By Mike Fitzpatrick
A capacity crowd was on hand at M’stros Restaurant in the Bronx Saturday for Leitrim Football Club’s annual dinner dance. It was a night of celebration for the Leitrim players and for the coaching and administrative staffs. But what exactly were Leitrim celebrating?
Let’s take a brief look back upon their glorious year of triumph. Starting the season on a victorious note, Leitrim swept their rivals aside in the John Joe Cassidy Memorial seven-a-side tournament. Having a relatively comfortable run toward the final in the deciding game, Leitrim came up against a sturdy Longford side, fresh from victory in the Florida Seven’s tournament. Leitrim held on, however, and pushed past their rivals to capture the trophy for the second successive year.
Leitrim opened the regular season with a draw versus Cork, followed by a resounding 15-point triumph over Cavan. A 6-point victory over Roscommon followed, but what happened next stunned the Leitrim players and supporters. An on-form Donegal side blasted three goals and 13 points past Leitrim and eventually won the game by 11 points, Leitrim’s heaviest defeat in years. The loss also brought to an end their 14-game unbeaten streak.
Another morale-blowing defeat against a surprisingly on-form Stamford side gave the critics something more to chew on, though Leitrim’s comfortable victory over Tyrone shoved any criticism aside as they set forth upon retaining the Senior football title.
Beating Westmeath by 6 points set Leitrim back on course and into the quarterfinals where a fiery Monaghan side awaited. In a game where they entered as favorites, Leitrim struggled against the dominating Monaghan team and ended up drawing the game.
Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter
Then along came a young man by the name of Kieran McDonald. McDonald and Marty McKibben were introduced for the replay and despite an excellent performance by Monaghan, an expertly taken point from Paul Hughes sealed the tie for Frank Brady’s men.
Drawn versus the efficiency machine that was Donegal in the semifinal, Leitrim were touted as being the severe underdog. A 6-point victory for Leitrim followed and despite a stirring finish from Donegal in the final quarter of the game it was to be Leitrim’s game and a final showdown versus Stamford ensued.
Kevin O’Brien starred for Leitrim in the final, and though Stamford marked Kieran McDonald extremely heavily, it was O’Brien who knocked in one goal and five points. Leitrim were champions again. The team of the 1990s under the expert guidance of Frank Brady and his fellow officers such as Danny Doohan, Frank Dwyer, Tony Gormley and Joe Taylor and Noel Heron had won yet another championship.
But what about the night in question? Opening with stirring renditions of Amhrán na bhFiann and the Star Spangled Banner, an atmosphere of gaiety enveloped the entire room. A well-received speech from GAA President Monty Moloney in which he praised Leitrim’s contribution to the New York GAA scene opened the proceedings, followed by acting emcee Frank Brady’s spoken tribute to club captain Neville Dunne, guest of honor Mike Brosnan and an emotional homage to the sadly departed Leitrim stalwart Joe McInerney, who died last October.
McInerney had been an integral part of Leitrim’s successes over the years, being part of the set-up from the early ’50s, right up until his death. In honor of "Gentleman Joe," the club have set up an annual award to be given to any individual who has given great service to the club. The first recipient of the Joe McInerney Memorial Award was Leitrim native and close associate of the late Joe, Christy Creamer. Christy emotionally accepted the award and paid tribute to his dearly departed friend, saying, "If there’s football being played in that stadium up there, you can be sure that Leitrim will have a team."
Mike Brosnan, long an outstanding servant of the club, was a popular choice as guest of honor, and following this, all the players were given their championship plaques by Monty Moloney. The night was an outstanding success a and it’s certain that Brady and Co. will hope to be celebrating again this time next year.