THE LAST POINT with Philip Rooney

Life in the pressbox in glory and despair

Philip Rooney


Philip Rooney


Life in the pressbox in glory and despair

Aidan Flynn chases after Antrim's Declan Lynch during last Sunday's Allianz NFL Division 4 clash in Carrick-on-Shannon picture: Willie Donnellan

Covering Leitrim teams from the pressbox or sidelines can often be a frustrating experience. Trips to Croke Park are few and far between; All-Ireland glory is a dream rather than an aspiration; even competing at the business end of most competitions is more often than not left to bigger and more glamorous counties.

The drives home from heavy defeats far outweigh the glory days but already this year there have been days that have served as a perfect reminder of the beauty of covering Leitrim teams.

More than a decade of watching and taking notes on Leitrim teams and teams from all over the county, has helped to keep a lid on expectations as bitter experience has taught some cruel lessons.

Heavy defeats when a win was a realistic ambition result in days where the pangs of jealousy towards colleagues from counties such as Mayo, Dublin and Kerry hit hardest but there is a different satisfaction from observing and reporting on the fortunes of Leitrim’s representatives.

The old adage that the bad days make the good days all the sweeter ring particularly true in a sporting context and the fact that the good days don’t come around too often makes that particularly true.

The reporters tasked with following the fortunes of Dublin, or any of the sides competing when the going gets tough in August get the best seats in the house for the big matches but they are often left to bemoan the lack of access to the players and management.

In Leitrim the opposite is often the case; we may not get as many trips to Croke Park but on the flip side there is nearly always an understanding from the various players and management that those of us covering their fortunes are always willing them to succeed.

A particularly painful All-Ireland qualifier defeat a number of years ago was followed by an hour of waiting outside the dressing room hoping to get a reaction from the Leitrim captain. In such scenarios if a player doesn’t want to speak that is perfectly understandable and there are no hard feelings.

On this particular day, the Leitrim captain walked straight towards me when he emerged from the dressing room and asked why I didn’t knock on the door. He apologised for keeping me waiting and gave a most heartfelt interview about his disappointment and his pride in representing Leitrim.

Such days give an insight into the psyche of the perennial underdog, a tag nobody particularly likes but due to the county’s size and resources is one that Leitrim will always wear.

January may have only just come to an end but already there have been some truly memorable sporting days from a Leitrim perspective.

A few weeks ago the Carrick Hurling club represented Leitrim in the All-Ireland junior hurling semi-final. An epic finale saw the Connacht champions fall short by a solitary point yet there was a real sense of pride amongst all present at how the Leitrim side had represented their town, families, parishes and county.

When myself and my colleagues from the Observer entered TEG Cusack Park in Mullingar, the first person we met was Carrick manager Olcan Conway. Never a fan of the spotlight, Olcan was nevertheless very appreciative of the coverage his team had received and made a point of coming over to shake hands with John, Willie and myself.

It may seem a small gesture but these are the small things that live in the memory just as much as how the game unfolded.

Even more recent was Leitrim’s incredible second half performance in the opening round of Division 4 when they scored a staggering 3-9 against Wexford. Supporters who have become accustomed to disappointment were fearing the worst after a lacklustre first half display but out of nowhere they were then treated to 35 minutes of domination.

In less than an hour the perspective of all watching with Leitrim tinted glasses had been flipped on its head. Instead of another year with nothing to look forward to, suddenly people were talking about how Terry Hyland will manage to dampen expectations.

That is the beauty of sport. From the lowest ebb, it can lift you to the most joyous moments and hopefully the remainder of the year will bring many more days to remember for those following the fortunes of our county’s sport stars.