New Fermanagh boss Kieran Donnelly teaching and learning in Tyrone
TYRONE are flavour of the month but new Fermanagh football manager Kieran Donnelly’s connections with the O’Neill County are of much longer standing.
The 45-year-old is into his 21st year of teaching at Omagh CBS, where he’s coached a few future Red Hand stars, including four who helped overcome Mayo in Saturday’s All-Ireland SFC Final.
The Brookeborough clubman is also good friends with Tyrone legend Peter Canavan, having worked with him in charge of Fermanagh almost a decade ago and also at his club Errigal Ciaran and at Cavan Gaels, where Donnelly is the manager now.
Dromore man Fergal Quinn, a fellow CBS teacher, will be his assistant, having fulfilled that role for Corn na nOg and MacRory Cup teams as well as with Monaghan club Scotstown, whom they took to the 2018 Ulster Club SFC Final, losing out to Gweedore of Donegal.
Yet Donnelly is well aware it’s his own Fermanagh he’s working with. He’ll confirm two more Ernemen as part of his management set-up soon - and his sights are set realistically.
For starters he’ll finish up with the Gaels after this year’s Cavan championship, explaining: “It’s solely Fermanagh. From a family perspective the split season is appealing, but it’ll be solely Fermanagh. I don’t want to fall between two stools by doing both because there would be a crossover with pre-season and so on. I want to really give this my full effort and energy.”
Donnelly was Canavan’s assistant as Fermanagh boss in the 2012 and 2013 seasons and says: “I’ve learnt an awful lot from Peter himself… He was an inspirational player and as a manager I thought he was excellent tactically and quite inspiring as a speaker and a motivator. To me he had the complete package as a manager.
“I was lucky to learn from him… The standards that Peter expected, the environment that he wanted to create, that he was used to as a player, was what he put in place with Fermanagh.”
Donnelly saw similar approaches from players he coached who went on to play for Tyrone in Saturday’s final victory over Mayo - Conor Meyler, Peter Harte, Niall Sludden, and Ben McDonnell.
“We had seven past pupils who represented Tyrone at the weekend, and a couple in the backroom team [Des McGuinness and Joe McMahon]…
“You always find the top players reflect on their own performance; there’s a lack of blame, they look at how they can get better. Those CBS fellas who played…maximised themselves.
“They were county footballers even before they became county footballers in the way they lived their lives. They had high expectations. There’s no magic formula…Tyrone outworked Mayo.”
A well-known quote from and Irish rugby great also resonates with Donnelly: “Paul O’Connell said ‘Be the best at everything that doesn’t require talent’. That’s my favourite saying. Tyrone do that well. They always had the ability, and when you marry those two things together you get a very powerful unit.”
Donnelly will aim to do some blending of his own within the Fermanagh panel: “My main focus will be marrying together the lot of young players who’ve come through with our still excellent older players, asking the senior players to set the standards for the younger boys to come and perform.
“There’s a fearlessness of youth and we’ve a lot of them coming through from St Michael’s [Enniskillen]. It’s about trying to harness those two groups together…and make us up competitive.”
He is confident that can be achieved, recalling his own playing days with Fermanagh (which began under a Tyrone native): “We jump between different set-ups, but from my own playing career, starting under Pat King back in 1996, we were always competing.
“We won an All-Ireland ‘B’ and a McKenna Cup, took Cavan to a kick of a ball the year they won Ulster, ’97. Then under Dom Corrigan and John Maughan we were competing in Division One. I’ve been lucky enough to be under a few good managers and you know what works.
“All the players in any county set-up want is a ‘high performance environment’ where you set standards and take away the excuses from everybody as much as you can by putting everything into place for them to perform.
“That’s what I intend to bring to the job, drawing on previous experience and knowing what’s expected from players at that level.”
Donnelly was chosen ahead of former Roscommon goalkeeper Shane Curran, who intended to back himself with Fermanagh legend Barry Owens and other Ernemen, namely Pat Cadden, Leon Carters, and Owen Mooney.
The new boss appreciates the trust that has been placed in him: “Shane had put a very good backroom together so I’m glad I’ve been afforded the opportunity to bring the best version of ourselves to the set-up. We’ll try to create a good environment for this new crop to come through and maximise themselves in the future.”