Derrygonnelly ends the Gaels Era 2004

Fermanagh Herald  20/10/04:

DERRYGONNELLY ....................................... 1-9

ENNISKILLEN ............................................ 0-11

 To a euphoric Derrygonnelly Harps goes the honour of being the side to bring to an end the longest running championship success story in modern Fermanagh GAA times.

All championship finals are historic. For the competing clubs, they obviously hold a special resonance, particularly if you are fortunate to claim the silverware at the close of battle.

The neutral observer, on the other hand, looks on with a degree of detachment. The game is played, the day passes and most finals slither from the memory relatively quickly.

Not so the 2004 version I would suspect. This county decider will not be so casually forgotten.

A justly triumphant Derrygonnelly will presumably be somewhat miffed if it is suggested that their tremendous achievement in winning the New York Gold Cup for only the second time in their history, is overshadowed to some extent that this was the day the six season reign of Enniskillen ground to a halt.

All things come to an end and it has been an exhilarating period for the men from the county town. Worthy men who were worthy champions. Easily the best in the county for the past six seasons and proved that they were a cut above the rest by performing so splendidly when they embarked on their subsequent provincial campaigns.

The deep frustration for them, of course, was the failure to land the Ulster crown.

But enough of the Gaels. There are new kids on the block and the bottom line about last Sunday was that it was Derrygonnelly's day.

Second time champions and this latest victory will match in every way their joyous breakthrough back in 1995.

It has been a remarkable upswing in fortunes for the Harps over the past 12 months. An astonishing renaissance, one that they will have to pinch themselves to truly believe has happened.

And there could be no disputing the merit of their success. They survived a generally indifferent opening half, reaching the interval on level terms. Still in the chase, just about, but they had not really suggested that they would be capable of injecting sufficient punch and verve into their performance to seriously trouble the champions.

It had been a patchy, staccato display from them and on the resumption they were to virtually disappear off the radar screen.

The Gaels dictated the game for some 10 to 12 minutes, hemming a distressed Derrygonnelly into their own half. The ball never crossed the halfway line and it was all reminiscent of the Enniskillen quarter-final tussle with St Patrick's. On that occasion, the Donagh side had corralled the Gaels, but managed just a single point.

They duly paid the penalty for that failure to capitalise on their monopoly of attacking possession. This time, it was the Gaels who were on the crest, but they were squandering their opportunities.

They did eventually pick off three scores and with Derrygonnelly now looking in deep trouble it seemed as if the game would take its predictable pre-match course. Derrygonnelly had been good enough to give the Gaels food for thought, but not good enough to strip them of their title.

The first time that the Harps did manage to advance beyond the centre of the park there was an ominous omen for they casually gave the ball away with a slipshod pass and Enniskillen romped forward again.

The Harps were tottering on the brink of defeat, their challenge folding and the Gaels were surely heading for title number seven. The Fermanagh GAA world had been put to order. No cloud loomed on the Gaels' horizon.

And then the roof caved in on Enniskillen.

Derrygonnelly made it over the halfway line for only the second time since the resumption and this time they attacked with devastating effect. Sterling work up the left flank unlocked the Enniskillen defence when Paul Ward scampered in and sent on to the supporting Kevin McGrath who in turn hared on before unleashing an unstoppable shot past the despairing dive of goalkeeper Christopher Breen.

A goal to grace any game, a peach of a score and it sent electric shocks reverberating around the ground. It infused Derrygonnelly with new found self-belief and confidence, and for the next 15 minutes they bossed the game.

A stunned Enniskillen more or less disintegrated. Those players on their team who had already underperformed were now sunk in oblivion. Those who had contributed were to find themselves pushed out to the margins.

Derrygonnelly were afire and they simply overwhelmed a Gaels side that couldn't cope with this totally unexpected turn of events.

The Harps took the lead for the first time a minute later, despite a tremendous piece of defensive work by Michael Lilly initially blocking a Declan Cassidy shot. The midfield battle was now commanded by a Derrygonnelly pairing who had laboured anonymously for the previous quarter.

It was going their way. But not quite all. They fluffed a penalty on 52 minutes and it could have been a catastrophic miss.

The nimble footed Paul Ward was hauled down and Kevin Cassidy took the kick. It was fiercely struck, but not powerful enough to beat a supremely agile Breen in goal, who pulled off a magnificent save.

Would this let-off resurrect the Gaels to a last ditch effort to salvage the day? Not for the moment at least. Derrygonnelly were still buzzing with purpose and assurance and they simply piled forward in a string of attacks that had the Gaels on the ropes.

Cassidy made some amends for his penalty failure by swinging over a great long-range score, the youthful Jonathan McGurn landed a precise 45 and there was now a four point gap separating the teams.

The Gaels had been pulverised, but they were to lift themselves for a terrific closing effort that brought the game to an enthralling climax. And lots of time for them to fashion a dramatic revival as five minutes of added-on time was indicated by referee Seamus Breen.

Derrygonnelly were four ahead, but they were to undergo an agonising finish. Enniskillen rediscovered the qualities that had served them so well over the years. In that frantic closing spell, they shot four points and had Derrygonnelly scrambling desperately in a couple of hectic goalmouth melees.

But crucially, the Harps had also picked off one more score - a shot from Kevin Cassidy in the first minute of added-on time.

It edged them three in front and with time on their side it was unlikely that the Gaels would be able to haul them back unless they grabbed a goal.

Always the possibility of that, the frenzied Derrygonnelly support made to go through the wringer as Enniskillen gave it all they had.

Not enough in the locker this time and Derrygonnelly had claimed a famous win, one that will decorate the annals of Fermanagh GAA.

A title win that everyone in the county will remember.

And not many championship winning sides can confidently assert that.’


Harps: Patrick Murphy, Paddy Mc Kenna, Stephen Burns, Francis Mc Kenna, Neil Gallagher, Declan Cassidy (0-1), Aidan Gallagher, Martin Greene, Ryan Burns, Daniel Ward, Paul Greene (0-2), Jonathan Mc Gurn (0-4), Paul Ward, Kevin Cassidy (0-2), Kevin Mc Grath (capt)(1-0). Subs used: Garrett Greene, Cormac Glynn, Neville Mc Grath. Plus: Terence Greene, Niall Gilleece, Dermot Feely, John Murphy, Barry Mc Grath, Garvan Mc Ginley, Dermot Carroll, Ruairi Dundas, Francis Mc Gurl, Patrick Magee.

Gaels: Christopher Breen, Donal Carron, Kevin Gunn, Michael Lilly, Neil Cox (capt), Ryan Mc Cluskey, Niall Keenan, Paul Brewster, Tom Brewster, Matthew Keenan, Paul Gunn, Colm Bradley, Ronan Mc Cabe, Raymie Curran, Rory Judge. Subs used: Karlo Rooney, Ollie Mc Shea, Mark Miller.