Leitrim's Emma Honeyman looks upfield as she is pursued by an Armagh player during the All-Ireland U14 B Championship Final. Photo by Willie Donnellan
Another year and another year of success for Leitrim Ladies football with an All-Ireland U14 B title the standout achievement of 2017 for the game in the county.
Jerome Quinn's superb U14 Leitrim side stormed to a huge 8-12 to 4-3 victory over Armagh in Drumlane GAA Club grounds last July to claim the B title, following on the All-Ireland C triumph at the same age group a year before.
So impressive was this Leitrim team that they actually contested the Connacht A Final against a Galway team who went on to win the All-Ireland A title, the Green & Gold getting closer to the young Tribeswomen than perhaps any other team to give an indication of just how good Jerome Quinn's team actually were.
At Senior level, Leitrim probably regressed slightly in terms of results as they were never in contention for the League Semi-Finals despite a strong start to the year while Sligo again proved their nemesis in Connacht, winning both Group game and Provincial Final.
The 3-15 to 2-13 defeat in Castlebar consigned Leitrim to the All-Ireland Qualifiers and it took a remarkable haul of seven goals against 2016 All-Ireland Junior Champions Longford for Philip Brady's team to prevail.
That qualified Leitrim for an All-Ireland Quarter-Final which, to Leitrim's astonished delighted and Tyrone's bemused anger, was fixed for Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada.
Unfortunately, Leitrim had the misfortune to run headlong into a an up-and-coming Tyrone who were incredibly outclassed by Tipperary in the All-Ireland Final - quite a snapshot of the task facing Leitrim's Ladies footballers as they seek to regain the Mary Quinn Cup.
The loss of a number of key experienced players over the past few years has exposed Leitrim's strength in depth while the Green & Gold remain a formidable attacking force with Aine Tighe and Ailbhe Clancy in their ranks, losses elsewhere in the team have left them exposed.
Jerome Quinn's impressive U14 squad show that the talent is very much there with Muireann Devaney definitely among the talents to watch in the years ahead - indeed the Glencar/Manor youngster could probably do a job for the Senior team next year but it is probably a year too early at this stage.
Siomha Quinn is another outstanding player and has impressed for Aughawillan while Shaylyn Ward, Sarah Reynolds, Riona McKeon, Emma Honeyman and so many more prove that the talent is there in abundance.
The worry for Leitrim is where is the progression as both the Minor and U16 teams were outclassed in the 2017 Connacht competitions, leaving one to wonder where the pathway for these talented All-Ireland U14 teams to progress?
Establishing a pathway for these players and encouraging and fostering their talent must be a priority for the Ladies Board or else, like a lot of All-Ireland winning U14 teams in the past, the talent will be lost and the County Senior team will struggle.
Bringing through young players, providing them games at their own level and developing their talent is the plan adopted by counties like Tyrone who saw their Senior team fortunes dip before being revitalised by the development of new young players.
Leitrim Ladies Senior team could face more of a crossroads in the years ahead as some more older players depart the scene and the dependence on Aine Tighe deepens.
The loss of players like Dearbhaile Beirne, Anna Conlan and Sharon Kerrigan was sorely felt last year but Glencar/Manor's impressive development of talent shows it can be done, the Club contesting the Connacht Minor Final last year with a team featuring nearly entirely U16 and U14 players and the progression of these players along with the County U14 squad is a must.
The Leitrim Ladies U14 team who won the All-Ireland B Championship. Photo by Willie Donnellan
CONNACHT STRUGGLES SHOW CLUB GAME STILL HAS SOME WAY TO GO
Leitrim's champions learned a lot of hard lessons in this year's Connacht Ladies Club Championships with heavy defeats for all three of the county's standard bearers.
Nobody could argue that Senior winners St. Joseph's, Intermediate champions Oughteragh Gaels and Junior champions Bornacoola St. Mary's were not worthy county champions, all three more than worth their Leitrim victories.
St. Joseph's had to do it the hard way, drawing with Aughawillan and beating Kiltubrid in the group stages before having just a point to spare over Glencar/Manor in the semi-finals. A Bronagh O'Rourke equaliser landed a draw against an unlucky Dromahair but the Aughavas & Carrigallen side showed resolve and courage to win the replay by two points.
Oughteragh Gaels cleaned all before them in storming their way to the Intermediate crown while the Bornacoola St. Mary's amalgamation, a source of annoyance to some and dispute over the controversial transfers of Michelle & Emma Guckian to Kiltubrid, were easy winners over Annaduff in the Junior.
But what will worry Leitrim Ladies manager Philip Brady was the heavy defeats suffered by all three teams at Connacht level - St. Joseph's losing 10-29 to 0-10 to Kilkerrin Clonberne, Oughteragh suffering a 9-18 to 0-5 loss to Galway's Moycullen while Bornacoola St. Mary's 7-13 to 0-4 defeat to Tulsk was the closest game of the three.
It leaves the Ladies game in a quandary - games in the county are quite competitive but when Leitrim steps outside the county, there is an enormous gulf. It is not a new phenomena and bridging that gap will take some work.