By Michael McMullan
GETTING out of their group is the “number one aim” in the Erne Gaels camp ahead of this Saturday afternoon’s Senior Championship opener at home to Belnaleck, insists manager Seamus Ryder.
Last year’s Intermediate champions edged out Kinawley to win first Senior League title since 1996 and Ryder knows the task ahead in a group that also includes Teemore and champions Derrygonnelly.
“Belnaleck will be a big test, they have five or six county level players and have been tipping along nicely during the summer,” said Ryder, who won an Intermediate title as a player with the Gaels in 2008.
“One of the Cullens (Che) is back and Darragh McGurn is back from America, so they’ll be a big test.”
The Gaels last won the title in 1981 and more recently lost the 2016 decider to Derrygonnelly before being relegated two seasons ago.
Ryder has captain Brian Mullin, Martin Gilfedder, Dara Keown and Paul McCaffrey on board from their 2008 Intermediate success, with Ciaran Smith now a selector.
“We got to the (senior) final in 2016 and for the couple of years it we would’ve been competitive in the league,” Ryder said of the focus in the camp.
“We always see the league as being important and if you look at the last decade in Fermanagh, the team that has been winning the league has been winning the championship.
“If you are the top end and competing in Division One games, it builds consistency. We finished joint second last year, we missed out on the head-to-head record with Enniskillen.”
The Belleek-based club won the league the hard way after coming in from the Club Players’ League with no ‘bonus points’, leaving themselves with extra work to catch up with Derrygonnelly and Enniskillen Gaels.
“We went in with no points, so were very focussed as we had a lot of catching up to do,” Ryder said of their change in fortunes. “For the first few games, we were really focused on winning them and getting up the table. We got the winning habit and kept it going.”
After the relegation two season ago, there has been a change in the panel with four players coming up from the underage ranks combined with a return of their experienced heads.
“Ryan Lyons was away in Australia and is a big player for us. Ultan Kelm would’ve been injured a lot,” Ryder explained.
“Two or three others didn’t play for other reasons. We got Gregory McGloin back this year and Dan McCann from the underage system who started a lot of games for us. The new faces and new players have made a big difference.”
Ultan Kelm has been a “huge boost” after is move to AFL side Fremantle Dockers didn’t martialise after signing a deal, with a hip injury keeping him at home.
“He decided to stay and get treatment,” Ryder outlined. “It has been a boost for us, he has been excellent.
“It is great to have him and he has had a good run of games, he has been enjoying himself so we will see in the off-season how that goes.
“That (Kelm’s future with Fremantle) is up in the air and he
will have to decide that in the off-season.”