Ulster Minor Football Tournament quarter-final
Enniskillen Gaels v Cargin
Sunday, St Paul’s, 1pm
By John Hughes
NOTHING says Christmas quite like the Ulster Club Minor Championship. One of the GAA’s unsung heroes, the St Paul’s Tournament is always a highlight of the GAA year. Entertaining football, plenty of drama and a chance to see some of the stars of the future before they go off into the stratosphere.
This year Fermanagh are sending the 2018 u-17 county champions Enniskillen Gaels. The club’s challenge is bolstered by having also captured the 2019 u-17 county title so the team have more than established their credentials at this grade.
Richard O’Callaghan and Dara McManus are coaching the squad, with Fiacre O’Donnell, Gary Howe and Kevin Lavelle managing.
Having starred for the county in recent years, getting O’Callaghan on board is a bit of a coup for the team. His main focus for the next while is fairly and squarely on the Gaels’ Ulster bid. He says the lapse of a year since winning the title has actually helped develop greater depth in the team.
“It’s given other lads a chance to step up in the u-17 team this year,” said the Enniskillen mentor. “Those boys are leadership voices in the squad now. They are bringing those qualities into the minor team to complement the leaders who were already there like Conor Love and Jack (Tierney), boys who we would have relied on heavily in 2018.
“Ryan McDonnell has come on very well this year at centre half-back, James O’Donnell up front came on well too and showed up when it mattered. Conor Murphy and Ollie Hughes-Jordan around the middle have been good, while Josh Horan has been in great form too at full back. We’ve a good spine there.”
Underage football in the county is on the crest of a wave at the moment. With the Brewster Park men having won Ulster in 2018 and St Michael’s bucaneering their way to MacRory and Hogan Cup glory earlier this year, a Fermanagh side can seldom have gone into an Ulster competition with such reserves of winning experience. Be that as it may, O’Callaghan believes every game takes on a life of its own when that ball’s thrown in.
“Dara [McManus] was involved with the management team which won in 2018. Conor Love was playing that year and Barrai O’Keefe was part of the panel. We have lads who have done it before, but we’re taking it as it comes to tell you the truth.
“Cargin are a bit of an unknown quantity to us. We’re going to make sure the boys have a good day, they enjoy the experience, they don’t get overawed by it. We’ll get together for a bit of breakfast, get the bus up the road, do it all as a collective.
“Competitions like this are a step into the unknown. We went up a few years ago and won it and I don’t think a lot of clubs expected us to win it. A team mightn’t be firing on all cylinders at u-16, but boys at this age grow so quickly and they can become a powerful team in a short space of time.
“At the minute I’m just thinking about the first ten minutes of the game, getting settled in and seeing what way the land lies and going from there.”