Laura & Colin the undoubted highlights of memorable year

While there may not have been an abundance of international awards landing in Leitrim the sporting highlight of the year was undoubtedly the day in August that saw Ballinamore’s Colin Griffin and Eslin’s Laura Reynolds compete in the Olympic games in London.

While there may not have been an abundance of international awards landing in Leitrim the sporting highlight of the year was undoubtedly the day in August that saw Ballinamore’s Colin Griffin and Eslin’s Laura Reynolds compete in the Olympic games in London.

The sight of the local race walkers competing with the best in the world on an iconic course that saw them race along the Mall and Buckingham Palace is something that will live long in the memory of all local sports fans and the duo deserve great credit for the hard work and commitment needed just to achieve the qualifying time to take their place on the starting line. While Colin’s race didn’t go according to plan as he received a third red card and subsequent disqualification while on course for a good time, Laura did incredibly well to record a personal best and finish inside the top 20. While the local successes have brought much joy and celebration for families, communities and clubs the sight of seeing two Leitrim athletes competing at the Olympic Games, cheered on by huge, vocal Irish support was a moment that will live long in the memory of all associated with ‘Lovely Leitrim.’

Elsewhere, 2013 saw the senior GAA team make the breakthrough at national level as they defeated Wicklow to register their first ever win in the qualifier series. A win in London along with a very creditable display against Laois helped make up for the disappointment of a comprehensive defeat at the hands of Mayo in Castlebar.

The start of the year saw Barney Breen and George Dugdale take up the managerial reins and the FBD campaign began with encouraging displays, including a victory over Roscommon. Hopes were high that those performances could lead to promotion from Division 4 but ultimately that challenge failed to fully materialise as a defeat in the opening match in Carrick-on-Shannon against Limerick meant Leitrim were facing an uphill battle from the very beginning. A win on the road against Carlow reignited the challenge but defeats in Ennis and Enniskillen meant the wait for promotion would have to wait another year.

While results may not have been as good as would have been hoped for expectations ahead of the trip to Ruislip were still high, although there was a nervous cautiousness to be found among Leitrim supporters ahead of the trip across the Irish Sea. Leitrim were given an indication of what to expect when the sides met in the National League and although Leitrim emerged victorious in Carrick-on-Shannon it was clear the task in Ruislip, against a full-strength London team would be far from straight forward.

Despite all the talk of a potential upset Leitrim proved too strong and recorded a deserved win to take their place in the Connacht Championship semi-final against Mayo. While London was spoken about as a tough game, it was known immediately that the trip to Castlebar would be a much stiffer test. Ultimately that day in late June is best forgotten as Mayo ran riot to record a comprehensive victory although the Leitrim team may feel they didn’t perform to their full potential.

The end of the Connacht Championship campaign signalled the start of the qualifier series and when the draw was made and it was announced that Wicklow would be the visitors to Carrick-on-Shannon the general feeling was that both sides would have been happy with the draw.

Leitrim’s undistinguished history in the qualifiers meant there wasn’t a particularly big crowd present to witness what was a great evening in Pairc Sean MacDiarmada and a thoroughly deserved Leitrim victory with James Glancy giving the kind of shooting display that deserved to be given greater national prominence. That victory and the subsequent draw that saw Leitrim paired with Laois gave Leitrim fans reason to believe that the summer could yet be salvaged, something that seemed unimaginable when leaving McHale Park in Castlebar just a few short weeks earlier.

Ultimately the result against Laois didn’t go Leitrim’s way but Justin McNulty’s side certainly knew they were in a game as Leitrim dictated matters for a long time before Laois’ powerful midfielders ensured there would not be a second qualifier win for Leitrim. The defeat signalled the end of the Championship year for Leitrim but there were plenty of positives to be taken and as the team continue their preparations for 2013 there will be a lot that will have been learned from last year and a favourable draw in the Connacht Championship means Leitrim fans are already looking forward to a big year. The trip to New York, while not a foregone conclusion, should result in a Leitrim win which would set up a clash with Sligo in Pairc Sean MacDiarmada, with the winner taking their place in the Connacht Championship final.

