These three Leitrim supporters were cheering on the Green & Gold against Laois. Photo by Willie Donnellan
On hearing of the Leitrim result on Sunday, a friend suggested it was time to withdraw the senior footballers from competition and invest the money it takes to run the team in underage development.
I found the suggestion shockingly depressing. We both agreed that, as far as our lifetime recollection was concerned, the team was at an all-time low.
Whereas he felt it was time to pull the plug, I felt now was the time to back the team more than ever. Not financially speaking, but in terms of the support, patience, and understanding of the reality of the situation in which they find themselves.
We have representing our county a small squad of young, raw, physically underdeveloped players in an era when conditioning, experience, and a strong squad are three starting fundamentals for inter-county football teams.
When I started playing inter-county I was lucky to get blooded alongside the likes of Declan D’Arcy, George Dugdale, Aidan Rooney, Liam Conlon, and Padraig Kenny, to name a few. A chunk of the remainder of the squad had also won a Connacht title in 1994 and an All-Ireland B championship in 1991.
I was joined by Gareth Phelan, Shane McGettigan, Ciaran Murray, and a few other young guns. But we still had years on Darragh Rooney, and a lot more football under our belts.
I was playing halfback with DIT on a team that boasted future provincial and All Ireland winners, including the calibre of Padraig Kelly (Offaly) in goals, Peter O’Reilly (Cavan), Richie Kealy (Meath), Evan Kelly (Meath). We won the Trench Cup in 1997 but I didn’t walk onto the Leitrim team.
Nowadays, Darragh, one of the youngest lads currently playing inter-county football, is expected to carry the attack in his first proper season. You could rest the same premature crown on half of the team.
We are still talking about the importance of promotion from Division 4 for this Leitrim side. Instead, we need to shift our focus exclusively to the development of the squad and appreciate the long and difficult road they must travel.
It is essential that these young players are afforded the room to suffer a litany of painful defeats.
For that will be their lot for the coming seasons. The important thing is that they stay together long enough to see their bodies benefit from four years of strength and conditioning; to learn what their strengths and weaknesses are so they can build on the former and eradicate the latter; to see their potential evolve into promise; and to forge an identity as a team.
Only then will you see them mature into a team that can compete. Otherwise we are destined to endlessly repeat the Sisyphean struggle we find ourselves trapped in.
For those in need of some uplifting, turn your attentions to the exploits of Leitrim’s representatives in the Scór na nÓg All Ireland finals in Sligo on the weekend of February 17.
St Mary’s Ballad Group gave an outstanding performance to clinch their third Connacht title in Claremorris in January and will bring all their experience to the fore in the finals in Knocknarea Arena in Sligo IT. They will be joined by their Rince Foirne club mates who will aim to take home the figure dancing title.
Amelia Pajak, representing Mohill, will compete in the Amhranaíocht Aonair (Solo Singing) having won a provincial title on her first appearance.
And last but by no means least, Ballinamore Sean O’Heslin’s young masterminds will seek glory in the Trath na gCeist competition.