Highlights on Off The Ball

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Highlights on Off The Ball

'Leitrim were in the zone that day'

Listen to the full interview with Declan Darcy and John O'Mahony above via the podcast player Un...

'Leitrim were in the zone...

'Leitrim were in the zone that day'

Listen to the full interview with Declan Darcy and John O'Mahony above via the podcast player

Unfortunately I was only 5-years-old so the memories have either faded or disappeared. But it's one of those things you can eulogize about as a proud Leitrimite in the Big Smoke.

On July 24th 1994, my home county of Leitrim celebrated arguably its greatest day as captain Declan Darcy and Tom Gannon - the man who lifted the Nestor Cup for Leitrim in 1927 - lifted a trophy which confirmed Leitrim as the kings of Connacht football.

Led by manager and Mayoman John O'Mahony and staffed with a talented group of players including the likes of Darcy, Seamus Quinn and Micky Quinn, the team achieved something which is still remembered fondly from Manorhamilton to Carrick on Shannon and Carrigallen to Mohill.

Tonight on Off The Ball we went down memory lane with O'Mahony and Darcy who reminisced fondly about how the county with the smallest population took a province by storm in a burgeoning decade of football for the county.

In the years leading up to 1994 and in a vaguely similar vein to the Tipperary renaissance, Leitrim had won an All Ireland B Championship (1991) and a Connacht U21 title in 1991, something which Darcy was part of.

"We had a great group of players and there was a bit of momentum in the underage structures. Like any county when they get a reasonably good crop of players who are committed, anything can happen," said Darcy.

Great scenes for the people of Leitrim ©Tom Honan/INPHO

"For Leitrim's players, to have the ability to go out and beat a Galway team or a Mayo team was huge. To have that in your back pocket, that knowledge and that belief is critical. To get it at underage level gives you the platform to push on with the correct structures and I think that's exactly what happened to us. We got that confidence at underage level."

En route to that glorious day at Hyde Park, Leitrim had to overcome a number of daunting obstacles - namely Roscommon in the quarter-final, Galway in the semi-final and Mayo in the decider.

Darcy credited O'Mahony's expertise with harnessing the potential built in the preceding years and delivering success.

"It was a wonderful adventure because everyone from the team to the county board to the supporters and the people of Leitrim all bought into it. That would rank up there with anything else I've achieved in management," said O'Mahony, who also spoke about the mental and psychological side of the triumph.

Born to Leitrim parents, Darcy also spoke about why he made the switch from Dublin to Leitrim in the 1980s and had interesting thoughts about whether attracting second generation Leitrimers is the way to go.

"It did annoy me no end in my time with Leitrim when everybody talking about Leitrim talked as if it was a disadvantaged county. I don't agree with that philosophy at all to be honest with you. I used to hate it when I played for Leitrim there was always this condescending comment - 'isn't it great Leitrim are doing well?' But you know we had a fine group of players. Good as any group really," said Darcy, who was just 24 when he lifted the Nestor Cup for Leitrim and believes the county can still achieve success when we get a similar golden generation again.

O'Mahony also spoke about the training regime with the Dublin-based members of the 1994 Leitrim panel and the unity of purpose at that time from the backroom team to the supporters.

Darcy and O'Mahony also spoke about the final which saw Leitrim go down to a very early goal against Mayo. But the players were never flustered by that setback said Darcy.  

"We were in the zone that day and we'd been put in a position by John [O'Mahony] that this was our day and it was there for the taking," said Darcy, adding that the Mayo goal in fact galvanized Leitrim, even if the players had to fight the "fear of winning as opposed to the fear of losing". 

O'Mahony also revealed that an open-top bus was booked in advance of the final in order to emphasize Leitrim's new-found culture of winning, describing it as a "wonderful era for Leitrim football".

Darcy also spoke about how O'Mahony kept the team grounded in the wake of the Connacht triumph, with partying kept to a minimum.

And of course winning Connacht meant a rare appearance at Croke Park for Leitrim's footballers with Dublin as the opposition - a moment beautifully encapsulated in this famous poem by fellow Leitrim man Seamus O'Rourke...

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