Leitrim Senior Football Championship 2020 Preview
It’s goes without saying at this point that 2020 has been a strange year, with the Coronavirus playing havoc with people’s health, jobs and lives over the last 6 months. It’s been no different for our clubs and players either with aborted leagues and not being able to train collectively in recent months.
There promises to be plenty of twists and turns ahead for the ten sides aiming to compete for the Dick Ellis Cup in what will be a seriously compact season with only 71 days scheduled between the first round and the final.
After months of uncertainty it’s great to finally see club football return in the new look, slimmed down 10 team Connacht Gold Senior Football Championship which starts this weekend. While it didn’t cause an outright end to all the action, the virus has had an effect on this year’s competition.
- Neutral venues are gone for group stage games with all those fixtures now being played at home and away venues.
- Four teams from each group will now qualify for the quarter finals, rather than the planned structure of top 3 progressing to a staggered Semi Final / Quarter Final setup.
- A limited capacity will apply for the first round of games of 200 in attendance, which includes teams and officials.
- It is anticipated that this will be increased by government in the next phase which will allow for up to 500 persons by Round 2 of the competition.
- Home clubs will be responsible for managing access and crowds.
It’s been all change across the Senior Championship with seven managers facing into their first senior campaign with their respective clubs. Dominic Corrigan (Sean O’Heslins), Liam Keenan (Mohill) and James Phelan (Melvin Gaels) the only survivors from last season.
Ironically the longest serving manager is with the club with the least Senior Championship experience, Mal Guckian (Leitrim Gaels) will lead the club in their first ever year at this level in what will be his fourth season with the Leitrim Village side.
John McPartlin (Allen Gaels), Denis Connaughton (St. Mary’s) & Sean Flanagan (Aughawillan) will also bring plenty of experience from outside the county to the playing pitches around Leitrim this summer.
Less movement of people this summer means teams have better numbers to select from than recent years and while some will have missed the coronavirus affected league as an indicator of form and intent for the year, others will be glad of the opportunity to have slipped under the radar and maybe pull off a surprise or two as the season progresses.
We decided to take a look at the chances of each club gearing up for action in the senior grade in Leitrim this season.
You can keep track of the championship fixtures in our Local Sporting Events Page.
Last week on the podcast we were joined by former County Manager Brendan Guckian for his thoughts on the Senior Football Championship this summer. You can hear his thoughts on the competition here:
Club by Club Previews
Manager: John McPartland (First Season)
Captain: Diarmuid McKiernan
SFC Titles: 5 (Last in 2002)
2019: Quarter Finalists, 4th in 6 Team Group
A new managerial arrival in Drumshanbo might be just the tonic after a tough 2019 season for all involved with Allen Gaels, relegation in the league coupled with some heavy defeats in the heat of summer action at the hands of St. Mary’s, Glencar/Manor and Sean O’Heslins showed the lack of depth.
Considering the loss of Adrian Sorahan and David Wynne, former Sligo player John McPartland will be looking to the experience of James Flynn, Alan Wynne and the returning Brian Mulvey to give them a chance at repeating last season’s quarter final appearance.
Emmet Moran, who’s just aged out of minor football, will be a welcome addition to the squad this season who will also need Shane Beirne, Caleb Duffy & Thomas Mulvey to be firing on all cylinders for this season. Colin Moran and Shane Walsh were also impressive during last season’s campaign and big things will be expected from both players.
Here’s one side who would have preferred a confidence building league campaign in Division 2 and while the draw has been relatively kind to them, facing champions Glencar/Manor in the opening round won’t allow much breathing space in the first round.
If they can survive a tough opening weekend they could build up some momentum going into the games against the other teams in the group.
It’s going to be a tough campaign for the Drumshanbo men and it may come down to their last game with Drumreilly to secure the win that might avoid the dreaded relegation playoff. Even at that, the Gaels may not have the firepower to retain their top flight status for 2021.
Leitrim Daily Prediction: 5th in Group B, Relegated.
Manager: Martin Greene (First Season)
Captain: Mark Plunkett
SFC Titles: 12 (Last in 2018)
2019: Quarter Finalists, 3rd in 6 Team Group
Aughawillan have developed a lovely rhythm of mounting a serious challenge for the championship in alternate years since lifting the cup in 2014 and could be in the final reckoning when all is said and done this time around.
