Martin Cunniffe and Michael Coleman follow the flight of the sliothar against Lancashire in Ballinamore. Photo by Willie Donnellan
Any conversation with Martin Cunniffe about Leitrim hurling is full of self-belief, so much so that the Leitrim manager is confident of victory in the Allianz NHL Division 3B Final next Sunday in Ballyconnell!
All managers are confident but Martin, who wouldn’t exactly enjoy the trappings of media duties his role entails, is definitely confident that Leitrim can defeat Lancashire next Sunday to lift League honours.
Recalling Lancashire’s one point win over Leitrim in Ballinamore, Martin quietly states “There wasn’t very much in it in Ballinamore that day and in fairness, the lads are going to give it one great lash next Sunday.”
The Galway native is far from downplaying the importance of the game and believes that if Leitrim are at full-strength, then the Division 3B crown will be resting in Leitrim come Sunday night!
“It was frees that beat us in Croke Park in the Lory Meagher Final against Warwickshire and Ronan Crowley is very good at the frees for Lancashire. Clement missed a few from frees that day and he missed that last one but please God, that won’t be happening the next day.
“They’ll be coming over to win, there is no doubt about it but if we have all our lads available, we’re going to give it a great lash.”
The issue of availability is not normally a problem for Leitrim hurlers but this year, Colm Moreton has been lining out with Brendan Guckian’s County footballers and the Leitrim Gaels man has juggled commitments.
But Martin stresses that the Hurlers need Moreton if they are to win - “I’m after speaking to Colm Moreton and he wants to play in the Final. The ball is going back into Benny Guckian’s court, I haven’t talked to him at all.
“This is a Final, a League Final and Leitrim footballers game isn’t all that important in fairness. Colm Moreton is a big part of our game and hopefully, Leitrim management will see fit to make his available, it is a once off game.
“Colm himself wants to play and be with us on the day. He would be a huge boost to us and he scored the vital goal against Fermanagh.”
Sunday’s game is an early start and Martin revealed that the game will be played as a curtain raiser to the football clash with Wicklow should Ballyconnell not be playable - “That is the only thing about the venue, it is closet. But if there is any doubt about it, it will be in Carrick-on-Shannon as a curtain raiser to the football, both are on the same day.
“What can we do about it (the early start),” answered Martin, “The only concern is that lads will be on the road early, lads coming down from Dublin. There has been a great turnout, we’re training twice a week on Tuesday and Thursday and we’ll do the same again this week in Mullingar and we are training well. The lads are looking forward to it.”
Leitrim produced a record breaking performance in the last game against Cavan to ensure their place in the final - “The only thing about it is that we hadn’t qualified at that point, we had to take it seriously.
“If we had got a draw that day in Ballinamore, when we should have got a draw, we’d have been there so we had to take it seriously. We had to win, we had to beat Cavan.”
And Martin also feels that after the passing of long time Leitrim hurling servant Paddy Phelan earlier this year, victory next Sunday would be a huge boost - “It is a big occasion for the hurlers, no doubt about that. It would be a great year to win it, above all years and we’d be hoping that if we have that bit of luck, we should be able to do it.”
And what are Martin’s confidence levels like - “We will be confident going into it. We intend to win it, there is no doubt about it. We’d be very disappointed if we lose it. But it is all on the day and you need a bit of luck on the day.
“Hopefully, we will get that bit of luck. We have lads who are good enough to win and hopefully, it will work out for us.”