Leitrim manager Terry Hyland. Photo: Willie Donnellan
It might be Leitrim’s first appearance in 13 years in Croke Park but for manager Terry Hyland, the occasion is not important, performing in the Allianz League Division 4 Final is.
Leitrim will start as underdogs when they take on Derry in GAA headquarters next Saturday and while the hype and excitement is running at fever pitch in the county, Hyland is determined that Leitrim perform on the day.
“At the end of the day, Croke Park is a stage,” said Hyland after the victory over Waterford, “It is not about the stage, it is about the play, who is in it and how you perform. That it is what it is for these lads on Saturday, that you’ve got to perform.”
Deconstructing the hype of Croke Park is another essential for Hyland - “It is a big pitch but sometimes the width and space of Croke Park are a myth because the dimensions of the pitch are no different from ten other county grounds around the country.
“Sometimes you make your play narrow with your set-up and play and it appears that there are swathes of ground in it but you look at the division one teams, they play with width because their individual players are a bit better than some of the players in the lower divisions and they’re a bit more confident to get out on their own and open it up.
“We did a bit in Abbottstown last week which is a very similar type pitch, similar dimensions and we will try and get on a pitch during the week that replicates that.”
Performing on the day is the message Terry is preaching: “You can get caught up in an occasion and suddenly the whole thing passes you by and you’re saying ‘what happened there’ and then you realise when you’re on the bus home or at the team meal or later that week, you realise we could have done a lot better or we could have done x, y or z.
“So it is very important that you stack all of those variables up before the match comes up and say, yes, we can exploit that or we can do that. We can defend better than we did today for maybe that last goal and we know we can turn these things around because those are things you can do on the football pitch.”
The Leitrim manager agrees that Derry will start as favourites but doesn’t read anything in the Oak Leaf county’s 2-16 to 1-12 victory in Celtic Park: “The only thing that Derry probably has is that they have the experience of Croke Park.
“People must remember they were in a division 1 final four years ago, they have that calibre of player so it was a fair fall for them to come to Division 4. They are possibly not a division one team but they are a good strong Division 2 team and that is probably where they are aiming to get back up to.”
Despite all that, Hyland is confident Leitrim can turn the tables on Derry: “Leitrim will have it all to do on the back of that because of the experience of the players that are there but, if we get our game plan together and play well and play for 70 minutes as a unit, we will be in with a shout.”
Terry believes that Saturday's victory over Waterford will stand to his team against Derry and shows the changing expectations of the Leitrim team and fans: “I think the game against Waterford was a wee bit unusual, we were winning by eight, nine, ten, 11 points. It is a bit unusual for me, and maybe for Leitrim people, to be a little bit disappointed in only winning a game by eight points.”
“There were times today when we were very, very good. We had some brilliant scores in the first half, some great movement off the ball but, and which is a bit unusual for us this year, our defensive side was a little bit on the loose side.”
And his final words? “We’ll go up and we’ll have a cut at it, I have no problem with that.”