Hop across the lake has Melvin Gaels in full sail
CONNACHT CLUB SFC Melvin Gaels (Leitrim) v St Brigid's (Roscommon):The Kinlough club turned to their Donegal neighbour for help to reverse their fortunes
THERE HAVE been years when Kinlough was more famous for its fishing than its football, and it could be argued that the north Leitrim village lies indecently close to the Donegal border. But the remarkable rise of Melvin Gaels from junior ranks to winning the senior championship in just two seasons is in part due to that proximity.
Two years ago, a delegation of Melvin Gaels men made the short drive over Lough Melvin and into neighbouring Bundoran to ask Billy Gavigan if he would consider taking over the team. Gavigan had just guided his local club to its first Donegal intermediate championship since 1977 but he stepped down shortly afterwards.
“Being honest, I didn’t know all that much about the team, even though they are fairly near to us,” Gavigan says. “But it was the best decision I made. I couldn’t have asked more from the Melvin Gaels lads. I always felt that good teams that bond well together are successful. ”
They believed him in spades. The Leitrim county final marked the completion of a stark reversal of fortune for Melvin Gaels. Under Gavigan, they won the intermediate title in their first season and reached the senior league final. This year they won the senior championship for the first time since 1998, bringing Glencar-Manorhamilton’s four year reign to an end.
“It is good for the county in general,” Gavigan says. “When a team wins the whole time, others get disillusioned so it is good to see teams coming through and it encourages other teams to come through.”
The north Leitrim club are specialists at coming out of the blue. Their 1998 championship bridged a gap of 33 years. Liam Gilmartin and Aidan Curran, selectors for Gavigan now, both played on that side. Colin Regan had an outstanding Leitrim career ahead of him then but his days in county colours were halted by a knee injury in 2010.
Perhaps the high point of the county final from a Kinlough perspective was the sight of Regan warming up with 15 minutes remaining in the game. His presence was vital: the one black spot of the day for Melvin Gaels was the loss of their captain David McSharry with a dislocated knee early in the second half. So Regan’s presence was vital.
“He was just able to slow the ball game down and control it for us,” Gavigan says.
“It was a brilliant moment for me personally,” Regan says of that 15-minute period. “I had played a few matches and I knew the knee was up to it. It wouldn’t have been the same if I didn’t get time on the field because that was my goal for the past two years. And it was 20 years since I won my first title with the club, the intermediate in 1992. So it was a nice stop-gap.”