When people think of the Portumna hurling captain, they almost automatically associate that honour with Ollie Canning.
His wonderful success as club captain over the past few seasons with the club means his photogenic and happy face is the one people commit to memory hoisting county and All-Ireland trophies.
In 2009, however, the Shannonsiders have a new man saying a few words and taking the toss before they enter the fray to try to retain their county and All-Ireland titles. Leo Smith is that man and he is happy enough in his new role.
“With Ollie back as captain with the county side, the management team and Ollie decided a fresh voice would be no harm this year. We have such an experienced panel with great leaders all over the place that the captain’s role in our set-up is not overly taxing. We have been around a few years now and everyone knows what his own job is.”
Smith, who teaches agricultural science in Athlone Community College, has four county medals (03, 05, 07 and 08 ) lining out in midfield, and his partnership with Eoin Lynch is one of the foundation stones of Portumna’s success.
And he is very much looking forward to Sunday’s encounter with Loughrea at Pearse Stadium.
“The mood is good in the camp. We are delighted to be back in another county final and we have tried to use the six-week break since the semi-final to our best advantage.
“Training has been going very well, but we know that Sunday’s game will be a really tough and close encounter. Loughrea is a quality side. They have been regulars in the county final since 2003 proving just how consistent they are. We were fortunate enough to defeat them in the finals of 2003 and 2005, getting goals at the right times and then they won the final in 2006.
“They have some very good players all over the field and they are very solid at the back. We know we will have to be at our very best to get anything out of Sunday, but that is the challenge that drives you on.”
When it is put to him that if they concede six goals as they did in the semi-final against Gort they won’t win next Sunday, he laughs easily.
“That was a bit of a calamity all right and near the end of that game (which ended 4-14 to 6-05 ), some of our lads were looking up at the scoreboard trying to figure out the exact score. However we have worked hard in training to try to rectify the mistakes we made in that game. It should be a motivation for us to pick up our performances because if we play like we did in the last 10 minutes of that game, we will be in for a tough time of it.”
With the likes of Johnny O’Loughlin, Kenneth Colleran, Johnny Maher, and Loughrea’s younger players, Neil Keary and Johnny Coen impressing, the Portumna rearguard will have to be on red alert to keep green flags to a minimum.
Smith, who turned 28 this year, is keen to maximise the team’s great run of form with another county medal this weekend.
“We are on a good run at the moment. However, you have to try to collect as much silverware as you can when you have a good panel of players together. This is our seventh final in a row, but we have been beaten in two of them. Our objective on Sunday is not to let that statistic go up to three defeats. To win five out of seven would be a lot better than four out of seven.
“It is all to play for and I expect Sunday to be a tight game as there has not been much between the sides over the past few years. It is great to have another chance to win another county medal, and there is no point in being in a final unless you win it. Loughrea will feel the same and it has the makings of a terrific game.”