#Last20Years: The best of Fermanagh from 2000-2019
Cahair O'Kane runs the rule over the best players to have pulled on a Fermanagh shirt since the turn of the century, picking out the cream of the crop...
IN a position where Fermanagh struggled for consistency as much as quality, Ronan Gallagher gave them both. He was an excellent shot-stopper and hugely reliable. Had to fight his way back into the ’08 team after a break but went on to make crucial saves, not least stopping an early penalty in the semi-final win over Derry. That he edges out Niall Tinney, who won the GAA’s Young Footballer of the Year award in 2004 but whose career was brief, says it all.
STILL doesn’t get the credit he’s owed on a national scale. In the past couple of seasons, he’s won titanic battles against no less than Michael Murphy and Conor McManus. Cullen’s found a new level since he was given full custody of the number three shirt, rather than dipping in and out of midfield. That he’s maintained such high levels while travelling back from Hungary, where he works, is remarkable. Squeezes in ahead of Shane Goan.
A LATE bloomer in terms of inter-county football, it was only really when he stepped into the number three shirt in 2003 that Barry Owens took off. Went on to become one of Ireland’s premier defenders, winning an Allstar at full-back the following year. His career was ravaged by two cruciate ligament injuries and heart surgery, yet he played until he hadn’t a drop left at 32.
McCLUSKEY spent the last decade of one of the longest inter-county careers in the GAA’s past dipping between sweeping and centre-back, where his ability to read the game was utilised. Juggled a decent Irish League soccer career with Fermanagh duties. So much of his very best football was played at corner-back in the early 2000s, with his display on Stevie McDonnell in the famous All-Ireland quarter-final win over Armagh standing out.
ONE thing Fermanagh haven’t been shy of is men for the middle third. Tommy McElroy was the ultimate in that regard, with an ability to switch seamlessly between wing-back and wing-forward before it was fashionable. His brand of direct running and his craft marked him out in 2008 especially. Edges out Marty O’Brien.
WHILE others attracted more of the limelight, Shane McDermott was loved by his team-mates. Made his debut in 1999 and became captain in 2004, when his form at the heart of their defence was the driving force behind their remarkable run. Was central to the Ernemen across the decade.
ANOTHER whose star wasn’t recognised outside Fermanagh the same way it would be in the county. A serious operator, Kelly could have played anywhere in the defence. “The best footballer in Fermanagh for a while”, one former team-mate said earlier this week.
THERE weren’t many better midfielders in Ireland than Marty McGrath at his peak. He’d been earmarked as a huge talent when guiding St Michael’s Enniskillen to a MacRory Cup, going on to play senior county football from 2000 until 2013. Won his Allstar in 2004 and captained the team to their brush with an Ulster title four years later. Twice an Irish international, and in the discussion of the greatest ever to come from the county.
THE current captain has grown into one of Ulster’s pre-eminent midfielders over recent years. Really came to prominence when he was named as Ulster’s captain for inter-provincial success and since then, he’s been their go-to man in the air and across the ground. Had big moments in the run to the 2018 Ulster final and was comfortably their best player that day. Edges out Paul Brewster.
ONE of the biggest successes of the 2004 campaign, Maguire provided the youth that was covering for absent experience and went on to produce some outstanding performances. His career ran all the way to the end of the 2014 season, with his pace, trickery and willingness to take men on making him a horrible opponent for defenders. Was also good in the air for someone not blessed with height.
NO-ONE that witnessed his winner against Armagh could ever forget it, but equally it almost seems harsh to boil such a career down to a single moment. He was actually coming off the bench at that stage, having missed the start of the year travelling, but had long been a marked servant between midfield and centre-forward. Had an absolutely superb left foot.
CAME out of nowhere in 2004 to earn himself a nomination as Young Footballer of the Year, only to miss out to team-mate Niall Tinney. Like Maguire, his ability to win ball and the energy with which he carried the ball were significant factors in that year’s run.
THE elder of the cousins, Raymond Gallagher was another child prodigy who came through with massive hope resting on his shoulders. The pair were different players, but Raymie (as he was known) also led the line for Fermanagh with great distinction. Key in the All-Ireland ‘B’ winning campaign in 2000 and was still going strong when he quit after the ’03 campaign.
RORY Gallagher only played up until 2002 but in each of the three years he did play this century, he was the Ulster SFC’s top scorer, registering 5-47 across the six games they played in that spell. Hit that record 3-9 in a single game against Monaghan in ’02. A lethal finisher, they would have loved to have had him in 2004. Went on to manage the county to an Ulster final in 2018.
CAPABLE of absolute wizardry with a football, Sean Quigley was the magic carpet on which Fermanagh rode their way to a surprise All-Ireland quarter-final under Pete McGrath. Could kick scores from all angles and could do it off either foot. His scoring rate has slowed but he still remains their one reliable source of risen flags.