A three point win over London in the opening round of the Connacht Championship may not have generated too many national headlines but for Leitrim it was very much a case of job done and on to the Connacht Championship semi-final against Roscommon.
Before fully focusing on the clash with the Rossies in Hyde Park on Sunday, it would be impossible to talk to Ronan Kennedy, the goalscoring hero from Ruislip, without referencing his telling contribution.
The Mohill forward knew before half-time that he would be entering the fray shortly after the restart as he recalled before training at Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada last week.
“Brendan (Guckian) had spoken to me at half-time, just before the team went in and said ‘we are going to need you after five or 10 minutes’. Conor Gaffney had picked up a bit of a dead leg and it was a case of just getting ready and being prepared. Watching the first five or 10 minutes of the second half and seeing maybe a few holes in the game, in the play that I could come on and have an impact and luckily that is what happened.”
Ronan modestly downplayed his impact as he recalled his first contribution after his introduction.
“The first ball I got I kicked wide so it wasn’t the kind of impact I was looking for and I got turned over another time.
Referring to his goals Ronan joked that he ignored the advice he normally gives others as regards finding the back of the net.
“I always say to people just keep it low and pass it into the net, like what the Gooch used to say to Donaghy but I didn’t really do that with either of them. You see an opening and you just try to put the ball into it.
“The second one Brendan Gallagher was at the back stick and I probably should have flicked it across to him but it worked out. One day you are a hero, the next you’re a fool but yeah it was nice to get them all the same. It’s never a thing I would have had growing up, I was always a man for racking up a few points, not many goals but as you get a bit older you stay a bit closer to the goals!
“You take your time and try to do what you can with the situation and hope for the best. It’s worked out ok for me so far but I’m sure some day it won’t and I’ll be the villain then.”
With the potential banana skin in Ruislip successfully negotiated Leitrim now travel to Hyde Park with a place in the Connacht Final against Galway at stake. The prospect of facing the ‘old enemy’ is one that Ronan is relishing but while he believes Leitrim could cause the upset of the Championship to date he is equally realistic about Leitrim’s prospects.
“The old enemy?”, he replied with a laugh. “An enemy, I suppose you would have to beat them once or twice but we haven’t done that since 2000 I think. They are a division one team, it’s a bit like Carlow and Dublin, you know what you are up against and you have to go in with realistic expectations.”
While well aware of the quality that Roscommon possess Ronan is full of praise for the crop of youngsters Brendan Guckian has at his disposal and believes Leitrim supporters should travel to Hyde Park on Sunday believing an upset is a very real possibility.
“I would be going in hope, I really would, if I was a supporter. Even if it isn’t to be our day, and I think it could be, it really could be ... even if it isn’t these young lads, just get out and support them.”
With six U21s seeing Championship action in Ruislip, Ronan insists, “These lads are going to be something to be reckoned with in a few years.”
Key for Leitrim over the coming years will be attempting to keep this team together for as long as they possibly can with Ronan insisting the turnover in players that Leitrim have experienced in recent years is simply not sustainable.
“I think Colin Regan emphasised it in the paper that London only had three starters from when they beat Leitrim in 2013 and Leitrim had none. That level of turnover is crazy. To be competitive, to put structures in place where lads are doing consistent strength and conditioning, consistent nutrition and open to a consistent level of high level training, you have to keep those sort of groups together.
“You are going to lose lads inevitably but if we keep the vast majority of them together there is the makings of a really strong, competitive team in Connacht.”
Before a ball was kicked in anger in this year's Championship Leitrim were dealt a severe blow when Emlyn Mulligan and Nevin O'Donnell were ruled out with cruciate ligament injuries. Although those injuries have been keenly felt, Ronan believes the quality of the young guns in the Leitrim ranks has lessened the impact of those losses.
“I think that speaks volumes of the young lads that it didn’t deter them. I think in years gone by Leitrim would use that as an excuse and if London had beaten us or we could have gone over thinking we have so many injuries, you have the excuse that you could get beaten. They are the lifeblood around the place, they really are. They are great craic to have around the place, they breed life into you, they make you want to stick at it. It keeps you young at heart I suppose, maybe not in body but in heart.
Returning to the topic of Sunday’s opponents Ronan is well aware of the stories of discontent in Roscommon but he is far too experienced to read too much into such rumblings.
“You’re hearing about that going on all across the country, in every squad. Rumours break everywhere. It’s great to hear rumours of discontent, we’re hoping for every little bit we can get but I wouldn’t be reading too much into it. We’ll take it as it comes but we know they will be a formidable outfit. If you expect anything less going into it you are a fool and it is division one against division four.”
Ronan would love to repeat his goalscoring heroics on Sunday but a win for Leitrim would please him much more.
“Another few goals would be nice but as long as someone gets them I don’t really care. A Connacht Final in 2017, we are hoping for it and preparing for it and all going well on Sunday that’s what will happen.”