After a demoralising League campaign that saw the County Minor team swamped in all four outings, Leitrim are hoping for much better things next Saturday when they take on Roscommon in the ESB Connacht Minor Championship Semi-Final in Hyde Park next Saturday at 5.45 pm.
Like the Ladies team last weekend heading to Castlebar, the Minors are hoping that they can put a win-less Provincial League campaign behind them and spring what would be regarded as one of the major surprises of this years championships.
Although 12 weeks will have passed from Leitrims last competitive outing, the hope is that the time in between will have been used to rejuvenate a minor team that lost its four games by an average of 18.75 points but has undoubted talent in its ranks.
There is also the prize of a place in the Connacht and All-Ireland Quarter-Finals after yet another revamp of the Provincial competition saw the championship revert to the traditional knock-out system.
However, the biggest task for Leitrim is getting the self-belief back in the squad, something that was definitely hit for the last game of the League against Mayo when five first choice players failed to travel for the game in Ballyhaunis.
Roscommon scored a 4-10 to 2-3 victory when the sides met in the Minor League in Boyle in March, a victory illuminated by 1-3 from Scott Oates.
In that game, Leitrim got the perfect start of a first minute goal from Conor Beirne but RoscommonÓgradually took over and scored an unanswered 2-2, the goals coming from Oates and the dangerous Shane Leydon.
Leitrim trailed 2-8 to 2-1 at the break, the second goal coming from an Aaron Hickey penalty and while the second half saw Leitrim hold the home team scoreless for the first ten minutes, Roscommon were just too strong as they eased home.
Any hopes that Roscommon will be over-confident for Saturday would seemed to be dashed by the comments of Roscommon Minor Manager Gary Wynne who is expecting a typical Leitrim/Roscommon clash and preparing his troops accordingly, particularly with the addition of Under 21 star Cathal Shine who will give Roscommon huge midfield presence.
The Roscommon Manager, much like his Leitrim counter-part Sean Logan, is not reading anything into the League meeting between the sides but there is no doubt that Roscommons confidence will be boosted by the result.
For Leitrim, there is no doubt the talent is there Aughawillan pair Shane Flanagan and Morgan Quinn are very highly rated as is captain Sean McWeeney from Aughnasheelin.
However, one would prefer to see Flanagan back in his natural centre-forward position and Quinn in his natural centre-back slot rather than the swap between the pair that occurred during some of the League games earlier this year.
Melvin Gaels Packie Hill also impressed for the Minors during the year while Glencar/Manors James OBrien and Aaron Hickey are highly rated prospects.
Eslins Conor Beirne is another player to watch while Conor McWeeney, Shane Ryan, Micheal McWeeney, Kevin Davey, Brian Mulvey, Keith Boyle, Thomas Cornyn, Declan Brennan and Ronan Kennedy will all be in contention for starting places.
Leitrims record in the Minor Championship has been poor over the past decade with the last victory coming back in 2002 when the Minors defeated Sligo to reach the Connacht Final.
Since then, there have been a few near misses, most notably two years ago when a late Sligo rally in Ballinamore denied Leitrim a place in the Quarter-Finals.
However, the Minors have struggled in the main although as Under 16s two years ago, this squad did put in a series of good performances in the Ted Webb and Fr Manning Cups.
It is reported that the Minors have shown much improved form in challenge matches in recent weeks, most notably against Armagh, but the odds are still very much against them for next Saturday.
In some ways, Leitrim are in the perfect position of no hype, no pressure and no expectations in what is Leitrims last chance of Connacht glory this year. Leitrim will need to raise their game quite a bit, get a good start and build on it to shock Roscommon on Saturday.
This full report is available thanks to the Leitrim Observer
– it s available in this weeks
27-Jun-09 by John Connolly – LeitrimObserver.ie