Alan Armstrong lifts the Connacht Junior Championship Cup last year. Photo by James Molloy
Leitrim start their defence of their Connacht Junior Football Championship crown tomorrow (Thursday, May 10) with a clash against the team they defeated to lift the title in 2017.
Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada hosts the meeting of Leitrim and Mayo at 7 pm on Thursday after the Mayo men overcame a strong Roscommon side with a dramatic injury time goal from Ciaran Boylan, son of legendary Meath manager Sean Boylan, to win 2-15 to 1-17.
For Leitrim, the game is something of a shot in the dark again with nine members of the Senior team panel available for selection with the rest made up of players brought in specially for the game.
Last year's captain Alan Armstrong and Connacht Junior Final man of the Match Keith Keegan as well as Nicholas McWeeney and James Mitchell are survivors from last year's victorious team and they could be joined by Colm Moreton, Eoin Ward, Damian Moran and Cillian McGloin from the Senior squad.
Manager Seamus Quinn is sure to bring in a compliment of club players but much will depend on how much the trip to New York has taken out of the panel although the fact that Leitrim used just five subs, Darragh Rooney going off and going back on, has undoubtedly helped Leitrim's cause.
Mayo have just four survivors from the team that saw action in the Final last year but last Wednesday's victory over a strong Roscommon second string side featuring Senior panelists Ultan Harney, Cathal Cregg, Peter Domican and Conor Daly will have brought them on a lot.
The Mayo panel, according to reports in Castlebar, only had a manager appointed in the weeks before the game but were training anyway and they led 1-8 to 1-5 at halftime, despite losing two defenders to black cards inside the first 17 minutes.
Roscommon with the breeze took over in the second half and led by three points as the game counted down, leading to the sort of tactic that is normally only tried in school yards when Mayo changed keepers and used Mattie Flanagan as a "fly keeper".
Incredibly, the tactic paid off as Flanagan, keeper in last year's Final, twice made strong runs that led to a point and Boylan's dramatic match winning goal.
Just how much each county is able to put into this game is hard to know - Leitrim's preparations had to be on New York and New York only and for players disappointed not to get a run-out in Gaelic Park, refocussing and recovering from the journey is not easy.
A Leitrim victory would have big knock-on effects with the final against Galway or Sligo scheduled as the curtain raiser to Sunday's massive Connacht clash of Galway and Mayo. That could mean the entire programme of Division 1 and 2 games this weekend goes by the board if Leitrim are successful on Thursday night.