New management in the form of the highly experienced Martin Green, who was manager of the Fermanagh Senior champions Derrygonnelly for three consecutive senior titles in 2015, 2016 & 2017.
Much will depend on the fitness of Mark Plunkett with a rumoured hand injury potentially costing him his season. This setback, if true, would seem to have lengthened their overall championship odds somewhat. Reports of strong performances against Ulster sides in recent challenge games would indicate they are pushing hard to reverse last years defeat to near neighbours Sean O’Heslins and don’t rule out a deep run in the championship.
Greene will certainly be able to call on Pierce Dolan who’s impressed in early showings. Despite the loss of Mark, his brothers Noel & Gary remain assets to the side while Ciaran Gilheaney, Fergal McTague, Sean Flanagan & Morgan Quinn will have plenty of battle hardened memories to call on in the closing stages of tight games later in the summer.
Realistic expectations are for Aughawillan to finish top three in the group but with the potential return of Plunkett for later rounds should they qualify they could get stronger as the season progresses. An outside bet to reach the final perhaps depending on the draw for the Semi Finals.
Leitrim Daily Prediction: 2nd in Group A – Finalists
Ballinamore Sean O’Heslins
Manager: Dominic Corrigan (Second Season)
Captain: Wayne McKeon
SFC Titles: 20 (Last in 1990)
2019: Finalists, 1st in 6 Team Group
Last years beaten finalists Ballinamore Sean O’Heslin’s will be looking to take that final step this season. Although they top the Senior Championship’s roll of honour with 20 wins, this year marks a full three decades since they last lifted the Dick Ellis Cup in 1990.
A resurgent Ballinamore side last year created a real buzz of anticipation around last year’s championship. An unbeaten run through their round robin group and victories over Drumreilly and Mohill saw them reach just their third county final in that 30 year period. In that game Glencar/Manor proved to be a hurdle too far for the third year in a row albeit by just a single point after extra time, a far tighter affair than the Semi Final and Quarter Final defeats of 2017 & 2018.
New additions to the squad certainly indicate a new generation of footballers coming through to senior level in the town with James Honeyman, Eoghan Shanley and Senan Harte taking part in their first Senior campaigns with the club.
One of the main talking points of last year’s final was the first half dismissal of centre back Donal Feely, but the former county player will not play any part in the championship this year as he’s currently working in Canada with no plans to feature for the club this term.
With the experience of Dominic Corrigan at the helm for a second season, the experience of captain Wayne McKeon, Shane Moran and the McGovern brothers as well as up and exciting young players such as Tom Prior & Honeyman they are correctly installed as favourites to return to the top of the pile in September’s final. An end to 30 years of hurt for Ballinamore Sean O’Heslins. They should be bringing the Championship trophy back to Ballinamore this season.
Leitrim Daily Prediction: 1st in Group A, Champions
Manager: Paddy Dowd (First Season)
SFC Titles: 1 (1931)
2019: Quarter Finalists, 4th in 6 Team Group
A team backboned by players in their mid to late 30’s should have no right to still be competitive in Senior football but Drumreilly’s aging stars continue to roll back the years, time after time, to make an impact at this level.
As Melvin Gaels found to their cost, in last year’s group stages, the Drumreilly men are always capable of launching a secret ambush and taking more fancied sides by surprise.
With a limited enough selection Drumreilly will need everyone fit and available to compete. John McKeon, James & Mickey Holohan, Raymond Fee, Dylan Maguire & Dylan McCabe will carry most of the weight if that opportunity to scalp a big fish presents itself.
Much will depend on the fitness of another club veteran, Declan Maxwell, who it appears might not be available until the later stages of the championships. It’s possibly a stroke of luck for them that their clash with Allen Gaels will not be played until the final round of the group. The winners will get a free roll in the Quarters while defeat could spell trouble for either side.
