Fergal McTague, Aidan Flynn and Paddy Maguire. James Crombie/INPHO
lovely leitrim

Last-minute winners, attacking football and promotion in sight - Leitrim on the rise

A win against London on Sunday might seal Division 3 football for Terry Hyland’s side.

DEPENDING ON OTHER results this weekend, a win for Leitrim against London in Carrick-on-Shannon could seal promotion for Terry Hyland’s side to Division 3.

It would also mean a place in the league final and first trip to Croke Park for the county since the 2006 Tommy Murphy Cup final, when they lost to Louth by 3-14 to 1-11.

The county with the smallest population in Ireland finished eight points outside of the promotion places in the bottom tier in 2018, but under new boss Hyland have made significant strides in a short period of time. 

Across all four divisions, only Louth have scored more than Leitrim in the opening four games of the league campaign. Leitrim play a positive brand of football, proving it’s possible for lower-tier counties to carry out a rise in fortunes without resorting to a defensive system.

The Leitrim team warm down with the final score from the penalty shoot out on the scoreboard The Leitrim team warm down after their FBD League penalty shoot-out loss to Mayo. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Star forward Emlyn Mulligan is closing in on a long-awaited first appearance at HQ in the Leitrim jersey.

The sharpshooter was late rejoining the panel this season, afforded an extra break due to his wedding and honeymoon, but the Connacht side powered on in the absence of their highest-profile player.

He didn’t appear in the opening two games and arrived off the bench with six minutes to play against Antrim and five minutes left in the win over Limerick.

It’s been a team effort as Mulligan works his way back to full fitness, but Ryan O’Rourke’s form in attack has been sensational. The 22-year-old from Fenagh has racked up 3-16 in his four games to date, including 2-7 in the opener against Wexford.

Ryan O'Rourke and Ryan Wylie Leitrim star Ryan O'Rourke. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

He lashed home a late goal to help Leitrim to an important round 2 victory over Wicklow Aughrim, in a game where he was double-marked for the majority of the 70 minutes. 

Hyland’s side have made a habit of pulling off late wins so far this season. It’s a good sign that they’ve been able to find themselves on the right side of several tight games.

Following their 13-point thumping of Wexford, O’Rourke’s goal handed Leitrim a narrow four-point win over Wicklow and each of their last two games (against Antrim and Limerick) have been won by a single point.

Antrim led by six points at one stage in a bruising encounter at Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada, but the hosts fought back and Domhnaill Flynn held his nerve to nail a stoppage-time winner from a free.

Last Sunday in Kilmallock it was Gary Plunkett who was hero. One of three Plunkett brothers on the team, he broke Limerick hearts with the winning score from play in the 73rd minute as the sides were deadlocked at 0-12 apiece.

They haven’t been as heavily reliant on O’Rourke in recent games, with 10 players contributing to the scoreboard last weekend. 

Confidence is high in the Leitrim camp with promotion from the basement tier within their sights. Those morale-boosting late wins have only served to boost their self-belief further. 

Terry Hyland Leitrim manager Terry Hyland. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Hyland must take enormous credit for the set-up he’s put in place. Their use of GPS trackers is an example of how standards have been raised, while a business consultant, Robert Moorehouse, has been brought in to work with the squad off the field.

With 18 players based in Dublin, coach Jason O’Reilly conducts a mid-week training session for those players in Blanchardstown IT. By doing the small things extremely well, Leitrim have a happy camp and they’re seeing the fruits of their labour on the field. 

Reaching the league final would be important for the county financially and may extend Hyland’s budget for his championship preparations. When you’re operating in the lower tiers and spending a considerable amount on travel expenses, every extra cent counts.

Ciaran Deely’s London will arrive into Carrick-on-Shannon this weekend seeking to upset their promotion hopes.

Hyland is a promotion specialist, having guided Cavan to promotion from Division 3 and 2 in the past. Beat the Exiles on Sunday and he could complete the set. 

Bernard Jackman joins Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey to discuss the backlash to World Rugby’s league proposal, captaincy styles, sports psychology and more in The42 Rugby Weekly.

The42 Rugby Weekly / SoundCloud

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