Leitrim hurlers hoping Meagher success can keep momentum going
By Michael Devlin
Hurling in Leitrim has come a long way in the last five years.
It used to be they would struggle to get 15 or 20 lads onto a panel. Now their biggest dilemma is cutting the squad to below 30. A nice problem to have though, according to goalkeeper Declan Molloy, who wants to see that same enthusiasm for hurling mirrored in Leitrim’s supporters.
“A lot of the young lads are coming along through the likes of the Celtic Challenge and things like that,” said Molloy ahead of tomorrow’s Lory Meagher Cup final meeting with Lancashire in Croke Park.
“It’s just a challenge to keep the momentum going and getting numbers out support us. The fact we get to play in the hallowed turf of Croke Park, win lose or draw, it would promote it.
“Obviously the football gets the biggest traction, they get the most attention I suppose, but we’re trying as much as possible to get the word out that we’ve made steady progress. We were in a National League final last year, in a Lory Meagher final two years ago, so we are gaining traction.
“It’s about getting people behind us, building momentum and getting the word out there. These guys sacrifice and dedicate their lives as much as anyone from Tipp, Kilkenny, Cork or Galway do.
“People mightn’t see us as often and they may say, ‘Ah, they’re playing for Leitrim’, but these guys love hurling as much as any other county do. Hopefully on the big stage up here on Saturday we can perform, and put Leitrim hurling on the map once and for all.”
There’s a small pocket of hurling supremacy in Leitrim, and though they only boast two clubs, Carrick and Manorhamilton, Molloy attests to the “absolute die-hards” who will come out and follow the team religiously.
“Even when we go over to England, they come over as well. It’s great to see but we want to spread the net wider and have more people following us and try and get the kids involved.”
Molloy puts a lot of the development of Leitrim hurling in recent seasons down to the influence of Galway hurling legend Michael Coleman, who been coaching the team for the last four years. He praises the determination of others such as current manager Martin Cunniffe and his family, who have kept the hurling flame alight in the county when it was at its dimmest.
“He’s a legend in Galway circles. One of the few in the country who has an automatic All-Star, a serious accolade to have as they don’t give them out any more. When the lads in Leitrim heard that Michael Coleman was going to train them, they were in awe of them.
“The man is just unbelievable, full of raw heart and the passion that he brings, it rubs off on guys. He also has improved the skill level of a lot of lads, but his belief and dedication and will to win has been driven into us all.
“That’s fine if you have the heart and passion, but you need the players to buy into it as well. You have Martin Cunniffe down there and his family, Dolores and Clement and Miriam, they’ve been amazing support and have kept Leitrim hurling going through the bleak years when nothing was happening. Unless they were there keeping things going, we wouldn’t be here.”
Leitrim and Lancashire have already faced off in this year’s Lory Meagher competition, on match day one when the Exiles came out on top by two points. They also prevailed in last year’s Division 3B Final meeting between the sides.
“We know plenty about them unfortunately,” says Molloy. “They have some great hurlers, the likes of Ronan Crowley, they have serious hurlers, so we know enough about them. We wouldn’t be happy at all with the way we performed on the first day. Lancashire beat us by two points, but there were small margins in that game.
“We played a lot of games at the start of the year, challenge games and league games, and we performed really, really well. But we haven’t been bringing that performance into championship so far.
“We went over to Lancashire, didn’t perform and got beaten. Played Cavan, and won the game yes, but didn’t perform in the way we could. I suppose the last day against Fermanagh, with 20 minutes to go we kind of showed glimpses of what we can do. So if we just put together the performance that we know is there, we’d be very confident in our ability. It’s just about getting that out of the lads.
“We can’t do any more,” concludes Molloy. “It could come down to the bounce of a ball, could come down to a ball hitting the post, the smallest margins. But I think it’s time we got the bounce of the ball for a change.”