Leitrim Daily Prediction: 4th in Group B, Quarter Final
Fenagh St. Caillin’s
Manager: Joe Flynn Jr (First Season)
Captain: Donal Wrynn
SFC Titles: 5 (Last in 1932)
2019: Won Relegation Playoff, 6th in 6 Team Group
There’s a few interesting ways to look at where Fenagh St. Caillin’s sit in the grand scheme of things ahead of this season’s championship.
On paper you have a tight knit squad brimming with inter county talent such as Ryan & Riordan O’Rourke, Donal Wrynn, Jack Gilheaney and Oisin McLoughlin and plenty more individal talent on that conveyor belt in the near future.
Alternatively, you have a small rural club who haven’t won the Dick Ellis Cup, named after one of their most famous sons and families, in almost a century and since 2007 have had only one crack at senior level, coming in last year’s disappointing campaign with only 3 victorys in the W column.
One of those was a single point victory over Drumreilly, where in truth a bizarre late defensive mistake led to Drumreilly losing the game rather than Fenagh winning it. The others facile victories in a poor relegation playoff series with Dromahair & Gortletteragh.
Finally you can throw some manager upheavel with the announcement of clubman Bobby O’Rourke, his subsequent departure and the arrival of Joe Flynn Jnr who had parted ways with his own club St. Mary’s late last year can’t have helped preparations, although that’s likely to be old news after months off due to the pandemic lockdown.
The luck of the draw pitting St. Mary’s as opponents in the opening game this weekend may be either an opportunity to settle old scores or a unnecessary distraction Flynn won’t have wanted quite so early in this campaign.
Despite the depth of individual talent the realities of being a small rural club with a limited selection may be the biggest problem here. Any injuries to their main man will be compounded by lack of alternatives. Should have enough about them to survive although it may take a playoff to do so.
Leitrim Daily Prediction: 5th in Group A, Retain Senior Status
Glencar / Manorhamilton
Manager: Sean Boylan (First Season)
SFC Titles: 7 (Last in 2019)
2019: Finalists, 1st in 6 Team Group
It’s hard to know which Glencar/Manor will present itself this time around, the retirement of James Glancy & Pat Gilmartin will be hard felt by the champions, not helped by the loss of James Rooney to Canada.
There will still be enough firepower in the squad to cause problems for any team in the competition. Last year’s captain and match winning scorer Conor Dolan will be ably joined by Evan Sweeney, Adrian Croal as well Brian ‘Bruno’ McDonald under the watchful eye of Sean Boylan.
The former club goalkeeper is no stranger to championship success himself and will be eager to pick up from where Shane Ward and Kieran Fox left off last year.
One unexpected factor which might affect preparations this season might be the success of Manor Rangers in the re-arranged Sligo / Leitrim Superleague. In a normal year the club would be on their summer break but with a few dual code players involved they would be forgiven for being distracted on their run-in to what would be their first ever Superleague title.
They would be expected to top their group in what on paper appears to be the more manageable side of the draw. It will create some issues with tough opponents waiting regardless of finishing position in the group stage.
Leitrim Daily Prediction: 1st in Group B, Semi Final
Manager: Mal Guckian (Fourth Season)
Captain: James Flynn
SFC Titles: 0 (First Time Entered)
2019: Intermediate Champions, Promoted
It’s exciting times around the new boys at this level with all eyes on their first ever championship clash at Senior level with the visit of Melvin Gaels to Leitrim Village on Saturday evening.
It’s been a long 23 year wait for Leitrim’s newest existing club to reach the heedy heights of the Senior Football Championship but after last year’s success at Intermediate level they step up to the top table.
Boasting a backbone of players with intercounty experience gleaned between the county footballers and hurlers in recent seasons Mal Guckian’s charges will be one of the most fancied promoted sides in a few years.
Captain James Flynn and his goalkeeping brother Brendan have some experience at this level having won the Dick Ellis Cup as members of St. Mary’s in 2013. Aidan Flynn, David Bruen and David Regan will provide pace and an eye for a score while the Moreton brothers of Colm, Liam, Enda and Donal will provide a bit of steel in a young side.
While not strictly speaking in his novice year, Donal Casey missed out on last season due to injury but is a bright prospect at centre back or midfield for the Leitrim Village side. Matthew Earley, free from Connacht Rugby commitments this summer & Aaron Aldridge may also make an impact.
