23:05 Thursday, 28 March 2019
The year is 1994.
Jackie’s Army is marching through USA 94 beating World Cup favourites Italy 1-0 at The Giant’s Stadium.
A Morgan Stanley executive coins the phrase ‘Celtic Tiger’ for the first time.
Riverdance is premiered to the world at the Eurovision Song Contest at the Point Theatre in Dublin. Paul Harrington and Charlie McGettigan win it once again for Ireland.
And Leitrim are winning the Connacht Championship for only the second time ever.
Some say that the Connacht championship win in 1994 was as good as an All-Ireland title. In some aspects it certainly seemed so.
Thousands of Leitrim men, women and children stayed on the pitch at Dr Hyde park for a full hour after the game.
Martin McHugh, who won an All-Ireland 2 years previously with Donegal, described shouting his head off for Leitrim and jumping about on the pitch with joy after the game:
In an era before the back-door or qualifiers, it was straight to Croke Park for Leitrim to face Dublin in an All-Ireland semi-final.
Well beaten on the day by 12 points, I wish I could describe the occasion to you. I wish I could tell you all about the journey to Dublin, the tea and sandwiches stop on the side of the road in Kinnegad, the men and women not seen at work until the Wednesday but I was still in nappies.
However, Leitrim Guardian Person of The Year Seamus O’Rourke captures what it meant for those not used to trips to Croke Park:
More Days Out
Pride restored in the county, All Ireland semi-finalists.
One would have hoped it was the first of many days out in the Big Shmoke, but alas, it would take another 12 years to get there again. This time it was playing for a competition that no longer exists – the Tommy Murphy Cup.
Not to belittle the competition winners, but when all was said and done it was a novelty competition for the “weaker” counties. Founded in 2004 and abolished in 2008, but it did give Leitrim another day out on Jones’ Road in 2006.
The Tommy Murphy Cup final between Leitrim and Louth was the curtain-raiser to one of the most infamous games ever played – the All-Ireland semi-final between Dublin and Mayo. That was the game remembered for “Hillgate” or “Mill at the Hill”. When Dublin led by 7 points with 20 minutes to go and blew it but it’s probably most remembered for one of the greatest game-winning scores from the boot of Ciaran McDonald.
One thing is for sure. It’s not a day remembered for a Leitrim win – a loss by 9 points.
More Than A Game
Leitrim is the least populated county in the country with 32,000 people – roughly the same as Bray.
It’s notoriety is restricted to a pub quiz type quirky fact of having no traffic lights which up until 2016 was true (In 2003, traffic lights were installed in Carrick-On-Shannon but were uninstalled again shortly after for reasons still unknown).
Some people still don’t believe Leitrim actually exists:
But the fact is – it does – and most of its population will be in Dublin on Saturday.
Leitrim returns to Croke Park for a Division 4 League Final with Derry. An day made possible by a riveting league campaign that seen an injury-time win over Limerick and promotion to division 3 with a win over London in Aventcard Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada on March 3rd.
It’s their first time on the sacred turf in 13 years.
To many, it looks like a game, to Leitrim its an occasion to behold:
Making The Trip
“There’ll be some crowd at it because we have 300 people coming from America alone,” Leitrim GAA Secretary, Attracta O’Reilly, told GAA.ie.
“I know loads who are coming from England too, they’re coming from everywhere.
“It’s absolutely brilliant, there’s a fantastic buzz in the county, just unreal. There isn’t a bus company down here that isn’t booked out.”
Last year over 1,500 people made the journey to America as the county scored their fourth win over New York at Gaelic Park.
5% of the population travelled across the pond. That’s 1 in every 20.
Will it be 1 in every 10 on Saturday? It feels likely.
From Manorhamilton to Mohill, Kinlough to Killtubrid, Carrigallen to Carrick-On-Shannon, the county will empty via car, bus and rail from the early hours of Saturday morning and they may not be seen back in the county again until at least Tuesday.
Throw in is at 3pm at Croke Park but it’s more than a game on Saturday.
It’s an opportunity to meet friends that have been lost to emigration and living the dream abroad, an occasion of comradery, a whole county coming together to support their team, an opportunity to dream that Leitrim won’t have to wait for another 13 years to see Croke Park.
An occasion to behold.
Dave Duke is the Presenter of “The Lift on iRadio with Dave & Fionnuala” – weekdays from 2:50 pm
He’s a native of Glenade in Co. Leitrim.
And he’ll be proudly wearing the green and gold in Croke Park this weekend.