Devenish chase Fermanagh title to mark club's centenary celebrations
ACCORDING to folklore, the Devenish story began when some young lads on the bridge in Garrison spotted a ball floating down the Roogagh River.
Running down the river bank, they fished out the ball, which had come from an army encampment upstream at Knockmore, took off to a nearby field and began an ad hoc game of Gaelic Football.
The local RIC were very suspicious of GAA activities at that time and kept the group under observation but their sergeant, a native of Tipperary, took them under his wing, passed on the skills of the game and encouraged the formation of a club in the area.
Some years later, men from townlands like Corramore, Knockaraven and Mugglinagrow came together and, in 1917, Devenish GAC was born. There were O’Flanagans. Moohans and Magees in that first team and on Sunday their ancestors will line out in the county final against Derrygonnelly, chasing the 11th Fermanagh senior title in the club’s centenary year.
Marty O’Brien’s predecessors lined out in 2017 and the former inter-county star will be pivotal to his club’s hopes against three in-a-row chasing Derrygonnelly.
“You can trace my family back to the first team we had in Devenish and it’s the same for a good few of the lads.”
Many of those lads have been together since underage days, as O’Brien explains: “We had a fairly strong core of players coming together from the mid-to-late ‘noughties’. We had a good group but things didn’t work out as we’d have liked.
“Ten years ago we won a county U21 title and a lot of that team will be represented on Sunday. Ten years is a long time for that to transfer into championship form but we won leagues in 2008 and 2010.
“We contested five league finals in-a-row, but we could never get over the line in the championship; we let ourselves down on a couple of occasions and we pushed hard other times.
“We drew one semi-final but lost six for various reasons; sometimes it just didn’t happen on the day, then we came across some strong teams. Derrygonnelly have beaten us in three semi-finals.”
The Devenish catalogue of near-misses conjures up parallels with Mayo’s recent hard-luck stories at All-Ireland level. O’Brien hopes his club can take a leaf out of the westerners’ book in Sunday’s final.
“The thing about Mayo is that when they’ve got to the finals they’ve contested them,” he said.
“Even when they’ve lost they have been very close, but Derrygonnelly beat us in the last two semi-finals and they weren’t overly-tight games, they were able to kick on whenever they needed to.
“I wouldn’t say we’re as close as Mayo have been, they’ve always performed on the big day so just to perform to the best of our ability would be our main goal for Sunday. Nobody wants to let themselves down and if we can give it a really good lash then we’ll be happy and we’ll not be too far away either.”
Now 29, O’Brien is part of the experienced backbone of the Malachy Cullen-managed side that includes county colleagues Barry Mulrone (also 29) and Thomas Treacy. Team captain Terry O’Flanagan (who also captained the successful U21 team) is 30 while youngsters like 18 year-old Conor McGowan have come through to add some youthful exuberance to the side.
They’ll need fresh legs and calm heads on Sunday to dethrone a Derrygonnelly outfit that scuppered Roslea’s treble hopes in 2015 and defended their crown by beating Erne Gaels last year.
“We’re probably not Mayo, but Derrygonnelly would be the Dublin of Fermanagh football at this stage,” said O’Brien.
“They have won back-to-back doubles in league and championship and they have a great selection of players there. We know they’re strong but we think we can match them if we play to our potential.”
Quantity surveyor O’Brien works in Sligo and, like many of his team-mates from underage football days, he still lives in Garrison. That attachment to community and loyalty to club has kept the team together over the last decade.
“It’s a small area,” he explained.
“We’re in a corner at the very edge of the north. Leitrim is bordering us on a couple of sides, Belleek is about two-miles out the road, Belcoo is not too far and then Derrygonnelly are neighbours as well.
“It’s close knit, there’s not much else going on out here and we have kept together fairly well. We can’t afford to have a big turnover of players and most of the lads I would have grown up with are still playing away.
“We’ve been lucky that so many lads have been able to stay reasonably close to home – even lads in Belfast and Dublin are able to make it home at weekends.”
Devenish won their first county title back in 1960 and added three more in that decade. After a lean spell in the 1970s, Devenish returned in the 1980s with the likes of Michael, Dom and Bosco O’Brien and then in the 1990s when Michael and Bart O’Brien, Mark and Ciaran Gallagher, Johnny Leonard, Pat Higgins and Paddy Magennis were among the stars of a St Mary’s side that won three more Fermanagh crowns.
“I would have vague memories of being at finals that we won and I remember the year against Enniskillen (1998) when we lost in a replay,” O’Brien explained.
“That was kind of the end of the great Devenish team that we had. Enniskillen went on and did six in-a-row so it was a handing over of the baton at that stage.
“There was no shortage of boys you could look up to. Ciaran Gallagher is part of the backroom team now and Mickey O’Brien would have taken us on and off at underage and seniors too. You would always have had boys who had success on the pitch getting involved in the management too and you need that in an area like this.”
Devenish already have the Fermanagh ladies’ championship in the bag and the club would love to have the New York Gold Cup (the men’s trophy) sitting next to it at their end of year centenary dinner.
O’Brien admits: “The pressure is on now for us to crown off the year.
“We’re looking at a performance and hopefully it’ll be enough to get us over the line.”