Leitrim footballers will know exactly what their 2018 season will look like this Thursday when the draws for the 2018 Connacht Senior Football Championship are made live on RTE.
Brendan Guckian’s side already know that they face a trip to New York on Sunday, May 6, next year but face a much quicker turn-around time if they are successful with plans to play the entire Connacht Championship in a six-week time span instead of the nine it took in 2017.
The Leitrim Senior management team met with approximately 40 players last Saturday evening in The Bush Hotel as they prepare for the 2018 season. Pictured are members of the management team. (From left) Michael Moyles, Leo Duignan, Seamus Quinn, Kieran Keogh, Ciara Duignan, Brendan Guckian (Manager), John O’Mahony, Enda Lyons, Alan Doonan & Philip Howard. Photo by Therese Foy
As it stands, Leitrim senior footballers will play the vast majority of their football in the first three months of the year with 11 games down for decision before the end of March after the first set of proposed Allianz League fixtures were released last week.
With four FBD Insurance Connacht League and seven Allianz League Division 4 games to be played between January 3, and March 25, it means an incredibly busy time for the county footballers, particularly for those playing third level football.
With College teams no longer involved in the FBD competition and U21 games now U20 which will be held in the Summer, there will be less pressure on younger players but it also means an intense start to the season and a lot of midweek travelling for players based away from home.
Leitrim will start the year on Wednesday, January 3, by hosting old rivals Roscommon in the FBD Insurance League before a home game the following Sunday against Sligo followed by away trips to Mayo and Galway in the following eight days.
It means that Brendan Guckian’s team will play four games in the space of ten days as the FBD League returns to a round-robin format with two home games and a bye in the last round, just a week before the start of the Allianz League.
In the proposed Allianz NFL Division 4 campaign (the fixtures have to be approved), Leitrim will open with a trip to Belfast on Sunday, January 28, to take on Antrim while their first home game sees them take on Laois a week later.
Leitrim also have home games against Limerick and Wicklow with away trips to Carlow, London and Waterford in what is an intriguing League already with new managements teams in place in Antrim, Laois and Wicklow.
Former Roscommon and Tipperary manager John Evans is in charge of Wicklow and will need no introduction to Leitrim fans while Antrim have opted for St. Gall's 2010 All-Ireland Club winning manager Lenny Harbison.
In Laois, former Kerry player and selector John Sugrue takes over the reins as the battle for promotion from the basement division already seems to be heating up with the season still more than two months away.
No hurling fixtures have been released as yet but Leitrim could face themselves in a higher division after Special Congress approved a new format for the All-Ireland Championship. As it stands, Leitrim or Warwickshire will play in the Lory Meagher Cup with Cavan, Fermanagh or Lancashire.
If Leitrim are not in the Lory Meagher, they will be in the Nicky Rackard with Donegal, Longford, Louth, Monaghan, Roscommon, Sligo and Tyrone. Given that the proposals were publicised before the Lory Meagher Cup Final, it is reasonable to assume that Warwickshire will be competing at the higher grade next year.
However, that will drastically reduce the amount of games for Leitrim hurlers with a four team Division 3B, hardly the best way to promote hurling in weaker counties.
The full list of available fixtures is as follows:
Allianz NFL Division 4
Sunday, January 28: Antrim v Leitrim
Sunday, February 4: Leitrim v Laois
Sunday, February 11: Carlow v Leitrim
Sunday, February 25: Leitrim v Limerick
Saturday, March 3: London v Leitrim
Sunday, March 18: Waterford v Leitrim
Sunday, March 25: Leitrim v Wicklow
FBD Insurance Connacht League
Wednesday, January 3: Leitrim v Roscommon
Sunday, January 7: Leitrim v Sligo
Wednesday, January 10: Mayo v Leitrim
Sunday, January 14: Galway v Leitrim