History will be made regardless of the result in next Sunday’s Leitrim Minor Championship 15-a-side Final as a unique pairing of St. Manchan’s and Fenagh-Gortletteragh do battle to lift the title in Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada (1.30 throw-in).
In fact, the most striking feature of is the amount of clubs actually involved in the Minor decider - St. Manchan’s, seeking to regain the title they last won in 1986, are made up of players from the Mohill, Eslin and Cloone clubs while the name Fenagh-Gortletteragh speaks for itself.
Amalgamations are nothing new with Oughteragh Gaels, St. Francis, Garadice Gaels, Eastern Harps, Shamrock Gaels, Lough Rynn Gaels, St. Joseph’s and Glenmanor Gaels all winning the premier underage competition in the county down through the years but this is the first time that five clubs will have a direct interest in the Final.
And whatever your views on amalgamations, my own is that anything that gets more players playing at a higher level is a good thing although there needs to be strong regulation of the practice, there is no doubt that the best teams are contesting this year’s Minor decider.
St. Manchan’s are the pace-setters for the title all year, storming to the Minor League crown when they demolished a strong Drumkeerin side by 2-13 to 0-5. With County Minor Eanna Madden leading the way from defence, St. Manchan’s are backboned by serious talent in all sectors of the field.
County U-16s Shane McGowan, Jason Farry, Oisin Madden & Cathal Keegan are all proven performers who mix strength and speed with a great deal of guile while the likes of Keith Beirne and Niall Beirne give St. Manchan’s enormous scoring power, Niall Beirne scoring an incredible three goals when he came on as a sub during their semi-final destruction of last year’s champions Ballinamore Sean O’Heslin’s.
Their strength on the bench is equally impressive as St. Manchan’s have stormed to numerous U-14 and U-16 titles in recent years and their League Final victory this year probably means they will start as favourites next Sunday.
But everyone connected with St. Manchan’s are very wary of the challenge posed by Fenagh-Gortletteragh, two teams that actually faced each other in the Minor League 9-a-side Final with Gortletteragh prevailing by two points after a ten goal shoot-out, 5-7 to 5-5.
County Minors and U-16s are liberally sprinkled through the ranks of Fenagh-Gortlettergh as well - the impressive Donal Wrynn will give his side a real physical presence in the middle of the field while Padraig Gallagher, another County Minor, demonstrated just how deadly he can be with his performance for Gortletteragh’s second string in the Junior A Championship Semi-Final.
U-16s David Mulvey & Evan Ward are two quality performers but there is great support from Michael & Shane Doonan, Jack Heslin, Ryan O’Rourke and Gary Butler in defence offers a great deal of solidity. Indeed, the two young lads O’Rourke & Heslin have starred for their clubs and schools down through the years and have an eye for a goal that many a Senior team would love to have.
The challenge for both amalgamations is not finding the talent but knitting it together and moulding it into a winning combination and St. Manchan’s would appear to have a major advantage in this regard.
They have been playing together for years, are well used to each other and the clubs proximity to each other means that gathering for training is relatively easy, even allowing for the usual problems in bringing three clubs together for training.
Fenagh-Gortletteragh have only joined up and while nobody doubts the talent in the ranks of their team, knitting it together is a difficult proposition. Joint training sessions must be difficult with the distance between the clubs while Gortleteragh’s ongoing success at Intermediate and Junior level means that finding time to meet up must be difficult.
Also players will be unfamiliar playing with each other - on their own club teams, the Fenagh and Gortletteragh players know exactly who is the go-to guy, who is the man to look for when under pressure but building an understanding with their former opponents can be difficult.
The two teams have already met in this year’s Championship in the Group stages with St. Manchan’s recording a comprehensive 2-12 to 1-5 victory over Fenagh Gortletteragh in the middle of August.
The result is certainly a boost to the Mohill, Eslin & Cloone combination but no more than the Dublin Minors in this year’s All-Ireland Final, a big win over the same opposition in an earlier game does not necessarily mean that a Final will turn out the same way.
And St. Manchan’s will note how Fenagh Gortleteragh recovered from that loss to pip a heavily favoured Drumkeerin in the semi-finals so they will have every right to be wary next Sunday.
Yet all the indications are that this St. Manchan’s team are the team to beat, they have an array of scoring power and are determined to complete a League and Championship double. It will be closer than earlier games but St. Manchan’s get the verdict to take the title.