GAA Football

Colm Bradley recalls Fermanagh stars who hung up their boots in the past decade

Barry Owens: "For a three or four-year period he was the best full-back in the business". Picture Declan Roughan.
Colm Bradley

The football years are fleeting and Colm Bradley recalls some of the men that did Fermanagh's jersey proud who bowed out during the last decade.

Barry Owens

There are very few players who reach the status of icon. Here, by the banks of the Erne those who remember the 1959 All-Ireland Junior-winning team speak reverently about the brilliance of PT Treacy. In the 1970s and '80s it was Peter McGinnity who made us burst with pride. Our first Allstar and that goal in the 1982 Ulster final defeat seared into all our memories.

If Fermanagh's answer to Mount Rushmore was to be carved into the side of Cuilcagh the sculptor would surely pick up hammer and chisel to carve PT and Peter as number one and two. Barry Owens would be number three. There is no debate on that in my mind.

Barry was simply immense. Those looking in from the outside will list his aerial ability as his greatest weapon. It was a weapon surely but only one in a sizeable arsenal. The casual observer will describe Barry as a throwback full back. Manning the square with bullish intent. He did all that, but he was much more too. In his pomp he was lightening quick. As a forward if you did manage to win the ball and throw a dummy his ability to recover left the move obsolete.

For a three or four-year period he was the best full-back in the business, picking up two Allstars in 2004 and 2006. After serious injury he rose like a Phoenix to fist Fermanagh into an Ulster final as he proved equally adept in the other large square.

He played on until 2014 having first donned the Fermanagh jersey for John Maughan in 2001. He played for seven Fermanagh managers over that time and was there through the thickest of successes and the thinnest of dejection. He walked away from county football with the admiration and gratitude of the county. He walked away an icon.

Ryan McCluskey

Fermanagh were blessed with two of the best defenders of their generation. We have just written about one in Barry Owens. Ryan McCluskey was the other. He first joined the inter county scene as a panel member under Pat King for the 2000 championship. His last year was 2018 under Rory Gallagher as Fermanagh reached the Ulster final. He played sporadically that year with injury, and indeed father time catching up with him.

McCluskey was one of the most intelligent footballers to ever play for Fermanagh. Stylish, graceful, assured; all adjectives that can be used to describe his style. He was best known for his role as a centre back and was impeccable as Fermanagh reached an Ulster final under Malachy O’Rourke in 2008 and when the ball was in his hand Erne fans could always feel content that there was no danger imminent.

The Enniskillen Gaels man started off life as a corner back and although not blessed with searing speed his vision made up for it and he became a man marking specialist and his battles with the likes of Steven McDonnell and Brendan Devenney were particularly memorable. He was a player who demanded the most from his team-mates and also from himself as he did everything he could off the field to make sure he was as effective as possible on it. Clucker, as he is known throughout Fermanagh, has the respect of not only those he played with but also those who played against him. A Rolls Royce of a footballer.

Eamon Maguire

Like Ryan McCluskey Eamon Maguire enjoyed a long inter county career that spanned 15 seasons. He burst on to the seen in 2004 as a dazzling wing half forward in Fermanagh’s run to the All Ireland semi final. With Maguire on one wing and Mark Little on the other Fermanagh had two players who quite literally covered every blade of grass.

He was another player whose team-mates loved him. There wasn’t much to look at with Eamon. He was light and didn’t have the physique of the modern player but looks could be deceiving. He was teak tough and absolutely brilliant in the air, thanks to a great pair of hands and a jump that at times defied gravity.

The St Pat’s player was also utterly unselfish and perhaps if he had a less altruistic approach he would have featured more on the score board, but he was still a regular scorer, chipping in with a steady two points a game for much of his career.

Maguire could always be relied upon to give his all and perhaps one of he greatest compliments that you can pay him is to say that he would have been star in any era given his skill set and ability to always perform at a consistently high level.

Marty McGrath

The earliest retiree on the list Marty McGrath left the inter county stage in the first few years of the decade. The Ederney man was the driving force around the engine room for Fermanagh for the best part of a decade. Like Owens he had plenty of injury setbacks but when he was at his best so too were Fermanagh.

McGrath was as dynamic a midfielder as there was. He didn’t stand much over 6ft but his sheer will and desire to put his body on the line meant that McGrath was often the lighting rod for his team.

Defensively he did all the unglamorous work that rarely makes the highlight reel yet the spectacular high fetch or crucial score were very much part of his repertoire as well. McGrath played with a furious intent and at times single handily dragged Fermanagh to victory through the force of his convictions.

Barry Mulrone, Marty O’Brien and James Sherry

It is tough leaving people off the list but it would have been remiss not to mention Mulrone, O’Brien and Sherry. Mulrone was a mainstay for almost the entire decade and was perfect for the evolving modern game with his energy levels and ability to win dirty ball around the middle.

Mulrone was tough in the tackle and very physical and turned over a mountain of ball and at the other end he hit plenty of cracking scores in vital moments. A player who’s honesty spilled forward every time he took to the field.

His Devenish club mate, Marty O’Brien was not the luckiest of players. Injuries always blighted his career and forced him to stop much too young. But when his star was shining it was so bright. A brilliant man marker if the phrase swash buckling had not been invented then McBrien would surely have coined it. He dashed around the Fermanagh defence putting out fires and made valuable soirees into the opposition half at times too. A real fan favourite.

James Sherry also stepped away from inter county football this decade having burst on to the scene in that famous summer of 2004. Over his years in the green jersey Sherry floated between midfield and centre half forward and was as elegant and classy in either spot.

Very intelligent and a supreme reader of the game he could both soar in the air and glide over the turf. A consistent scorer with a huge engine Sherry left a big hole to fill when he retired, as did all mentioned on this page.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

GAA Football