Considered "Connacht's traditional minnows" and "one of the GAA's Cinderella counties", Leitrim are never considered seriously as likely to win a major title. The county's senior Gaelic football team play in the Connacht Senior Football Championship and are usually to be found at the bottom of the National Football League Division 4. Never having appeared in an All-Ireland final, they tend to win the Connacht Senior Football Championship on average once every 54 years. Leitrim sprung a massive shock when they came from nowhere to win the FBD Insurance League in 2013. Defeating their southern neighbours—the mighty Sligo—in the final, it was only Leitrim's fourth ever trophy and their first since 1994.
Leitrim's football history has brought sparse reward. In the semi-final of the 1924 Connacht Senior Football Championship, Leitrim forced Galway to two draws, then refused to play extra-time. In 1927, with the help of Sean O'Hehir's training—father of the veteran radio commentator, Micheál—and with a little good luck when Connacht semi-finalists Roscommon had to line out without five players whose motor car had broken down, Leitrim won their first Connacht title. Leitrim won the Connacht title and held Kerry to two points in the semi-final of the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship.
In the days of Cathal Flynn and Packie McGarty, both Connacht Railway Cup players, Leitrim lost four successive Connacht finals to Galway between 1957 and 1960, coming closest in 1958 when they equalised mid-way through the second half but were defeated by two points (Cathal Flynn scored 1-6). Cathal retired in 1966 from inter-county football. McGarty was at the end of his career when Leitrim were heavily beaten 4-15 to 0-7 against Mayo in their last Connacht final in 1967, scoring only one point from play. Leitrim won the National Football League Division 2 title and contested the 1959 NFL semi-finalwith a changed fullback line but were beaten by Derry by seven points. A new generation of Leitrim under-21 players hosted and nearly beat the great Kerry team at Carrick-on-Shannon in 1977 before losing by five points, 3-13 to 3-8. The expected breakthrough from Michael Martin and his men never happened.
Building on the success of the 1991 Connacht Championship winning under-21 team, Mayo-born John O'Mahony managed Leitrim to Connacht final victory over his own county in 1994. O'Mahony's feat in leading the traditional provincial whipping boys to that title is still heralded nationally to this day. It was heart-stopping stuff, beating Roscommon by a point, Galway by a point in a replay and Mayo by two points before succumbing in an emotional All-Ireland semi-final to Dublin at Croke Park. Since losing to Sligo in 1989, Leitrim had suffered a series of near-misses, and might have followed up 1994 against Galway, losing by a single point in 1995 and two points in 1996. The first county to benefit under the parentage rule was also the first to lose their big catch, when the loss of Declan Darcy to Dublin depleted the panel in 1998, bringing its most successful era to an end.
Leitrim sprung a massive shock when they came from nowhere to win the FBD Insurance League in 2013. Defeating their northern neighbours (Sligo) in the final, it was only Leitrim's fourth ever trophy and their first since 1994. As the Irish Independent reported, "There may have been no danger of any cows going unmilked in Leitrim after this game, but winning their first FBD League title – and their first trophy in 19 years – sparked off some understandable early season celebrations for Connacht's traditional minnows".
^Murphy, Cian (29 January 2013). "Barney and friends". Retrieved 29 January 2013. "And it is only the Ridge County's fourth ever senior football crown, having won Connacht crowns in 1927 and 1994 and an All-Ireland ‘B’ championship in 1990."
^"County Board look to Breen & Dugdale in wake of shock Moran departure". Leitrim Observer. 1 December 2011. Retrieved 1 December 2011. "Moran, starting his fourth year with the Green & Gold, had already drawn up a panel for the 2012 Allianz League campaign and out-lined training plans but players and officials were stunned when the Derry man informed County Board officials last week that he would be unable to continue in the post due to illness."
^Breheny, Martin (24 November 2012). "The import and export business". Irish Independent (Independent News & Media). Retrieved 24 November 2012. "While O'Dwyer's impressive work with Kildare, Laois and Wicklow guarantees him the permanent affections of real football people in all three counties, the highest 'outside' football achiever in terms of titles is John O'Mahony. There's a great irony there as he would no doubt have traded all the glory he enjoyed with Galway and Leitrim for one All-Ireland win with his native Mayo, where he managed over two stints before and after his outside activities. Steering Galway to All-Ireland wins in 1998 and 2001, ending a barren spell that extended back to 1966, was a huge achievement for O'Mahony, but, in many ways, leading Leitrim to their first Connacht title for 67 years in 1994 was just as noteworthy. As third-in-line on the All-Ireland honours list, Galway expect to take the big prize from time to time but given the small base from which Leitrim operate, winning a Connacht title is always a massive success story. All the more so in 1994 when they had to beat Galway, Roscommon and Mayo to claim the title."