Karl McDermott: 'This is a big deal for Leitrim hurling'
By John Harrington
Leitrim hurling captain Karl McDermott was meant to be in the USA by now, starting out on an eight-week adventure of travelling and visiting relations over there.
But when Leitrim defeated Sligo in the Lory Meagher Cup semi-final to qualify for Saturday’s Final against Warwickshire in Croke Park, McDermott didn’t hesitate to put his travel plans on hold.
“Sure, look, when something like this comes up you can't not change your plans, I had to do it,” he says.
“It’s massive to get to play in Croke Park. I wouldn't really have been able to look forward and see a day like this a few years ago.
“It would have been a bit of a dream. It's come to reality now and we just have to look forward to it and try to perform on the day.”
This opportunity isn’t just a big deal for McDermott, he sees it as a red-letter day for Leitrim hurling in general.
Hurling exists in Leitrim like a candle-flame in the wind, waxing and waning with an unsure future.
Last year the four-club championship was reduced to a three-club affair when Gortletteragh failed to field a team.
It's a big deal, we're hoping this might have a bit of an impact on the younger lads
So McDermott hopes a high-profile match such as this in Croke Park will give the hurling scene a much needed shot in the arm and encourage a new generation to take up the sport.
“It is, yeah, this is a big deal,” he says. “There's only a very small hurling community in Leitrim. There's a small bunch of men and women that actually drive the thing on and keep it going.
“That's why the likes of Gortletteragh are finding it hard with lads going away, they can't put out a team.
“It's a big deal, we're hoping this might have a bit of an impact on the younger lads. Get an interest developed and maybe develop a bit of hurling again.
“It's the same people doing the same work that's actually keeping the underage going. A very limited number of people out training kids keeping the thing going.
“Even, say, one of our county managers, Paddy O'Connor, is probably the main man who's actually kept Ballinamore hurling going. Without the likes of him, Ballinamore probably wouldn't have a team.
“Then there's fellas in our club, two or three lads, Micheál Dolan, boys like. Even the late Mick Galvin and the likes of Steve Feeney, without those lads I wouldn't be hurling. It's just a few lads who keep it all going.
“Although to be fair to Carrick On Shannon, they've really upped it in the last few years. They've got the academies out and they're actually putting out some good hurlers lately.
“So we're hoping that this might drive it on and the rest of the clubs will follow suit and maybe develop it a bit more.”
Leitrim haven’t gotten to this Lory Meagher Cup Final by accident.
Managed by former Galway start Michael Coleman for the last three years, they’ve been building steadily and getting better all the time.
The panel is split between Leitrim and Dublin, so as a collective they make the effort to meet half-way in Mullingar.
That’s the sort of commitment that binds teams together, and even though they go into this match as underdogs against a Warwickshire team that beat them earlier in the competition, McDermott is quietly confident they can pull off an upset.
“There's been a good aul vibe in training, good turn-outs and good intensity,” he says.
“It's been a good year for it and you'd have a lot of lads driving it on this year. There's good commitment, lads are generally doing their best to make trainings, very little excuses. It's been very good this year.
“I think if we can go out and perform the way we performed against Sligo and just not let the occasion get to us we're definitely in with a good chance, I don't see why not.
“I know that this year Warwickshire have really upped it. But traditionally every time I've played Warwickshire there's been nothing in it.
“I wasn't at that match, the championship match when they beat us by eight points, but they kind of just ran out in the end with that eight point lead.
“Traditionally every game I've been at there's been nothing between us and we have a fairly good record over the last few years with them. I wouldn't be afraid of them.
“If we can just perform ourselves, I'd be fairly confident.”