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GAA Football

Ulster run tops the lot after 25 years says Derrygonnelly goalkeeper Dermot Feely

Dermot Feeley has played around 550 games over 25 years for Derrygonnelly Harps
Andy Watters

HOW many games have you played for Derrygonnelly?

“Jesus, I wouldn’t have a clue,” answers veteran goalkeeper Dermot Feely.

Okay, you started in 1992.

“Yes ’92.”

Have you played every season since?

“Yes, every season.

How many games a season?

“Well championship games would be hard to know because some years we went out in the first round. For the league, you’re talking 18 games a season on average.”

Rapid mathematical calculation.

I’d say you’re talking around 550 games, something like that?

“Aye, well, whatever you think.”

How many games have you missed since 1992?

“Well, I missed this year’s Championship final with a hamstring injury,” replies Feely.

“I did it on the Friday night before the game.”

Silence.

What! That’s it? That’s the only game you’ve missed in 25 years?

“Oh wait, no, I went to Boston in 1998 with Martin Greene (now the manager) in May/June time. I played league games up to that and we stayed there until September. I think that would be it, I’ve been very lucky with injuries.”

You can say that again.

After a quarter of-a-century of service the man they call ‘Peggy’ could probably count the games he’s missed on two hands. That is remarkable commitment by any standards and it all began on a cold evening in Tempo in 1992 when 17 year-old rookie Feely was “thrown in at the deep end” and proved he could hold his own.

“That’s going back a bit,” says Feely, now 42, with a laugh.

“We had a good team coming through then and Damien McGovern – who passed away a couple of years ago – was doing goals but he had other commitments and I was thrown in by Donal Fee and Lee Kelly (the managers).

“They told me to do my best and all that was in my mind was to get through the game without making mistakes and, lucky enough, I did. I don’t remember too much more about it.

“I think I was happy just to get on with it. When you’re young you don’t really have any nerves or anything, I think the older you get the more the nerves come in – you think more about what could happen and you put a bit more pressure on yourself.

“When you’re young you just have tunnel-vision.”

The rest is history. Derrygonnelly won Division Two that year and by 1995 they were Fermanagh senior champions for the first time in the club’s history. The Harps have won five more since including the three in-a-row that was completed with their commanding nine-point win over Devenish in the Erne county final on October 1.

As he’d explained, Feely didn’t take the field that day but he was on the bench and so he got his sixth medal. Evergreen half-forward Kevin Cassidy (42), who made his debut in 1993, has five.

Both of them played for years with current manager Greene who soldiered on until he was close to the 40 mark as well.

So what’s the secret? Is there some magic spring in Derrygonnelly giving these guys the gift of eternal youth?

“Haha, I’d say it’s more that we’ve no wit,” says Feely.

“We know no different. We were brought up in underage football and I have good friends still playing away the same age as myself and Martin, the manager.

“We just wanted to play football and we’re still at it.

“Every year you think ‘we could go and do something, there’s a young team coming up’ and there’s always that wee itch in you that says ‘I’ll give it another year’.

“But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – this is definitely the last year. I have a young family and a very understanding wife and 25 years is a nice time to pull the pin. I’ve done my bit so it’s time to move on.”

And what better way to bring the curtain down than winning the Ulster title? Of course, there are two serious obstacles to overcome before that happens. First up is Cavan Gaels at Clones on Sunday and then, if they get past the Breffni’s best, there’d be either Slaughtneil or Kilcar in the final.

“We’re taking it one game at a time and we’re looking forward to Sunday,” says Feely.

“They’re going into the game as favourites, they have a couple of hot forwards in Michael Lyng and Seanie Johnston and these boys. It’ll be a tough game but at this time of year we’re all champions for a reason and there’s going to be no easy games.

“I can’t wait to get going.”

He’s the only player from the club to hold six championship medals but he holds another (unwanted) record too – five defeats out of five in provincial competition. Derrygonnelly got that monkey off their backs by deservedly beating Armagh to record their first provincial win and, having recovered from his hamstring injury, Feely was back between the sticks at Brewster Park.

“We had been close before or we had met a great team like Slaughtneil before so it was great to get that win and the confidence has grown a bit since it,” he said.

“It was what the club needed, it showed the younger lads that are looking in that it can be done, you can win in Ulster.”

Having played for Fermanagh, won six county and with an estimated 550 games under his belt, Feely admits the highlight of his career up now was the last game, the win over Armagh Harps.

“That’s what keeps you at it,” he says.

“There’s something about the club. You play with the county and it’s great, but the club is special.

“Our club has won three in-a-row and there is a camaraderie there, we’re all good mates. They all ask me what is the best year I’ve had and I have to say it’s this year for winning a game in Ulster.

“You always want to do a bit better, go a bit further and compete at the highest level. Winning that game in Ulster felt as good as any of the championships we won.”

Tomorrow will trump that, if Derrygonnelly win again.

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