Leitrim crop face uncertain fate in the Big Apple
BY SHANE STAPLETON
James Glancy doesn’t want to think that way, but he is fearful of Leitrim’s trip to New York this weekend. The forward made a couple of visits to the Big Apple during his 12 years playing for the county, and each time they ransacked Gaelic Park in the Bronx with relative ease.
That first game was in 2008, a handy nine-point win for Dessie Dolan’s side when Glancy got a short runout after returning from injury. Five years later, in 2013, the Glencar/Manorhamilton scored three points in a 4-19 to 0-7 win under joint managers Barney Breen and George Dugdale.
In the past couple of seasons, Sligo and Roscommon just about got out of dodge by the skin of their teeth, and those sides are both higher up the food chain based on competitive results over the years.
Leitrim might well be undercooked coming into this game, partly down to the weather meaning they completed just five of their seven league games, while New York have recently feathered their cap with a win over AIB All-Ireland club champions Corofin.
Armagh star Jamie Clarke gave a terrific performance for the Exiles that day, and he is not the only established inter-county star lining out for the hosts this weekend. Neil Collins has in the past starred for Roscommon, while Tom Cunniffe has All-Ireland final experience with Mayo.
“Obviously when you're a Leitrim person you don't want to think that, but the word in Leitrim is that there is worry down here about this trip,” says Glancy. “You’ve seen some of the clips coming out of Jamie Clarke against Corofin, and he seems to be on fire. All I know is that we prepared diligently for the two trips I had out there.
“We took nothing for granted. Other counties might go out there thinking it’s a soft touch, but we wouldn’t because we always went over there knowing they targeted taking our scalp. Players like Clarke and Neil Collins have played against us numerous times, and Donal Ward who is there as well. Tom Cunniffe would know Leitrim well from the Connacht championship, so it is a worry.
“You would hope that we would have enough on the day, because it could set Leitrim back a long way. The time London beat us in 2013 did have a big effect on us, and I don't think there are too many players are left on the county set up from that day.”
There are obvious parallels in facing London or New York, with both being based overseas. Five years ago, on the back of that win in America, Glancy was eyeing up a first Connacht final appearance with Leitrim. After a replay, and despite a late Glancy goal, London won their semi-final clash to make a first-ever provincial final.
The Glencar/Manorhamilton man explains how galling it was to peak so well for the New York trip, flop so badly after four players had been dropped for disciplinary reasons, and then see the team fall away.
“Afterward, the boys got dropped off to panel for whatever reason,” says Glancy, “and then George and Barney took the fall at the end of the year, and they were treated very badly.
“They should have been kept on but their heads were called for and that was wrong at the time. It was wrong, and consequences weresuffered because of that. They were two good people and they prepared us really well, and the wheels come off the wagon after that.”
All of which means that a lot of the current Leitrim crop will be facing into this foreign trip for the first time. So, what will they be in for?
“I'm just going on my two experiences out there and it was very well organised, we didn't want for anything,” says Glancy. “Everything was laid on for us, which was excellent, so you couldn't fault that. I'm assuming the same preparation has been taken care of this time and that the players will be extremely well looked after.
“We got a daily allowance as well from Leitrim GAA or Croke Park or wherever it came from, because boys were taking time off work and there were students there. I know people ask if there are any side shows but we went over on the Thursday and did a bit of training, and then trained again on Friday and Saturday, so we did a lot in those few days.
“We had an advantage that way, and we were living out of each other's pockets. We were mixing with people who were over there, going for coffees and that, and that wasn't a disadvantage at all. It was good to meet people and it was just really enjoyable. When it came to the game, you felt like a really professional outfit.”
New York are yet to win a single championship match in the 19 years of contesting the provincial championship, and Leitrim are determined to increase that figure to a score. As Glancy explains, Clarke isn’t a one-man team, while the visitors have their own marquee forward in Emlyn Mulligan.
“He's back playing after a really really difficult few years: three cruciates,” says Glancy, the 2011 county captain. “It's madness. He's a really good guy and a nice fella who loves playing for Leitrim. There's no doubting that because he keeps coming back.
“He played a couple of games for his club Melvin Gaels in the league and he played against Wicklow in the league too. A fast-playing pitch out there will suit him and he's very intelligent footballer — and a lot of the young players around him will listen to him. From speaking to him, all he wants to do is get a couple of games under his belt, and hopefully stays injury-free now, because if he doesn't it'll be quite difficult for us long-term.”
There were misleading reports earlier this year that Glancy had left his role as games development officer with Leitrim, a job he took up after previously working for Ballymun Kickhams and Round Tower of Clondalkin. So, he is in a good position to judge where his county are in relation to the best. The gap between the All-Ireland champions and a Division 4 side could hardly be wider, and it begs the question of where smaller counties such as his will be in five or ten years’ time.
“I'd be fearful of where we could be in five or ten years’ time, unless we can really start moving things forward from a development point of view,” says Glancy. “What are the other counties, that are already ahead of us from a developmental point of view, going to be doing? The likes of Dublin are ten or 20 years ahead of other counties.
“By the time we catch up with those ten years, how far more ahead are they going to be progressing? There’s such forward-thinking people up there. You see what the likes of Roscommon, Cavan and Tipperary are doing as well.
“The clubs in Leitrim are absolutely fantastic and doing great work. I just hope we aren't left behind. The majority of kids in the county play Gaelic football, so I hope the structures are put in place for them to improve even more. The potential is there, and I really hope that potential isn't lost.”