(Via Hoganstand – http://www.hoganstand.com)
Captain Fantastic Declan Darcy
Aims to deliver Connacht crown for Leitrim’s long suffering support
Leitrim face into Sunday’s Connacht Championship clash with Galway happy at last that the ghosts of past defeats have been laid to rest. Last summer the men in green and gold achieved their first Championship victory over Galway in 47 years and with that particular fence now removed they feel optimistic a similar triumph can be achieved, come Sunday afternoon.
Native Dublin man Declan Darcy personifies the new era of optimism in Leitrim football. Gone are the days of ’moral victories’ and automatic elimination in the first round. Instead Darcy speaks of a new era in Leitrim football, an era where talk of Connacht titles are backed up by corresponding achievements on the field.
At 24 Darcy can still be considered a young player with many years of top class football in front of him but he has the experience of six years as an intercounty football to draw on and a natural maturity and confidence that has seen him recently become the team captain, making him one of the youngest skippers in top flight football.
Yes as the Aughawillan clubman points out, youth is one of the strongest elements in the present Leitrim set up. Darcy is one of the veterans on the side. “The team we have now have played together for a few years but they are still very young. I am only 24 but I am one of the most experienced players on the panel. Gerry Flanagan is the oldest player at 30 and I am one of the players next in line after that so there is a lot of time left in the side, we are very optimistic about the future”, he says.
This year already Leitrim have got over one major hurdle, defeating Roscommon in the first round, reversing successive defeats by the primrose and blue over the past summers. For captain Darcy the victory showed a vital quality he always knew his team possessed.
“The players really believed in themselves and are willing to fight until the very end. It was this attitude that saw us defeat Galway last year and it kept us going against Roscommon and we ended up winning both games in the closing stages”. Although long connected with Leitrim. Declan Darcy was born and brought up in Dublin. Living in Sandymount, Darcy played underage football locally but with both his mother, Philomena and father Frank from Leitrim, it was hardly surprising he would develop an affinity with the west.
In the past Frank had played with Aughawillan, travelling the 100 or so odd miles to north Leitrim and right up to an age when most players had hung up their boots. As a teenager Declan started wearing the club colours. At 17 he was already staking a regular place on the Senior team, happy to get the opportunity to play football at that level. Despite his youth, Darcy survived and prospered at the Senior grade and it wasn’t long before his performances brought him intercounty recognition with his selection on the Leitrim Minor and Under 21 teams preceding a call up to the Senior squad.
Training in Dublin during the week Declan still makes the journey across the Shannon on weekends to play for either club or county. It takes a lot of time and sacrifice but he is fully prepared to make the effort. Aughawillan are a progressive club which impressed the young Dublin lad from the moment he joined them. They have regularly won county titles and played in the All-Ireland club Championships, the atmosphere was warm and friendly and welcoming with committed players and officials.
Although well known these known these days as a half back, Darcy started out as a half forward and in that position he made his Senior debut for Leitrim against Fermanagh in the National League in 1988. It was not until the following year he made the switch back to the half back line, where he has remained since.
The first major success with Aughawillan arrived in the shape of a county title in ’89, the ’Willies’ overcoming old rivals and near neighbours Ballinamore in the county decider. Since then two more county medals have been added to the collection. Describing the set up as ’a little scattered’ when he first played for Leitrim, Darcy has since observed a major improvement in the way the team play, and this improvement he attributes to a new-found self belief and confidence.
“Self belief is very important for every team and the management has a lot to do with installing that into players. The previous manager of Leitrim, P.J Carroll was excellent for us because he helped to get us more organised and to believe an ourselves more and the present coach John O’Mahony had added to that and made our approach more profession in everything including training, the preparation for the games, the tactics we are going to use. John reached an All-Ireland final himself so he known what is required to get that far”.
An Intercounty player himself for the past six years, Darcy knows all about the sacrifices and the commitments to training, the social events that have to be knocked off the diary, the tough training schedules, in short the pursuit of a professional lifestyle in an amateur sport and realises only those totally dedicated reach the top. The Leitrim training camp is roughly divided in half between the home based players and those Dublin with both strands joining for combined training sessions at weekends and the odd night in Kells. The fact that the squad often train well over a hundred miles apart does not unduly worry the team captain.
“It is something that might affect some teams who didn’t know each other but the nucleus of our team has been together for four or five years now, we know each other very well, so training in different parts of the country doesn’t affect us as much as other teams because of that”. At the start of the National League campaign the Aughawillan player was given the job of captain, a heavy burden, some might say, for a 24 year old but the weight of responsibility sits lightly on his shoulders and if anything he is relishing his new role, seeing it as another way of boosting the team’s prospects.
“I was delighted to be appointed because I see it as a huge honour to lead this team but I am aware I must play my own game and do the job I am supposed to do and try and lead by example”. Leitrim delighted their fans with the first round success over Roscommon, so long their conquerors, but they are not getting carried away by the euphoria that prevailed after that match. The old Roscommon jinx may have been buried but a Galway team, he knows, can never be taken lightly and it is with the utmost caution Leitrim approach the game in Carrick-on-Shannon.
Last summer’s victory over the Tribesmen was undoubtedly a giant step forward for Leitrim (if only for psychological reasons) but for Declan Darcy the first real big breakthrough came with victory in the inaugural All-Ireland ’B’ Championship in 1991. “The ’B’ title was very good for us because it was very important for the team to win something, it was a huge step forward and it brought the team closer together and improved morale. There was no success in Leitrim before so it was important to win a trophy”.
Leitrim go into the match against Galway with an impressive win in Division Two of the National Football League behind them. in their campaign they lost only two games to Meath and, by a single point, to Cork and only ended up missing out on promotion by a point. But the Aughawillan player knows Leitrim players have to work extra hard to shake off the old image of perennial if gallant losers. Most people wouldn’t consider Leitrim for Connacht title but we know ourselves we are well capable of winning it and I suppose it is up to us to go our and prove we can do it. There is a positive attitude among the players and one thing I have learned in football is that attitude is very important”.
As to the state of Connacht football? “Some would say the standard of Connacht football has dropped a lot but I doubt if football in the province is any easier than elsewhere. Ulster football was regarded as poor until the success of Down in ’91, it was just the way people perceived it. Any team that comes down to Carrick to play us with this attitude will have another thing coming to them”.
Written by the Hogan Stand Magazine
1st July ’94