EVERY year the U21 football championship seems to throw up at least one player of exceptional talent, especially when it comes to scoring.
Last season we saw Damien Gore of Kilmacabea and Mark Buckley of Dohenys grabbing the headlines with their scoring exploits, both exceptional forwards, but even their deeds pale in comparison with the exploits of Stephen Leonard of Ilen Rovers this year.
In four U21 games this season, including one period of extra time, Leonard kicked an amazing seven goals, adding 16 points for good measure.
In the first round of the South West championship against a fancied Clonakilty side, Leonard scored 1-7, including the equaliser that forced extra-time.
In extra time Clon seemed to have the game won again, leading by two points with time up, but they reckoned without Leonard. Winning a ball 50 metres out on the wing he left the Clon defence for dead and rattled the net with the last kick of the game. It was a superb goal from a real goal-scorer and it is his goal-scoring exploits that really separate Leonard from other talented forwards we watched down the years.
Deceptively fast, with a long stride, he seems to win possession every time he goes for the ball and then with a swivel of the hips or a quick sidestep, he sets up the goal chance. He is almost impossible to stop in full flight towards goal.
In the semi-final against Castlehaven in atrocious weather conditions in Leap, Leonard finished with 2-2 out of Ilen’s 2-7 total. He was the difference.
He showed his goal-den touch in the South West final against Carbery Rangers, hitting 1-3, with his goal crucial; the game was level, 43 minutes in before he unleashed a pile-driver from an acute angle that almost took the net off the rigging.
Captain Leonard had delivered again and the Liam Farr Cup was on its way to Church Cross.
It isn’t just the sheer class of the goals he scores that makes Leonard special, but the perfect timing of those goals in
So, we came to last Saturday and a county first round against a talented Nemo side, who dominated the play but soon discovered who Leonard was. He finished with 3-4, including two wonder goals in the space of two second-half minutes, and almost rescued a draw but his late goal-bound effort was saved.
Ilen are out of the county U21 championship but what happens to Leonard now? Of course Ilen will play him in the senior championship and expect more wonders from him, but this is an unique talent that must be nurtured.
This lad loves scoring goals, can create them from nothing and at the right time and possesses a bullet of a drive. This is the kind of corner forward every county senior team would give their eye-teeth to possess.