RAIN, HAIL OR SHINE Crossmolina’s Johnny Leonard is pictured in action against Corofin in the Connacht Club Championship six years ago.
Johnny be good
THURSDAY night and Johnny Leonard is at home in Crossmolina with his feet up. And deservedly so. When you’re 39 years young and are getting ready for your 12th and 13th county finals respectively you can afford to sit back, relax and take stock from time to time.
At this stage Johnny’s name is known the length and breadth of the county. He made his senior debut with Crossmolina as a fresh-faced teenager in June, 1985, terrorised defences through the 90s while sporting a moustache, but is clean-shaven now again and going strong with both the club’s senior and junior squads.
Next Sunday he’ll be in the full-forward line– his regular stomping ground – for his club’s second team against Killala in the county junior final. In the last eleven seasons he has won five county senior championship titles and an All-Ireland club medal in 2001. He has togged out and done the business over 170 times in the senior league and has more than 60 senior championship appearances. So why keep going? A short story to begin from Leonard himself.
“Thomas Jordan [senior manager] told me at the start of this year that he didn’t want to see me at training every night. He told me that if I was going well he’d take a look at me and that suited me perfect. I had a game with the juniors every weekend anyway and I was really enjoying my football.
“But I still went training every night,” chuckles Johnny. “In with the seniors is no joke when you’re my age but you get to know the lads that you can stick with and hold your own with. Anyway, the way that Jarlath Cunningham does the training it’s all about hunger and staying fresh. We’ve been winning games all year and there’s nothing better. We’re joint second in the league, we’re in the North Junior Final, and now we’re getting ready for the County Final. It’s been a great year.”
As you may have already guessed, Leonard is still enjoying his football. Nicknamed Johnny ‘Repp’ – after the former Dutch soccer star of the same name – he is Crossmolina to the core. He’s been on the bench with the club’s senior team all season, leaving it for just half an hour in Bangor back in April to score 2-2 and earn his team a draw. He also picked up a nasty knee injury that same evening but he won’t be bothering you with the details. He just keeps going.
“I’d love to have been in, to have been involved with the seniors against Ballina, but I’d played with the juniors the day before and at this stage the body isn’t able really for two games in two days,” he admits.
“It’s not as intense at junior level but when you’re playing you like to be at your best. Our juniors were lucky too that they lost no-one to the senior team this year. There’s a good relationship between Thomas Jordan and Padraig Syron [junior manager] and that’s really helped.
“Peadar Flynn was over our juniors last year and Padraig took over this year. He’s getting the best out of fellas. PJ Loftus is back in training now too and there’s a great atmosphere within the group. You’ve 40 lads up at training on a Tuesday and Friday night and you just can’t beat the numbers.”
IT is completely by design that Crossmolina are at the top table of Mayo football. Their club is run efficiently, their players are treated with the utmost respect, and the footballers respond with commitment and dedication of the highest effort. Men like Johnny Leonard wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The seniors have put in a mighty effort this year. The biggest secret is that they all came up together through the ranks, the likes of Michael Moyles, Joe Keane and Mac D...Ballaghaderreen are going to be the same way; they’ve won three U-21 titles in a row and had a lot of success together.
“Why would fellas go to another club when their own club is so successful? There’s great management within the Crossmolina club itself and they look after players very well. If we go out drinking we go out together, there’s no groups here and there. I can’t quite put my finger on it but it’s just a matter of the whole club pulling together.”
And that’s what Padraig Syron’s junior team has done this year. Leonard name-checks almost a dozen of his team-mates for their ability and positive attributes; they are mostly young, mixed in with a few veterans, and all have been reared on a diet of high achievement.
“At the start of the year I never thought I’d be involved in two county finals,” he concedes. “If we won the two it would be incredible. But Killala are made of tough stuff, they’ll die for the cause. They’re a good, hard team and there won’t be much in it.”
Johnny Leonard gets ready for a big match the same way he plays his football; without fuss or fanfare. This week he’ll be out with the ESB on the roads around Ballina, shooting the breeze with men like Gerry Gallagher from Lacken, Willie Moyles from Attymass, Noel Mullin and Benny Lynch from Ardnaree, and Niall Kelly. They’ll talk about football and ball-hop like they always do. And then Johnny will jog for out for one more big day.
“I was talking to Liam Niland from Davitts and Jarlath Jennings from Hollymount the weekend of the All-Ireland and we all agreed, you should keep at it as long as you can. I won’t worry about it too much. The only thing I was told not to do before a big match was give an interview,” he smiles.
We think he’s earned the right to bend the rules a little at this stage.