill and it’s great to celebrate success when it does come our way!
Disappointment of the Year: I missed the qualification standard for the World Student Games 2017 by 0.2 secs. I then hit the qualification standard two weeks after the official deadline during the National 200m Final.
What are you looking forward to in 2018: I’m looking forward to the Outdoor Athletics Season and (hopefully) qualifying for the European Senior Athletic Championships in Berlin.
One to Watch in 2018: Gina Akpe-Moses stormed to a sensational victory in the European U20 championships in July 2017. I think she has huge potential for a career in World Athletics and I have no doubt we will hear a lot more about her in the next few years.
COLIN REGAN - COLUMNIST
Highlight of the Year: My sporting highlight for 2017 was the focus and attention afforded to women’s sport. We still have a long way to go but there is finally a realisation dawning that the female of the species deserve recognition for their endeavours to go faster, higher, stronger, or as the Olympic motto requests: Citius, Altius, Fortius. We need more younger girls taking up and sticking with sport and any positive media attention can only help.
Lowlight of the Year: The McGregor Mayweather debacle. This wasn’t sport, it was a circus. As an athlete, I have the utmost respect for McGregor and his mastery of his body. As a human being, he has a way to go to earn my respect. That said, the man took advantage of a sports world and audience that was ready, willing, and able to turn him into a multi-millionaire overnight. I guess he knows the secret to success in the entertainment business: give the people what they want.
Personality of the Year: Andy Moran thoroughly deserved his Player of the Year award, and I’d extend that to personality of the year. It has taken huge reserves of resilience and belief to return to the task of capturing Mayo’s first All-Ireland since 1951. In the face of repeated cruel defeats, he has displayed true sportsmanship, optimism, and resolve, both on and off the field.
Group of the Year: Group of the Year goes to Gaelic Voices for Change, a gathering of past and present male and female inter-county players who recently slept out for the night at locations all over the country in solidarity with those trapped in the current homeless crisis, while also raising nearly €250,000 in the process. Great to see some of Leitrim’s ladies and lads represented in the Sligo sleep-out. It’s important athletes step outside the bubble of sport from time to time, and use their profile and influence for public good.
Best Occasion/Match: The All Ireland football final was one of the most fascinating sporting occasions I have ever attended. There was so much riding on it for both teams – Mayo seeking to end their years of anguish or supposed hoodoo; Dublin seeking to enter the history books with a remarkable three-in-a-row. It once again looked like Mayo were about to rise to the challenge only to be self-sabotaged by a moment’s impulse by Donal Vaughan. My heart still goes out to him. Where will they go from here?
WILLIE DONNELLAN - PHOTOGRAPHER
Highlight of the Year: It has to be the Leitrim hurlers running out in Croke Park in the Lory Meagher Final, is there any bigger? I was very impressed with the Mohill Seniors this year, they played good football and did the double - God help the new manager that is taking over! County Final day was a huge day for my own club Leitrim Gaels, huge for a club that is only there 20 years, disappointed they didn’t get the League Final.
Personality of the Year: Very impressed with the Moreton brothers, hurling and football. I just hope that Colm gets a run out with the County team and stays with them, himself and Aidan Flynn, that’s from a local viewpoint. I liked seeing Joe Canning get his All-Ireland medal.
Team of the Year: You have to go with Dublin, then Galway, Mohill and the Leitrim Lory Meagher team after that. What can you say about the Dubs? They are going to be there for the next five years, there is nothing to stop them. The Dubs have that extra bit of stuff, they have that extra bit of strength, a big panel. It is very hard to stop them and with Gavin in charge, I don’t know who is going to stop them unless Kerry pull something out. I don’t know about Mayo next year, I’m afraid. I was talking to Jimmy Deane last week and a lot of Roscommon boys are back. They mightn’t just be good enough but they might win Connacht again.
Best Event: County Final day was pretty good and they were two good finals on the day, the biggest crowd I’ve seen there in years. Ruislip was a big day, it was the opening of their new pitch and a good London team, we got lots of it and we struggled through it. I wasn’t working, there as a spectator and it was edge of the seat stuff.
Disappointment of the Year: I was very disappointed with Leitrim against Carlow. I thought we played so well in the first half and just collapsed in the second half, that was fierce disappointing. We always knew it was going to be tough against Roscommon, I didn’t think anyone ever expected to win that one, we might have been saying we’d give them a run. Carlow definitely and the football we played in the first 15-20 minutes and then bang! U21s was fairly disappointing but isn’t that always the same, when there are expectations we don’t deliver.
What are you looking forward to in 2018: I’m not looking forward to Leitrim playing New York! Talking to Leitrim lads over in New York who were home over the Christmas, they are gunning for us over in New York, they are targeting us and they reckon Leitrim is one team they can beat. They have been training and there is strong talk of Jamie Clarke coming in and there was someone else mentioned. I was even talking to the brother in law on Christmas night and he said ‘tell Leitrim to watch it’.
One to Watch in 2018: Very interesting to see how Mohill will do and who is going to come up to take the title off them. You’ll be looking at Ballinamore and never write off the Willies, I think they are gone back a bit but never write them off. Unless Melvin Gaels can do something, I think Glencar/Manorhamilton have gone back a bit, St. Mary’s should be doing better. If Mohill can keep their act together, I mean it is very hard for those lads to keep going every year, they are going for their third in four years and a new manager. Very hard to repeat what Padraic Davis has done.
JOHN LYNCH - COMMENTATOR
Highlight of the Year: GAA County final day in Carrick-on-Shannon at the beginning of October. I thought it was a magnificent occasion in local sport. A huge crowd, the atmosphere was electric and the respective Intermediate and senior final involving Mohill, Glencar Manorhamilton, Aughnasheelin and Leitrim Gaels were super matches that I really enjoyed commentating on, a good way to round off over 20 years behind the mic on local radio!
