Leitrim veteran Paddy Maguire feared that he would never play in Croke Park or be on a county team that gained promotion from Division 4. Terry Hyland’s side will become the first Leitrim team in 13 years to play at GAA headquarters, against Derry in the Division 4 title decider on March 30. Maguire is still pinching himself.
“It’s a great feeling; it’s unbelievable,” he told RTÉ. “It still hasn’t sunk in yet. There’s players here — Emlyn (Mulligan), Gary (Reynolds), and myself — who have been around the block a long time and we thought we’d never see this day and today, thankfully, it has come through and we’ll get a day on the big stage in Croke Park. I don’t think there’s one of us who has played in Croke Park yet, so it’s a great feeling.”
Their promotion, with two rounds to spare, and a 100% record are testament to the hard work that Leitrim have put in since Hyland was appointed, says Maguire.
“I’m delighted for all the supporters. I’m delighted, especially, for all the players. We’re at training now since last October and we’ve got recognition, finally. We’ve been trying to make this breakthrough for the last nine or 10 years and, finally, we’ve proved ourselves and we’re up in Division 3 next year.”
Maguire is keen that Leitrim don’t let up, now that one of their goals has been achieved. “We still have two more games to play and we’ll fight them to the very last and then we’ll look forward to Croke Park on the big day.
“As we said at the start, it’s step-by-step and Derry will be the next game and we’ll want to get a performance in that match. We’ll have to look at that performance again. I know it’s all about the result, but in two weeks’ time we’ll be really hitting the ground against Derry (in their group game on March 16).
“It’s only step six on the ladder and we’re meeting Derry in the final, so we’ll have to put a good performance in that, too.”
Reviewing yesterday’s win over London, in Avantcard Páirc Seán MacDiarmada, Maguire touched on just how difficult the team has made life for themselves in the opening halves of games. In all of their previous four wins, they were behind at half-time and three of those victories were only confirmed with additional-time scores.
It came a little easier to them against London, but their beginning was questionable again, admits Maguire. “We haven’t started well in the first-half at all this year and London really put it up to us in the first 10, 15, 20 minutes. It took us that goal to get settled into the game and once Shane got that goal, then lads started to find their feet.
“Conditions were heavy today, but I always knew we’d get our firm grasp and we’d take it in the second-half. But London, in fairness, put it up to us and it took us that while to get into the game.”