Mickey Graham factor adds extra layer of intrigue to Longford-Leitrim derby

Longford captain Paddy Cox expects his former Mullinalaghta boss and now Leitrim coach is busily plotting the downfall of the neighbours

Leitrim or Longford winning the Tailteann Cup, now that would be up there with the miracle of Mullinalaghta.

A miracle is probably stretching it but for the purposes of drawing a straight line between Sunday’s Round 2 opponents we’ll stick with the Mullinalaghta connection.

Mickey Graham, who managed the tiny Longford half parish club to that famous provincial win six years ago, is coaching Leitrim now. And given how Graham also managed Cavan to an unlikely Ulster title triumph four years ago, he’ll be licking his lips now at the prospect of another potential title triumph against the head with the minnow Connacht county.

Sunday’s Pearse Park meeting is already a significant local derby, the biggest intercounty fixture of the year for GAA die-hards around north Longford and south Leitrim. The Graham factor brings an extra layer of intrigue, particularly as he remains close to Longford captain Paddy Fox, one of the stars of that Leinster club final triumph in 2018.


Fox was only in his first year with Longford that season and owes much to Graham for his accelerated development around that time.

“I was only talking to him there the other night,” said Fox of Graham.

“One of my clubmates was getting married. He was at the wedding. I’d be good friends with Mickey so I would be chatting to him often enough. Even when we played them in the league, I met him before the game and was chatting to him for 10 or 15 minutes. I’ve a good relationship with Mickey and if you’re ever in Cavan during the summer he’d always be knocking around to meet you for a pint or something.”

When the sides met at the start of March in Round 5 of the league, Longford won by six points. Fox was in his usual position in the full-back line and spied Graham afterwards.

“I don’t think he was too happy,” smiled Fox. “He’ll have a few plans for us.”

Longford were beaten by Kildare, many people’s tournament favourites in their Group 1 opener, while Leitrim took care of Waterford. The bigger picture is that the second tier competition has been a godsend for both counties whose season, under the old championship system, would have been lucky to stretch to a second game in the qualifiers.

Fox was at the games when Longford beat Monaghan and Derry in the qualifiers but they were typically one-off encounters. The Tailteann Cup brings guaranteed games.

“Even that year we beat Monaghan, we still didn’t make an All-Ireland quarter-final or anything like that,” he said. “We are good in one-off games, Longford, we can pull a big result out but we’re trying to get consistency where you regularly get those results.

“So I think something like this, the Tailteann Cup group, you’re consistently playing teams at your level, you build a bit of momentum and try to build on that again. Then if you could win the Tailteann Cup, you see Westmeath and Meath who did it, they’re both Division 2 teams now and they’re going to try to build on it rather than just going after a one-big performance situation and not really getting a run of it beyond that.”

Fox’s personal tale is an interesting one too. Back-to-back cruciate knee ligament injuries delayed his intercounty debut until he was 26. Graham’s sage counsel when in charge of the club helped at that time too.

“He was just the perfect manager for us at the perfect time, for all kinds of reasons,” said Fox. “I suppose he put me in the shop window then, because you were consistently playing in big games. It worked out for me. I didn’t do too bad so far anyway, we’ll see how this year goes!”