Ulster Club SFC – Derrygonnelly have had a culture change

A DECADE ago this year, a fresh-faced Garvan McGinley came on in the closing few minutes of Derrygonnelly’s Fermanagh Senior Championship final victory against Roslea.

Back in those days, the Harps had a tendency to blow hot and cold. Winning a championship here and there was enough to sustain them, and they wouldn’t reach the final again until 2015.

We all know what happened next. Derrygonnelly have become something of a juggernaut in Fermanagh football, claiming five titles on the spin, and four of those finals were fairly one-sided affairs.

McGinley attributes their new-found consistency to the influence of their managers over the past five years or so – Paul Greene, who showed the side the importance of strength and conditioning, his brother Martin who got the ball rolling with the first of their three championship triumphs, and their current management team of Sean Flanagan and Brendan Rasdale.

We were the kind of team which used to come out of the blue every few years and I suppose we tended to relax a bit after winning something.

That was the way of it in those days, we couldn’t really back up our success. In the last five years there’s been a big change in the culture of the club and we’ve never really achieved anything like this.

When Archie came in, we had a good bunch of younger players coming through and there was a change in attitude as well. Sean and Brendan came in last year and they’ve really stamped their imprint on things as well.”

Kilcoo stand in their way of a first ever appearance in the Ulster Senior Championship decider, but Derrygonnelly seem to be getting stronger and stronger even if some of their players are no spring chickens. (Kevin Cassidy recently turned 44, to cite the most obvious example).

McGinley, who is one of a raft of Derrygonnelly players in their 30s, says their experience isn’t something to be frowned upon, while exciting youngers like Jack Love and Shane McGullion have blended well with the likes of McGinley, Tiarnan Daly, Eamon McHugh and Michael Jones.

I think our experience adds something to the team. At this stage we’re well-used to the way we play and every man knows his role. There’s a good mix though. In this last few years we lost one or two players but we’ve a few who’ve come in.

There hasn’t been a big drop all at once. We’ve been able to maintain that experience but bringing in fresh legs has been important. We’ve been lucky with how it’s worked out.”

Derrygonnelly upset the odds in the quarter-finals when they overcame Tyrone Champions Trillick. McGinley was one of the men who took a penalty in the shoot-out which decided the game, and while he has some sympathy for Trillick, he didn’t think it was an entirely unfitting way of splitting the teams.

We were on a high afterwards with the excitement of the penalties and the way game finished, but at the end of the day there were no prizes on offer for winning that match,” he said.

I can see the arguments for and against penalties. Maybe it would be better to have one replay and go to penalties, but I think it’d be crazy to play three games to settle a fixture.

It’s the way it is with the county scene going on for too long. I’m glad we came out on the right side of it but I understand why Trillick are disappointed.

At the same time I’ve heard people say that it’s too much like soccer but there are penalties in the game already.”

Derrygonnelly will be quietly confident of upsetting the odds for a third time when they take on Kilcoo this weekend (Cargin were slight favourites in their preliminary round encounter). The Magpies are outright favourites now that Crossmaglen, Trillick and Scotstown are out of the running, but there’ll be some nerves in Kilcoo given they’ll never have a better opportunity to break their Ulster duck.

McGinley said: “We’re in bonus territory really and Kilcoo will be massive favourites. They’ve been one of the best teams in Ulster this past five or six years.

I wouldn’t have seen much of them to be honest, some of the other lads have seen more of them. I’m sure they haven’t seen much of us either. We wouldn’t really have been on their radar.”

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