Tag Archives: Leitrim GAA

To Win just once ………that would be enough

And you’re thinking about the Game, the tickets are sorted, the train booked, the Whatsapp group buzzing, what time to meet, where to meet and what if…

And you’re thinking of that moment this fine young team, race down the tunnel and on to that verdant green patch of Dublin, running in their Green & Gold colours, our beautiful colours.

And part of you fears for them, wants them to do well, pray they do well, hope they give a good account of themselves but another part of you says, even if they don’t, sure what about it…

And you’re thinking of the awestruck kids who look up to these local heroes, heroes who generously pose for selfiesand take time to autograph match programmes on the backs of future stars,starting the cycle off yet again. You think of these young warriors running themselvesto a standstill, dragging their boots through the mud and slop of winter pitches,in rain, wind and sleet….

And you’re thinking of all the people around this world that are also thinking about this team, emigrants and the sons and daughters of emigrants. Young men with the red dust of the Pilbara on their overalls, young women standing on busy Subway carriages in rush-hour, or running up escalators on the Tube, descendants of the men who mined deep under the dark Pennsylvanian soil, men who dug the canals, laid the railway tracks, built the motorways of Britain, who drove the buses and trains and policed the streets of New York. And your thinking of the women who delivered thousands of babies in London, Birmingham and Manchester, waited on tables in diners in Brooklyn and Dorchester, and you’re thinking of today’s boys and girls who plot their own paths and carve out their own niches.

Because its all there, bound tightly into an identity of a small, often forgotten place, where the soil was too poor to feed them all, and no government cared enough to do something for them, where nobody shouted stop. Let them scatter, let the leaves blow and the seed spread and hope they’ll land on fertile ground. They survive, some thrive and tied by bonds often unknown and unseen but somehow creating this shared identity. Oh it’s there and its real and its more than just bloody football, it’s much more important than that. It’s the hill of Sheemore and the majestic Glenade Valley, and the wandering waters of Glencar and the calmness of the Shannon calloughs, it’s in the music of Carolan and writings of McGahern, the fiddle and the Uileann pipes, its there, it exists, it will be all there at three o’clock Saturday and it will be there the day after, and the day after that……

And I’m thinking about all these things because that’s what football does in a football mad place, where parishes games have imperial importance and where every field, rock and bush has a name and every family a nickname and everyone has Aunts and Uncles in the Bronx, or Chicago, and cousins in Manchester and Melbourne and a thousand other far off places.

And I’m thinking, but possibly I’m dreaming, because that line is blurred at times like these, and I’m wondering, what if the Gods favour was with us this day? What if they were in a benevolent mood? What would it be like to see a son of Leitrim raise a piece of silverware aloft in the Dublin sky, overlooking those blessed three acres? When generations to come will hear old people say things like ‘That was the year of the Brexit bother’.

Well I’m dreaming but I’m also thinking, I’m thinking wouldn’t it be just GRAND!

And perchance tonight I’ll have a pleasant dream and I’ll wake up with a smile.

“The savage loves his native shore”

Packy McGarty

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Packy McGarty on a few occasions and one thing that always strikes me is how he remains, even at 82, quick in mind and light on foot. In an era of high performance coaching, increasing demands on players and the onset of the ‘elite’ County player, programmed to play numerous systems and tactical set-ups, McGarty remains a beacon of light, a reminder of what makes the GAA great and unique. Surprisingly, to some at least, its not about a dresser full of medals.

I enjoyed this piece by David Kelly in today’s ‘Independent’.



Kerry Donegal

In the GAA there are four Counties who wear Green and Gold for their County jerseys. One is the most successful team in the history of the GAA. Kerry won their 37th All-Ireland Title yesterday. The victory was something that seemed unlikely at the start of the summer. The retirement of several experienced players and a terrible injury to their talismanic forward Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper had dampened expectations even in the Kingdom. The Kerry team led by Eamonn Fitzmaurice persevered and as the evening light lengthened so did their confidence and belief. Yesterday they were also in the happy position that they were not favourites going into an All-Ireland final. Ever since Donegal strangled the life out of the ‘invincible’ Dubs, the sons of Conall seemed to have had their name already etched on the Sam Maguire Cup. In the semi-final Donegal dictated the terms on which the game was to be played and Dublin couldn’t deal with this dictatorship. Kerry is a different proposition and Donegal simply couldn’t impose their will on the Kingdom yesterday. People say Donegal looked laboured, lacked the usual intensity or aggression but maybe when they analyse the game they will see that for long periods Kerry simply dominated them, holding on to the ball, tackling hard, forcing errors and turnovers, taking their chances when they came. It was not a great spectacle of a game for a neutral but it was intriguing all the same.