Personality of the Year: Whereas there could be several worthy winners for this award I am giving my vote to Martin McHugh. The well-known goalkeeper went out on a high after helping his Club Aughnasheelin win the Leitrim intermediate football championship in 2017. His career can be best described by using the word “longevity” however it’s Martin's hugely positive attitude and his determination to overcome health issues where I feel he is the perfect role model and inspiration for many and a worthy winner in this category.
Team of the Year: The Leitrim hurlers enjoyed a super year and reaching Croke Park for the Lory Meagher cup final was a wonderful occasion. However I am giving my vote to the Mohill GAA Club. Under Padraic Davis they elevated themselves to the top of the tree on the domestic GAA scene. Their success in the County league and championships are second to none and they pushed Castlebar all the way in the Connacht Club championship.
Best Event/Match: The All Ireland Hurling Semi-final between Galway & Tipperary was simply class, Galway going on to win the game and ultimately claim the Liam McCarthy cup was one of the highlights of the year, especially after the untimely passing of Tony Keady.
Disappointment of the Year: The Republic of Ireland failing to reach the World Cup finals in 2018. It’s 2002 since we experienced the world cup experience and after giving themselves a fighting chance in the first leg of the playoffs Ireland’s dreams were dashed in convincing fashion by Denmark at the Aviva Stadium. It was also a reality to the strength of our national team at present and although Martin and Roy did not cover themselves in glory, we have a limited squad full of championship players and lacking Premiership quality.
What are you looking forward to in 2018: There are some great sporting occasions already in the diary for 2018, the World Cup in soccer in Russia will be quite an experience. The introduction of the super eight in Gaelic football and the changes that will affect the entire GAA calendar is something that I will be watching closely. It’s a trial period and we all know how slow the GAA can be as regards change. If we can get a few more top matches to brighten up a predictable and dull football championship then let’s give it a chance.
One to Watch in 2018: I hate putting too much pressure on young shoulders, however one particular guy you have to keep an eye on is David Clifford, the Kerry minor footballer from 2017 who scored 4-4 in the 2017 All Ireland final. It’s players like him that will help the Kingdom challenge Dublin in the years to come. “Boy Wonder” or the “Real Deal” ? I hope and think it’s the latter.
JOHN CONNOLLY - SPORTS EDITOR
Highlight of the Year: Two - Carrick-on-Shannon’s emotional win in the Senior Hurling Final, just weeks after the loss of their teammate and friend Bernard Murray, was something that couldn’t but bring a tear to the eye. As a reminder of the healing power of sport, it was a touching moment. Personally, the sight of two Carrick-on-Shannon AC athletes claiming National titles in Santry last August was a major highlight so kudos to Eanna Madden & Gerard O’Donnell as they continue to carry the Leitrim flag at the highest level.
Personality of the Year: In Club football in Leitrim, there was nobody more impressive than Niall McGovern for long periods of the Championship, at County level, Paddy Maguire was a colossus. But was there truly anyone like Aine Tighe for leading her team and influencing games to almost unbelievable degrees?
Team of the Year: Mohill Senior footballers, the continued excellence of Drumshanbo volleyballers and a seriously impressive Leitrim U14 Ladies are all more than worthy contenders but for me, the sight of a Leitrim hurling team in Croke Park will take some beating. A great occasion for everyone with Leitrim hurling in their heart and a fitting reward for so many great servants of the game in the county, truly the highlight of the year. Also have to give a special mention to Lough Key Triathlon Club whose members have excelled at home and abroad with little or no fanfare.
Best Event/Match: This is a strange one but Drumreilly’s performance against Mohill in the Senior Championship Quarter-Final was my most uplifting performance of the year. Low in numbers, players injured and more playing injured, Drumreilly went toe to toe with the eventual champions and tested them to the absolute limit in a reminder of what can be done if the spirit is right. As a Dub, I was delighted to see Jim Gavin’s men claim the incredibly rare three-in-a-row but the memory that really sticks out from the All-Ireland Final was the palpable grief among Mayo fans once the final whistle sounded, a sense of loss and pain that contrasted oh so sharply with the unadulterated joy of the Dublin fans.
Lowlight of the Year: Tough to choose Leitrim tanking in Hyde Park against Roscommon and the U21s abject first half performance against Galway in the Championship. Probably the U21 loss shades it as this was a team many people had high hopes for and as much as they have got plaudits for their second half display, it only made what happened in the first half worse. Personally, the loss of Joanna Duignan, a friend and a young athlete I coached, casts an enormous shadow over 2017. Joanna’s passing is a terrible blow to her family and her many, many friends and a harsh reminder of just how fragile we all are. Yet the way the sporting community in Annaduff, Leitrim and all over Ireland rallied around the Duignan family, especially Annaduff Men’s and Ladies GAA clubs and Carrick-on-Shannon Athletic Club, was a powerful illustration of intrinsic goodness of people everywhere.
What are you looking forward to in 2018: Trying not to jinx this but Leitrim could have three athletes at the European Athletics Championships in Berlin if Eanna Madden and Gerard O’Donnell join Breege Connolly in achieving the Qualifying standard. Breege already has the time but we will be watching with bated breath to see if the two Carrick AC lads can join her in Berlin and that would be a monumental achievement for Leitrim sport.
One to Watch in 2018: This really is a difficult one as there are so many young sportspeople in Leitrim who are showing immense potential. Avoiding the obvious like Muireann Devaney, youngsters like Dillon Beirne (Golf), Toyosi Fagbo, Niamh Carolan & the Kennedy brothers (Athletics), Oisin McLoughlin and Siomha Quinn (Gaelic Football) are true stand out talents and ones to watch.