The end of the Championship year saw attention quickly turning to the club scene as Glencar/Manorhamilton began the task of claiming an unprecedented fifth senior Connacht Gold Senior Championship in as many years. From the start it was deemed that close rivals Melvin Gaels, who claimed the Intermediate Championship a year earlier, would be the biggest threats to Glencar/Manor and that is how it transpired.

Mohill, St Mary’s, Annaduff and Bornacoola had their moments in the Championship but from an early stage it seemed destined that the two north Leitrim rivals would meet in the final despite the fact that Glencar/Manor weren’t playing particularly well.

When the sides locked horns in the final a great crowd descended upon Pairc Sean to see if the game could live up to expectations. Ultimately Melvin Gaels proved deserving winners as they brought an end to Glencar/Manor’s dominance of recent years. However, it would be a foolish person to dismiss Glencar/Manor’s chances of bouncing back next year to reclaim the title and they showed a few weeks later when they defeated Melvin Gaels in the Division One final that they are time certainly not lacking in hunger.

The GWP Intermediate Championship saw two of the pre-tournament favourites Dromahair and Gortletteragh meet in the final and ultimately the pain of defeat in the final 12 months earlier seemed to instil a hunger and determination in the Gortletteragh players that ensured they would not be beaten. It was also a momentous year for one of the youngest clubs in the county as Leitrim Gaels claimed the Junior A Championship and it will certainly be interesting to see how they fare when they make the step-up to Intermediate championship football.

Unfortunately 2012 proved to be another year where Leitrim clubs struggled to make any impact at provincial level. For 20 minutes Melvin Gaels looked as though they may be able to cause a real shock against St Brigids but ultimately the class of Senan Kilbride, Frankie Dolan and Karol Mannion shone through and the Roscommon champions proved comprehensive and deserving winners.

In the Intermediate Championship a Cathal McCrann inspired Gortletteragh gave Charlestown plenty to worry about but the Mayo champions, who went on to be crowned Connacht champions made sure of victory when they scored two goals in injury time.

The past 12 months will be looked back on as a case of ‘what might have been’ by all associated with Ladies football in the county. In a very competitive division three Leitrim finished level with Armagh and Westmeath at the top of the table but ultimately narrowly missed out on a promotion spot. Leitrim came agonisingly close to winning the Division 3 final when they met Westmeath in Parnell Park but the sides finished level and when the sides met again it was Westmeath who claimed the title and promotion to division two. The fact that there was only one promotion spot available from Division 3 was something which left Leitrim manager Niall Kilcrann frustated but the hard work that Kilcrann and his team have put in over the past two years means Leitrim are in a good position to go one step further this year, despite the fact that they are currently on the look out for a new manager.
The All-Ireland TG4 Intermediate Championship saw the Leitrim Ladies get off to a great start when they defeated Wicklow in Greystones but a defeat in the next game against Fermanagh in Ballinamore, where the Ladies were so strong throughout the year meant the route to a possible final was now considerably more difficult. A win against Limerick secured a play-off place against Waterford but Waterford proved too strong in the game played in Birr and they recorded a 10 point win and ultimately went from stength to strength as they went on to claim the All-Ireland title.

Their success with the ‘big ball’ has been well noted in recent years but at the same time a lot of work has been taking place in Manorhamilton developing the next generation of hurling talent and in 2012 many years of hard work came to fruition as Cluainin Iomaint claimed the U-16, minor and senior hurling championships. To make the feat all the more noteworthy it was 53 years since Manorhamilton had last won the senior hurling championship.

The county’s hurlers had little to celebrate in Division 3B of the Allianz National Hurling League with a win over an understrength Longford the only occassion the green and gold were left with reason to celebrate as the other matches in the group saw Fermanagh and Warwickshire get the better of Leitrim.

In handball there was further success for the Fenagh club as Jarlath Scollan and Alan Wrynne claimed gold in the 13 & under One Wall Finals at the World Handball Championships which were held in the Citywest Arena, Dublin.