This week also saw change in another County that wears the Green and Gold. Shane Ward, a Donegal native, was appointed Manager of the Leitrim Senior team. I’m not sure that many people other than the die-hard anoraks would even have noticed this managerial announcement. If Kerry is the most successful County in GAA then Leitrim occupy the complete opposite end of that spectrum. Leitrim’s paltry two Provincial Titles pales into insignificance compared to Kerry’s seventy six Munster Titles. Leitrim have never won an All- Ireland Senior Championship and never managed to even grace a final day. Leitrim have had three little ‘Golden Periods’ since they first entered the Championship in 1907. In the mid-1920s they were a match for any in Connacht. In 1924 they drew with Mayo and then refused to play in the replay. One Connacht Championship in 1927 was scant reward for this group of players. They had the beating of Kerry in the semi-final, going down by two points in the All-Ireland semi-final. Within a year or two the team had been broken up by mass emigration. It would be sixty seven years before Leitrim would win another Connacht Title.

Perhaps the best Leitrim team of all was that of the late 1950’s led by the mercurial Packy McGarty. They lost four Connacht finals to Galway 1957-60 and without the crucial breakthrough this team too began to break up. In the early 1980’s I also saw some promising teams fail to get the rub of the green. In 1982, ’83 and ’87 they were unlucky against Galway and Mayo. By 1989 though things were pretty bleak again with the County’s finest young men more interested in winning Donnelly Visas than Connacht medals.

Leitrim_fans_subwayLeitrim Flag

Then along came a Cavan man called P. J Carroll and he took no prisoners. He demanded honesty of endeavour and didn’t countenance inferiority. Soon performances in the pitch began to improve but alas a championship breakthrough proved elusive. By 1993 Carroll was gone, replaced by John Maughan. Beating Galway in Tuam was a huge turning point. The following year Leitrim won a Provincial Title beating Roscommon, Galway and Mayo on the way. They under-performed against the Dubs in the Semi and should have won another Title. In the twenty years since that famous victory in Hyde Park there have been few highlights. The back door system which was designed ostensibly to give weaker counties more games has not worked out for Leitrim. They have an abysmal record in fact and have shipped some very heavy defeats. Their most recent manager Sean Hagan was perplexed by how dis-interested the Leitrim players were in the Qualifiers. Maybe it is because the player’s ambition is to win a Connacht Title and you can’t do that via the Qualifiers.

Leitrim and Kerry operate in two completely different spheres. If anything the gulf is widening. There are only a handful of the thirty three teams that start the year capable of winning the All-Ireland. Making the breakthrough is nearly impossible and behind the scenes it requires incredible resources. Up until recent years, and despite Leitrim’s paltry return of silverware, one always felt that they could compete with any of the Connacht counties and occasionally cause a shock. Over the years these shock wins sustained the County’s supporters and inspired the young. Nowadays the wins are even rarer, resources scarcer and initiatives like the County Centre of Excellence still awaiting completion.

The Garth Brooks debacle and the disquiet over moving the Mayo-Kerry replay to Limerick has further widened the gap between the modern corporate aware GAA and its grassroots followers. The GAA is at a crossroads and it must decide if its future lies in promoting the elite and aspiring to some sort of a global brand or in trying to build a more equitable organisation. It does not seem possible to achieve both. Perhaps the strict adherence of both the administration and the fans to the County and provincial systems means the GAA was hobbled from the start. The primacy of a knockout completion over the league format is also an anomaly in modern TV driven sport. The GAA was founded in ‘Hayes Hotel’ one hundred and thirty years ago. The famous Hotel was sold at an Allsop Auction this week. It is time for us all to realise that even in the history of our beloved national games, everything ultimately has a price commercially irrespective of sentiment.

Leitrim Qualifiers