GAA Football

'I always say to the wife that it was probably the point that finished me': Shaun Doherty reflects on what might have been in 2008

Shaun Doherty was Fermanagh's hero when they snatched a draw the last time the county were in the Ulster final but, as the Kinawley man told Neil Loughran, that point is tinged with bittersweet memories...

The wraparound front and back page of The Irish News the day after the drawn 2008 Ulster final, when Shaun Doherty secured a replay for Fermanagh with his last gasp equaliser

FOR a week in the summer of 2008, Shaun Doherty was the unlikely poster boy of Fermanagh football as images of his dramatic late leveller filled newspaper pages front and back in the aftermath of that year’s Ulster final.

Ten years on, it remains the one that got away. For long stretches the Ernemen outplayed a below-par Armagh yet somehow still found themselves four behind heading into the final quarter.

With all the momentum but trailing by a point heading into added time, the ball came to Doherty. Introduced for Ciaran McElroy in the 65th minute, he dropped the ball into the hands of Paul Hearty.

Another opportunity passed up – but there would be one more, and again it fell to Doherty (right) deep into added time. This time the Kinawley man’s connection was true as the ball split the posts to secure a replay.

And for seven days he received pats on the back and handshakes everywhere he went.

“It all happened in a flash,” he recalls.

“I knew I’d got it into my scoring range, and when the chance came again I knew I had to take responsibility. The worst thing a forward can do is ship it.

“You have to take your chances and luckily enough it went over.”

Yet, watching on from the bench, roaring support to his team-mates as they drove forward beneath the summer sun, Doherty was as surprised as anybody when Fermanagh boss Malachy O’Rourke told him to get ready.

“I didn’t think I was going to get on because I hadn’t played in either the Monaghan or Derry game in the run to the final.

“But Fr Brian D'Arcy would always have been a great man for being in and around training and he told me as a sub I had a massive role, and that I should be looking and seeing where I could make an impact when I came on.

“I remembered those words, and I remember telling the brother before I left the house that day I’d a feeling I was going to get on and that I was going to score. For some reason I thought I was going to score the winner, but I suppose that’s the dream you have as a young cub – to score the winner in an Ulster final.

“I did score, but unfortunately it wasn’t the one I wanted.”

Seven days later, nobody was talking about Shaun Doherty any more, or Fermanagh, as Armagh regrouped to win by six.

They were the first Erne outfit to reach an Ulster decider in 26 years, and the fifth to fall at the final hurdle as the search for that elusive provincial title continued. Another 10 years on and Fermanagh are back again, the similarities between now and then striking.

For returning ex-player Rory Gallagher, read O’Rourke in his first year. Promotion from Division Three secured, albeit with accompanying League final defeat.

Underdog wins over Monaghan and Derry were echoed by the class of 2018 against Armagh and the Farneymen again, that remarkable victory coming courtesy of a late fisted goal by Eoin Donnelly at Healy Park – eerily similar to the Barry Owens major that sunk the Oak Leafers, also at the Omagh venue, 10 years previous.

“It’s funny when you think of it just how many similarities there are,” says Doherty with a smile, “the only think you’d hope is that it isn’t a similar result in the final”.

Nowadays he is Fermanagh’s football co-ordinator, returning home 18 months ago after eight years spent as a development coach with neighbours Cavan.

Doherty doesn’t foresee academies in the Erne county investing solely in the hard-working defensive style that has delivered Rory Gallagher’s men to this stage, but says the benefits of this latest tilt at Ulster are already there to be seen.

“In terms of academies, I don’t think we’ll be going down the same road.

“Probably my vision is you have to teach them the skills. Success is going to be very limited in terms of academy, minor, U20, so for us success would be getting five or six lads through to our senior panel.

“Can we educate them enough to adapt to a variety of styles of play? To play the way Fermanagh are playing requires a serious level of fitness so it’s probably getting young lads thinking about how they’re conditioned, the demands that will be placed upon them.

“Part of our responsibility is to prepare boys for that but there’s no doubt it has re-energised a lot of the youth – it’ll get more lads wanting to play for their county.

“What the senior team has done so far this year is probably better than 100 training sessions because it gives lads that belief more than anything. You can get into a habit of losing and sometimes you accept that but what we’re trying to do is change that mindset and, fair play to Rory, he’s helped us massively in that respect.”

Doherty, now 34, knows most of the current panel having either played with them, against them for Kinawley or coached them through his work at St Michael’s, Enniskillen.

Talk of 10 years ago is inevitable, he accepts, but dredges up bittersweet memories.

“You can get remembered for scoring that… it’s a nice memory maybe for my parents, for my wee boy or for my wife, but for me looking back all I ever think was that it was one of my last points for Fermanagh unfortunately.

“I always say to the wife that it was probably the point that finished me. I didn’t make the squad the following year so it was disappointing, I’d rather not have scored it and went on and played a few more years, but unfortunately it wasn’t to be.”

There was one silver lining though, courtesy of the widespread coverage his dramatic equaliser received. The Irish News ran a wraparound front and back page picture of him just about to send the ball over the bar – and it was an image that served him well the following day.

“I always said that picture got me my job in Cavan,” he says with a laugh.

“I had the interview the day after the drawn Ulster final and when I went into the Kilmore Hotel there was two or three copies of The Irish News lying on the table and I was the full spread… I don’t think I had to do much in the interview after that.”

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