Driven and fiercely ambitious would be a good way to describe joint manager George Dugdale and those particularly qualities are being applied to the current generation of Leitrim footballers as theygo into next Sunday’s Connacht Senior Championship Semi-Final against Mayo in McHale Park, Castlebar as major underdogs.
Leitrim always start as underdogs against Mayo but after stuttering past London in Ruislip earlier this month courtesy of late points from Emlyn Mulligan and Darren Sweeney, the task ahead of the Leitrim side is significantly tougher.
Mayo, the reigning Connacht Champions now stand between George Dugdale and Barney Breen’s side and a first Connacht Championship Final in 12 years.
“In terms of grinding out a result and sticking at it to the end we showed a lot of resilience when we were four points down early in the second half in London,” says George told the Observer as he looked back on the win over London.
“We could have faded but we gradually worked away and eventually got the scores and took the result. In terms of courage and bravery against all the odds, there was huge pressure on us, with London being highly fancied by everybody.
“We showed we could cope with the pressure but obviously this Sunday is another huge step up and a huge improvement is needed. For the continued development of this team and Leitrim football, you do not want to be the team that loses to London. But we focused on winning and we got our win and that was the most important thing.”
Having never beaten Mayo on their own patch in the Championship, Leitrim may look to their neighbours Sligo for inspiration. The Yeats men went into their semi-final with Galway two weeks ago in a similar situation, having never come away from Galway with a Championship victory.
Kevin Walsh’s side defied all the odds courtesy of a 2-14 to 0-15 points win. Dugdale, who was part of the famous 1994 side that captured Leitrim’s last provincial title, says results such as Sligo’s can provide a boost to a county side’s profile.
“I wasn’t aware of that particular statistic to be honest. You can look at where the minnows have performed well against bigger teams and you can look at where teams who weren’t expected to win have won and that is what keeps smaller counties going, looking for the big day where you do pull off a shock and you upset the odds.
“But we are just thinking about our own performance and getting up to a level to where we can compete with Mayo. It’s a huge ask obviously for a very young and inexperienced side to come up against a vastly experienced Mayo side who have been playing Division One all year.”
On the prospect of finally ending the McHale Park hoodoo and over-turning Mayo, Dugdale commented: “It is always difficult no matter who you are playing and in particular playing Mayo on their own pitch. It’s a Division One team against a Division Four team so everything is stacked against us. But, we are focusing more on our own performance and getting things right and we will see where that leaves us on the day.”
Leitrim were largely seen as underdogs away from the county before the London clash, and not much has changed this time around in Castlebar.
Something that maybe suits the two time Connacht Champions, although George commented that it is not something he or his management team have discussed. “It is not something you think about very much and now we are just thinking about getting ourselves right, playing to our potential on the day and giving it the best we have.”
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