Leitrim Gaels ready for Senior Championship opener
Saturday July 18
Leitrim Senior Football Championship
Leitrim Gaels v Melvin Gaels, Leitrim, 7pm
By Cian O’Connell
Mal Guckian has nearly seen it all with Leitrim Gaels.
On Saturday evening, though, the progressive Leitrim club will play a first ever Senior Football Championship match against Melvin Gaels.
It will represent another important step on a sporting journey which only commenced in 1997 when Leitrim Gaels were founded.
The 2019 Intermediate triumph ensures these really are exciting times for Guckian’s panel. “Yes, especially after what has gone on in the last couple of months,” Guckian admits.
“We have never been senior, we were formed in 1997. So we have only come up through the ranks since 2008, '09, and 2010 really.
“That is when we started coming up the divisions and started getting out of Junior Championships and into Intermediate then. We have been Intermediate for six or seven years.”
Three years ago, though, Leitrim Gaels suddenly turned into contenders at Intermediate level. “We lost a final,” Guckian remarks about his first campaign in charge.
“We had never been past the quarter final stages before that. Then in 2017, it was my first year there and we surprised a few by getting to the final. We lost by a couple of points. We got to the semi-final then in '18 and we beaten by the eventual winners, Fenagh. Then we won it last year.”
So what can Leitrim Gaels rise be attributed to? “I'd say the first decade was just about trying to keep a team there, to keep the club going,” Guckian responds.
“Several people before my time would have put a lot of investment into underage structures in the early to mid noughties.
“That team really started coming through then in 2011 and 2012. It was a very young team and they were coming through their underage at that time. They are all senior lads now that did come through.”
Now a real sense of ambition exists in the club according to Guckian. “Exactly, of course,” Guckian acknowledges.
“To be competing in the Senior Championship in your own county, that is the highest level, and is where any club wants to be.
“Any lad playing football aspires to be there playing football at the top level. It is good. This weekend hopefully the buzz should be coming more and more as the days get closer to it.”
Leitrim Gaels have home advantage too which adds another layer of excitement to the occasion. “Normally it would always be neutral venues for the Championship,” Guckian explains. “With the Covid and everything the County Board came up with a home and away game. Every team has two home games and two away games. It works out well.”
Guckian has served the club in a plethora of roles throughout the years. “I had them all,” Guckian laughs. “I was the Chairman and was on different committees.
“I did five years as Chairman and then I did underage coaching for maybe three or four years with a lot of the lads that have come through at the moment. I've been manager since 2017.
“No matter what, this is where you want to be. You want to concentrate on underage, it is the most important aspect of any club.
“You have to make sure the underage structure is still going strong, the amount of time that is put into it because it is only a few short years. Those young lads and girls are coming through the ranks and the next thing they are on a senior team then. That is what you want.”
The strides taken at underage level have enabled Leitrim Gaels to plan for a bright future. “We'd be up near the top,” Guckian replies when asked about the standard Leitrim Gaels compete at in the underage ranks.
“Last year or the year before was the first time we were able to compete in every competition at the main 15 a side. We were in all of the competitions at the highest level.
“It was a testament to the coaches and structures in the club, the people who put their time into it.
"They are the unsung heroes, the men and women who help out with the Under 6s and Under 8s, the nurseries. They deserve credit more so than the fellas at the far side of it.”
Guckian, though, has played a central part in this adventure. “From the very bottom to getting close to the very top hopefully,” Guckian remarks. This weekend will provide the latest chapter in a budding story.