The new boys could be a reasonable bet for a Semi Final spot depending on the outcome of their mid table clashes and their last eight opposition but a solid first campaign from the new boys expected.
Leitrim Daily Prediction: 3rd in Group B, Quarter Final
Manager: James Phelan (Second Season)
Captain: Emlyn Mulligan
SFC Titles: 7 (Last in 2012)
2019: Semi Finalists, 3rd in 6 Team Group
The Kinlough men will feel they hit the jackpot with the group draw, local rivals Glencar / Manor will bring some excitment and a real challenge and they will be expected to take victories over all the other sides in the opening rounds.
Much will depend on the impact upfront of captain Emlyn Mulligan, Darragh Rooney, Killian McGloin and youngster Caolan Clancy who burst on the scene last year. Mulligan who’s arguable lost his trademark pace advantage proved in the last 8 clash with St. Mary’s last year that his footballing brain is as sharp as ever, being at the heart of everything the northerners created on that day.
Veteran goalkeeper Gareth Phelan should feature between the sticks and will be eager not to finish his senior career on a dismissal from last season’s semi final defeat.
Phelan’s brother, James , enters his second season in charge of the team and will be looking to push on from a fine freshman season in the role.
The order of fixtures would appear to favour Phelan’s side and they could have three wins on the board before they play their neighbours and get a bonus week’s rest ahead of a Quarter Final which should give them an edge there, might struggle to reach a decider though.
Leitrim Daily Predictions: 2nd in Group B, Semi Final
Manager: Liam Keenan (Second Season)
SFC Titles: 7 (Last in 2017)
2019: Semi Finalists, 2nd in 6 Team Group
Liam Keenan returns to the fold to guide a solid Mohill side through this years championship. With plenty of experience in the white hot battle of inter county and club football shared between the likes of Keith Beirne, Shane Quinn & Domhnall Flynn coupled with the speed of Oisin Madden Mohill will have enough about them to worry any team in the competition.
It will be interested to see how they bounce back after last season’s disappointment at exiting the championship at the semi final stage to eventual winners Sean O’Heslins. But a heavy defeat to Glencar/Manor may be more telling about how vunerable Mohill might be when key players aren’t available or concentration levels slip.
Alan McLoughlin, Jordan Reynolds & Alan Armstrong will be eager to contribute significantly to the teams overall performances also.
The 2015 & ’17 Champions should have enough strength in depth to comfortably escape their group although it hasn’t been dubbed the Group of Death for no reason. The effort required to emerge from that group and a physical and battling clash with Aughawillan last up on the fixture list could drain the legs enough to mean disappointment at Quarter Final stage.
Leitrim Daily Predictions: 3rd in Group A, Quarter Final
St. Mary’s Kiltoghert
Manager: Denis Connaughton (First Season)
Captain: Conor Farrell
SFC Titles: 5 (Last in 2013)
2019: Quarter Finalists, 2nd in 6 Team Group
Two excellent minor championship winning teams in 2018 and 2019, add in a scattering of U20 county players and all mixed together by the experienced hand of former Longford Manager Denis Connaughton is a recipe that Carrick fans hope will rise through the summer and taste just right at the end of September.
With some fantastic moments in the 2019 Championship, St. Mary’s did look like the real deal in places but inconsistency and a lack of experience in closing out their only really tight game proved costly and honestly from losing that half time seven point lead in the Aughawillan group game they never looked like mounting a championship bid.
The belief that seemed to ooze from a young, mobile, free scoring forward line in the first two victories evaporated and they were a spent force when Melvin Gaels put them out of their misery in the Quarter Final.
On the same basis as Dublin dominating the All Ireland on the basis of population, St. Mary’s have a choice of the lions share of the counties residents. This hasn’t translated into victories with only 6 county titles on the board for the county town side. (including Sheemore Gaels in 1974)
The real benefit of appointing Denis Connaughton to the role may not be felt this year due to the Covid impared preparations and this year might be just a little early in their evolution together. There are a number of future Senior Championships in this group if they can keep them together in club colours.
Their ambitions should be a semi final place as a minimum, but it may be just a step too far this time around.
Leitrim Daily Predictions: 4th in Group A, Quarter Final