fonaCAB Ulster Minor Club Football Tournament Final: Enniskillen Gaels (Fermanagh) 1-6 St Colm’s, Ballinascreen (Derry) 0-6
THE Gaels knocked over the ’Screen to bridge a 30-year gap and their manager Brendan Doris hopes this will help them step back onto the bigger stages.
Enniskillen deservedly became the first Fermanagh winners of this St Paul’s tournament since they won it themselves in 1988, edging out a battling Ballinascreen outfit in very testing conditions.
Corner-forward Conor Love grabbed the ultimately crucial only goal of the game in the 23rd minute, as well as his side’s first and last points from play, settling their nerves in two tense periods of the contest.
The Derry champs tried hard to force extra time but Enniskillen held out and Doris wants this triumph to help the Gaels become a senior force to fear again, first in Fermanagh, then in Ulster:
“For the club it’s a big thing. At the end of the Nineties, into the 2000s, we were top of the heap, competing at Ulster Club Finals at senior level. I played myself at that time.
“Since then the club has gone down to Division Two and been stagnating. My good friend John Reihill has taken over [as senior manager] and started introducing a lot of young players from the two last minor teams.
“We’re re-building and this will give it an extra push – plus it’ll make other people look at us and maybe think ‘We don’t really want to play them’.”
Ballinascreen didn’t appear concerned at that prospect, despite the Gaels being more physically powerful overall, and the south Derry side began brightly.
It would be unfair to call Enniskillen ‘a fair weather team’ but they did struggle at first as the fierce wind swept rain across the pitch and a lively-looking ’Screen attack twice opened up early two-point leads.
As the rain at least eased, and the sun came out, young John Reihill made his mark, first from a free, after ’Screen had failed to convert a couple, and then again from play to assist Love putting the Gaels into a lead they were never to lose.
The excellent Ronan Beattie, operating effectively as sweeper, launched a long ball to Reihill, who caught and off-loaded for Love to fire a right-footed shot into the far side of the net.
Corner-back Odhran Agnew then spurned a good opening for a second goal but Enniskillen still led at the break by 1-2 to 0-3.
Although the wind appeared mostly cross-field, it was also against Ballinascreen in the second period. Even so, they started strongly again, but only had a Rafferty free to show for their efforts.
Ballinascreen boss Jerome Bradley admitted his side didn’t help themselves, commenting: “We maybe just didn’t work it in far enough, we had a lot of shots dropped short.
“When you’re playing against the elements like that you have to use your head, but sometimes we hurried it a bit and didn’t control the ball enough. It was a tight battle, we knew it was going to be.”
Both sides wasted goal chances, Love poking wide when a bouncing ball left him with only the ’keeper to beat, then Reece McSorley dragging wide for Ballinascreen.
However, defenders Ronan Quinn and Beattie, and a free from Callum Jones, quadrupled Enniskillen’s advantage to four points.
’Screen manager Bradley and another mentor were then dismissed by the referee around the 50-minute mark after protesting about Enniskillen tackling.
Bradley spoke calmly afterwards but was still annoyed about that aspect, saying: “I thought the standard of refereeing overall was very poor. We’re a very disciplined team, we haven’t had a man sent off in Championship all year and we’ve had some very physical battles.
“Every team we’ve played against has had a man sent off. Some of the abuse our players took was, I thought, borderline straight reds, in all three games here, not just the final.”
From then on it was backs, midfielders, and some forwards to the wall for Enniskillen, which made for worrying times for them, as Doris acknowledged:
“You just can’t help yourself sometimes, when you have a lead, in defending it. You end up going back on yourself, being over-cautious, and it’s so hard to break out.
“Fair play to Ballinascreen, they put some much physical pressure on us all the time, they just kept coming and coming and coming, they never gave up.”
Another Rafferty free and a point from the talented Cathal Donnelly – albeit after an umpire had waved a shot ‘wide’ in the lead-up – halved the deficit.
Ballinascreen were suddenly seeking a winning goal but Love ensured the best they could realistically hope for was extra time when he kept in a scuffed free from Reihill, span, and split the posts from an extremely narrow angle.
There was a goalmouth scramble or two at the Enniskillen end in five minutes of added time but the Gaels stood strong against the onslaught, to the delight of Doris:
“It’s a fantastic achievement, especially for this group of players, who have put in over 12 months’ hard work to get to this. We learned from the last two tournaments we played in.
“We are physically strong, tackle well. It wasn’t the best match, it was dour, but at this time of year, with the pitches in the condition they are, it’s very hard to play good open football. It was very slippy and the bottom half of the pitch was difficult underfoot – we made the best of it”.
Bradley’s mood was understandably downbeat, concluding: “It was a very tough day, we just didn’t do ourselves justice, didn’t get the scores when we needed them. We were on top for good periods of the game but just didn’t take the scores.
“It’s very disappointing, but we set out at the start of the season to win the Derry championship, which was a big lift for the club.
“This was bonus territory, but when we got here we set out our stall to climb the next Everest - but it didn’t go for us on the day.”
It was almost as cold as being in the Himalayas, but Enniskillen hearts will be warmed by their second success in this tournament.
Enniskillen Gaels: C Newman, O Agnew, P Cassidy, J O’Hare; G Greene, J Cassidy, R Quinn (0-1); E Beacom, B Horan; C Jones (0-1 free), M McAleer, J Reihill (0-1 free); C Love (1-2), R Beattie (0-1), M Dixon. Subs used: J Horan for Greene; C Corrigan for Reihill.
St Colm’s, Ballinascreen: R Scullion; D McCoy, C Doyle, R McKenna; R Doyle, A Bradley, Conal Logan; M Bradley (0-1), Christopher Logan; E McBride (0-1), C McAlinden, C Donnelly (0-2, 0-1 free); E Duggan, N Rafferty (0-2 frees), R McSorley. Subs used: M Farrelly; D Kelly.
Referee: Brendan Tolan (Antrim).