Leitrim boss Terry Hyland focused on survival ahead of Down clash
DOWN could edge a step closer to promotion on Saturday night, but Leitrim are determined to ensure any celebrations are left on ice as they fight for their lives at the other end of the Division Three table.
Victory at Pairc Esler would move the Mournemen on to nine points, leaving them within touching distance of a return to Division Two heading into a final game against basement-dwellers Louth.
With table-topping Cork looking nailed on to go back up, Down and Longford lead the chasing pack. But at the bottom it is Tipperary and Leitrim who hover precariously above the Wee County.
And ensuring they don’t drop straight back down to Division Four is all that matters to Leitrim boss Terry Hyland as they prepare for Saturday night’s clash in Newry.
“That’s our priority,” he said.
“Even if we went up to Down and won it mightn’t even save us anyway, though of course we’ll be going there looking for the points. Down have Leitrim and Louth left so they’re probably thinking ‘lookit, we have the two guys at the bottom here’, but it’s about survival as far as we’re concerned and we still have that to play for.
“Even if we beat Down we could still end up having to beat Tipperary anyway. That’s just the way it’s worked out.”
The last time Leitrim ventured up to Ulster was on the opening day of the League when they should have taken maximum points against Derry.
They eventually left Celtic Park with a share of the spoils after a late Oak Leaf fightback, but Hyland insists they can take confidence from that performance against Rory Gallagher’s men.
“We always tell lads playing football, whether you’re playing at home or playing away, the stage is the same; it’s about the performance. That’s what we’ll be looking for,” said the former Cavan boss.
“We have been performing quite well for 50-60 minutes in games and not seeing them out. The results probably bear no resemblance to the performances – the Derry game the first day, we probably could’ve won that one. Even the Offaly and Longford games we would’ve felt there was something in it for us after 50-60 minutes – we just didn’t see it out.
“That’s the learning curve for these lads. They were so long in Division Four, you come to this time of year and if you’re not in the promotion hunt, then the last two or three games become dead rubbers.
“Where in Division Three you’re either playing to go up or stay in the division. That’ll help them because it means there’s more meaningful games ahead of the summer campaign.”
And, having waited so long to escape the fourth tier, Hyland admits it would be a “big setback” if they were to drop straight back down.
“The last thing you want is to become a yo-yo team, so it would be good for them to consolidate and stay there,” he said.
“It’s a big ask for Leitrim - there’s probably four or five lads playing their first year of county football, they’re relatively young and then you’re playing up in a higher League too.
“The opportunity is there for them in the last couple of games. If it doesn’t happen in the Down game, they’ll have the opportunity against Tipperary which I think will be the bigger one of the two.”