Leitrim's brothers in arms Gary and Mark Plunkett pictured after Leitrim's victory over London to secure promotion picture: Willie Donnellan
While there may not have been too much happening on the county’s pitches last weekend there has been plenty to keep conversations of a sporting theme flowing as the buzz about a league final and a trip to Croke Park dominated many a chinwag.
It was another busy week for St Clare’s Comprehensive School as the girls travelled to Athlone to face Moate in the All-Ireland junior b semi-final. Ultimately the Manorhamilton school fell just short, but in recent weeks its students have contested Connacht and national finals in both gaelic football and soccer with male and female representatives doing their school and region proud.
The sports stars from St Clare’s have even more big days to look forward to and will face Coola PPS in the minor ‘B’ boys soccer Connacht cup final next Wednesday in Sligo.
Such results and achievements help further convince local players that they can aspire to be as good as any player in any other school. The fact that five players from Manorhamilton Rangers recently signed for Sligo Rovers’ underage teams for the upcoming season is further indication of the good work being done by underage coaches throughout the county.
Another Leitrim player to come through the Rovers underage system, Niall Morahan, has made an encouraging start to the Airtricity league premier division season, giving further reason for young players in the region to have confidence in their own ability.
Before a ball was kicked this season Niall spoke to the Leitrim Observer with a quiet confidence about his ambitions for the year having just completed his first pre-season as a professional athlete. There were no grand statements about how much he thought he was going to play or how much of an influence he hoped he may have, but there was a confidence that suggested he knew he would be given a chance and it was up to him to grasp it when it came along.
On the opening night of the season, Niall was introduced for a cameo appearance as Rovers started the season with an encouraging 1-1 draw away to Dundalk. The next opponents were St Patrick’s Athletic with Niall an unused substitute for the narrow defeat. The former Carrick Town and Allen Gaels player was back in action a few days later when he was introduced as an early substitute when Regan Donelon suffered an injury against Cork City. Although he was introduced at right-back and is more comfortable in the middle of the pitch Niall was one of the standout performers in a 2-1 defeat at the hands of last year’s league runners-up.
Niall kept started in defence for the games against Finn Harps and UCD, and was one of the key players in Rovers’ back to back victories.
There are never any guarantees in sport but one thing for certain is that talent alone is never enough when it comes to progressing to be the best you can be. That sentiment can equally be applied to the current Leitrim senior team. The vast majority of them are young players who have come through the underage system together.
Aided by the experience of the older players, this crop of young guns have been on the periphery of the senior squad in recent years but are now truly making their mark.
The benefits of the quality training these players have enjoyed as they progressed through the underage grades is starting to show its true value. Not only is this exciting crop of players proving they can beat counties they would be considered of a similar standard to, they are also showing how their own will to improve and triumph has been translated on the pitch into fierce, mental toughness.
Of course it goes without saying that there are no guarantees in sport. If you go into a game thinking you're not good enough or without having full faith in your team mates; you will lose. However, there is a new crop of Leitrim sports stars that are starting to showing their mental toughness and that is refreshing to see.
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