GAA Football

Where are they now? Former Fermanagh full-forward Stephen Maguire

Stephen Maguire comes under pressure from Armagh's Francie Bellew during their 2004 All-Ireland quarter-final clash at Croke Park. Picture by Seamus Loughran
Neil Loughran

Age: 39

Club: Belcoo

Position: Full-forward

When did you play for Fermanagh? 1996-2005

What do you do nowadays?

I’m a building contractor with SM Buildings. I’ve been in Dublin the last four years, 99 per cent of the time. I stay in Templeogue here during the week and go home at the weekends. When I was playing football with Fermanagh in the early 2000s, when John Maughan was over us, I was living down here and commuting to training and it was hard going. Now you see a lot of the Mayo and Donegal boys travelling back and forward.

Are you still involved in Gaelic football?

Not in a playing or managerial sense, but I do go to the majority of the Belcoo matches and the county matches when I can.

What do you remember about your first game for Fermanagh?

John McElroy was managing us so it was a fair bit ago, and it was a challenge match against Leitrim in Carrick-on-Shannon. It was a very wet day, conditions weren’t good, and I was only very young, 17 or 18, and a bit light.

The first thing I noticed about the county standard was the physicality and the fitness, and the strength of some of the more established players on both teams. That was the main difference from club level.

You know once you go to county training that you have to up it in a lot of areas. This last 10 or 15 years, that side of the game has changed a lot, fitness has improved immensely over the years.

My first Championship game was against Cavan in Clones and I was marking a fella called Ciaran Brady from Gowna. They beat us after a replay, but I played well enough from memory.

What’s your best memory from your playing days?

I suppose it would have to be the 2004 All-Ireland quarter-final win over Armagh. They were All-Ireland finalists the year before, had won the All-Ireland in 2002, so it was big scalp for Fermanagh to take them out. The occasion too, playing in Croke Park with a big Fermanagh support there, it was brilliant.

We had gone on a good run, beaten Meath, Donegal and Cork in the Qualifiers, teams who were doing very well at the time, and that gave us great confidence. Especially the Cork win in Croke Park, beating them by seven points, really pushed us on.

Ulster was always a dogfight but the back door system was a great way to express ourselves and we built good momentum, with players going well throughout the team.

Armagh would’ve been big favourites but we knew from playing them over the years that, if we played to the best of our ability, we could push them very close or even nip them, and so we did.

Maybe the sending off [of Enda McNulty] disrupted Armagh, but everything went well for us on the day. That said, it was a fully deserved win. It was no fluke.

And the worst?

The All-Ireland semi-final against Mayo I’d say was the most disappointing. We had a chance to win it the first day, and that was a missed opportunity. We had a few chances near the end and probably panicked a wee bit with our shots rather than finding the right person to take them on.

Mayo had a man sent off, we were in the ascendancy at that stage and should’ve pushed on but we probably took the wrong options. Maybe that was inexperience because no Fermanagh team had been there before so it was completely new territory for us.

They beat us in the replay and you knew it was always going to be difficult for us to get back to that stage of the All-Ireland series again. We had a great chance to bring Fermanagh to an All-Ireland final and it didn’t happen, so that’s very disappointing.

At club level, we lost the 2013 county championship final to Roslea by three points and that was hard to take. I played a lot of club football with Belcoo for up on 20 years and it would’ve been a good way to finish off, but it didn’t happen.

Shane McCabe was a lively character inside the Fermanagh dressing room, according to club-mate Stephen Maguire. Picture by Colm O'Reilly

Biggest character you played with?

Shane McCabe would be a good character. I know a few of his soccer buddies might have said that too down around Glentoran or Glenavon. He was always messing and up for the craic, but in a good way.

Are you glad you played in your era rather than the modern day?

Yes because the day of the long, early ball into a full-forward is gone. A lot of teams are playing the ball short and running. Mayo played a bit of long ball stuff in recent games and I still think it’s great to watch.

Any regrets?

Naw, there were disappointments of course and you have other good days, but I’ve no regrets. I enjoyed the whole thing, and getting to play in Croke Park is special, no matter what age you are.

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