Leitrim manager Brendan Guckian, second from left, pictured with Philip Howard, John O'Mahony, Leo Duignan, Seamus Quinn and Brian Blake from his management team. Photo by Declan Gaffney
As Leitrim footballers jet across the Atlantic this week to take on New York, it won’t be the sights and sounds of the Big Apple that occupy the thoughts of the Green & Gold but rather to ensure they come home safe and sound with a Championship win.
Sunday’s Connacht Senior Championship clash with New York has been billed as a potential shock all year and hundreds of Leitrim fans are making the trip across the pond for the game but for Leitrim manager Brendan Guckian, they have to approach playing New York as if they were playing Connacht Champions Roscommon.
“It is very much a matter of fact trip for us and that is the way it has to be,” said Brendan when asked about the events going on in the Big Apple and the hype about the game, “We have to treat it with the respect that it deserves, it is a championship game and we’re treating it the very same as if we were playing Roscommon or London.”
If that seems a little dramatic, Brendan believes New York's performances over the last two years against Sligo and Roscommon means they have to be treated with respect and caution.
“New York is no different, they are a championship team and they have shown in the past, they can be. Two years ago, they brought Roscommon to the wire, they stretched Sligo last year so we’re expecting a very, very difficult game.”
In lots of ways, it is a game that has crept up on Leitrim with a truncated League adding to the pressure of the trip and Brendan admits that while the League wasn’t ideal, club games have proven incredibly valuable in filling the void for county players.
“I can’t believe how quick it has come on top of us, ready to go. The preparation with the League wasn’t ideal, missing two games but I suppose the positive is we finished out the League strong and that is what we are here for the championship.
“It was difficult to not have the two League games but in one sense, it was great that the lads got back to their clubs because they were getting good competitive games. For the three weekends in a row and I was at a good few of them, there were good hard physical games.
“There was good football and the pleasing thing from my point of view is the county players stood out in those games which was great and it shows that they are making progress. I definitely think it worked well, the lads needed game time and obviously the club game fulfilled that for them.”
And Brendan believes that Leitrim will benefit enormously from the fact that everyone got valuable club games - “When they were going back to the clubs, we weren’t protecting them, we were telling them ‘go hell of leather’ and in any of the games I was at, they didn’t hold back.
“It brought them on, when they came back to us, the ball handling was good, the pace was good. Since any of them lads started playing football, all any of them want is to play games, whether it is a club game or a county game, guys love playing games and the League served a great purpose.”
Brendan also believes that the competition for places in the match-day squad, let alone the first 15, will drive on his team against New York - “The first 15, there is massive competition for places and obviously you can only tog out 26 on the day so there is even going to massive competition to see who makes the 26.
“That’s the way it should be and the lads coming in have strengthened the depth of the panel, obviously making our job harder but at the end of the day, that is what you want.
“We have a few niggles as you are always going to have, nothing major, we would hope that we are going to have a full selection to choose from.”
As for a verdict, Brendan believes his team will emerge victorious and his confidence is expressed in blunt terms - “Going into every game, you have to be confident, going into every game, you have to expect to win it and that is the expectation that I’d have.”
Yet that confidence does not mean Leitrim will be cocky when they take to the field in Gaelic Park next Sunday with Brendan stressing that each and every footballer wearing Leitrim Green knows the scale of the task that awaits them in Gaelic Park.
“I don’t really have to emphasise that with them, they all know they face into an extremely tough weekend and a tough battle and they know that themselves and they are preparing for that.”