Leitrim LGFA manager Hugh Donnelly Picture: Willie Donnellan
Delicate business this, talking about a team’s ambitions. Talk too confidently and you’re set up for a fall. Play down your chances and it is just managerial speak. But there is no disguising the school of thought Hugh Donnelly belongs to as he expects his Leitrim Ladies team to win the Lidl NFL Division 4 title.
“There is no reason not to be confident,” Hugh told the Observer ahead of next Sunday’s Final against Lough in St Tiernach’s Park in Clones (2pm throw-in), adding “At the end of the day, if we take care of business, if we win our individual battles, if we do the things that we’ve talked about at training and do them better than Louth, then there will be one outcome and that will be us winning the National League.”
Now Hugh didn’t come down with the last shower and his next words remind his players that there can be no lessening of effort and commitment if they want to succeed: “If we don’t perform on the day, if we got back and do things that we decided to do against, for example, the first 15 minutes against Antrim or the last 15 minutes against Limerick, then we are going to really struggle.
“Louth, unlike any other team in this League and I’m not being disrespectful to other teams, they have the firepower to punish us, they work the ball very well through the hands and before you know it, you could be punished.
“So we’ve got to try and take care of our own business and make sure we do the basics and fundamentals really well, not over-complicate things and if we do that, and if we perform even to 85% of what we’re capable of, then I’d be very, very confident that we can win the title but a lot depends on how we perform on the day.”
When Hugh talks of Sunday’s Final, the Tyrone manager speaks of his delight for the players, past and present, the Ladies Board and everyone who has helped get Leitrim to where they are today: “It has been a hell of a long time since Leitrim Ladies were in any final, never mind a national league final. First and foremost, we have to embrace the occasion, we have to go out and enjoy it. If we don’t go out and enjoy the occasion, what is the point?
“It is going to be gone in a flash, an hour, it will go really quickly so it is just really important that they go out and enjoy it and embrace it. We want to get the right memories from it so it is getting that balance right that we know what is ahead of us but at the same time, it is in our own hands.
“If we perform to our ability and minimise the risk from Louth, then the result will take care of itself.”
Leitrim may start the Final as favourites after a 3-14 to 3-6 win over Louth in the first round of the League but Hugh writes off the importance of that game: “To be brutally honest, Louth are hurting after what happened in Ballinamore, they are on a revenge mission and they’ll be looking really close at us in terms of how to counteract a lot of our strengths.
“You look, defensively, how hard Louth worked and they have good forwards as well - they are formidable force but it is like everything else, if we apply ourselves properly and take care of our side of business, if we perform as close to perfection as we can, I’d can guarantee that we’d won’t be too far away.”
Kate Flood didn’t line out against Leitrim the first day but Hugh won’t make the mistake of focussing all his attention on just one player: “Every county manager looks at the opposition threats and they have a large number of them to be perfectly honest. They are very strong through the middle and then they have Lauren Boyle and Niamh Rice and Kate Flood and players like that.
“We have to identify these individuals and look how we get our match-ups right but the flip side of that is that we can’t take away from our game. We’ve got to focus on what helped us get to where we are today, which is working really hard and doing the fundamentals really, really well.”
Changing the mindset has been a pet project for Hugh, with good reason: “This team wanted change - Leitrim are sleeping giants as far as I’m concerned but when you have a group of players that want change and are prepared to change, to do things differently, it is so much easier.”
Making that change can be tough but the response of the players in seeing that they are part of something bigger than themselves has been key to Leitrim's transformation: “To be perfectly honest, it is about the bigger picture - about how everybody is a small piece in the jigsaw and when you start putting pieces together, you can get a clearer vision and picture of what you want.
“Getting to the final is just rewards in terms of where we are today because the girls have put in a serious amount of work.
And Hugh's final words on the final: “It is a massive game but it is a game we have to relish, to embrace and enjoy the occasion because they don’t come around too often and at the end of the day, to be justified national league winners, you have to go and perform against all the teams.”
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