While Donegal celebrated ecstatically following their recent All Ireland victory, the north Leitrim village of Kinlough was equally jubilant when their senior footballers took the Leitrim GAA senior championship for the first time in 14 years on Sunday, against neighbours Glencar/Manorhamilton on a score of 2-7 to 0-7 in Pairc Sean MacDiarmada, Carrick-on-Shannon.
There was a great welcome home for the victorious Gaels on Sunday evening as they arrived back after winning the title and depriving Manor of what would have been a fifth title on the trot. Large crowds turned out at Glenade and all the way as the victors toured through Kinlough and out to Tullaghan. There were also great celebrations at the local Community Centre; Kinlough itself was festooned with flags, bunting and the babble of excited children welcoming home their heroes. More than one blue and white flag was also to be seen in nearby Bundoran and Ballyshannon. There was also the irony that both Donegal clubs were playing in respective first round championship games, while the Gaels had already won a county title, but such is the story of ‘Sam’ success.
It has been a remarkable couple of years for the Gaels - an Intermediate championship title in 2011 followed by a senior title the following year is rare, if not unique in Gaelic football. For team manager Billy Gavigan it has also been an unprecedented success story. Not alone has he guided Melvin Gaels over the past two years; in 2010 he led Bundoran to their first Intermediate championship success since 1977.
Three championships in three years, in two counties, two provinces. A nice little notch on the belt. Mentors Liam Gilmartin and Aidan McGurran wealth of experience also ensured that the Gaels won their 7th senior championship which stretches back to 1959.
Billy said: “I just put them in the right direction, the experience I had from managing them before, I just put them in the right direction and they never looked back. The players have to do the work, they were willing to do it, they were willing to die for each other, so they were. You can only take a small, small bit of credit for the management because the players have to do the work for themselves.”
For Gaels player Thomas Lipsett also, it was particularly special as he married his sweetheart Donna Rogers in Rathmullan on Friday last, with many Mi-wadi’s consumed afterwards in the Silver Tassie Hotel. Winning years for the Gaels include 1959, 1960,1961,1962, 1965, 1998 and now 2012. And in winning the title, they brought an end to one of the greatest club runs ever in Leitrim, as Glencar/manor had won the title four years running in 2008,2009, 2010 and 2011 - another remarkable achievement in its own right.
As Prin Duignan said eloquently in Sunday’s match programme: “We hail these two great teams of the north, one of which seeks an honour never achieved before in Leitrim and either of which would grace Croke Park on St. Patrick’s Day and whether the Cup resides tonight near the Dartry hills between the Duff and the Drowes or makes its home again by the Bonet, Benbo and O’Donnell’s rock, let us salute the young men of this generation.”
Melvin Gaels: Gareth Phelan, Stephen Clancy, Fabian McMorrow, Shane Ryan, Paul McGurran, Paul Brennan, Donal Clancy, Stephen McGurran, Brendan Brennan (0-1), Conor Sheridan, Emlyn Mulligan (0-3), Colm McGowan (0-1), Jonathan Connolly, James Phelan (1-1), David McSharry. Subs: Peter McGowan (0-1) for McSharry (23 mins), Jesse McGuinness (1-0) for Connolly (50 mins), Colin Regan for S. Clancy (57 mins), Tom Lipsett for J. Phelan (62 mins).
Glencar/Manorhamilton: Gary Loughlin, Adrian O’Flynn, Paddy Maguire, Thomas McDonald, Pat Gilmartin, Kieran O’Flynn, Mark McGourty, Darren Sweeney, Fintan McGourty, Dominic Kelly, Colin Ryan, Gerry Hickey (0-1), Adrian Croal, Aaron Hickey (0-2), James Glancy (0-4). Subs: Shane Loughlin for A. O’Flynn (HT), Brian McDonald for Kelly (36 mins), Anthony McDonald for G. Hickey (39 mins), James Rooney for Ryan (50 mins), Michael Poinard for Gilmartin (59 mins).