GAA Football

Erne Gaels boss Ryder hopes rejuvenated attack can edge them past Devenish

Seamus Ryder of Erne Gaels - the long-serving player is now the Belleek club's manager. Pic: Donnie Phair

WHEN Erne Gaels were relegated from the Fermanagh senior football championship last year player-turned-manager Seamus Ryder knew they had to take their medicine.

Working in health insurance, his recipe to cure the club was simple: fresh coaching, get absent players back, score more goals, and improve discipline.

Those factors have helped the Belleek men move to just one game away from a return to the Erne County SFC, in the form of the Fermanagh Intermediate Football Championship Final against neighbours Devenish this Saturday night in Brewster Park (7pm).

One of Ryder's first tasks as the new boss was to shift on a veteran full-forward. Helpfully, that potentially awkward conversation was with himself.

Still only 34, he insists he knew the time was right to hang up his boots: “I'm just managing, just managing. Finished last year, a few injury issues and we were relegated out of senior, so I thought it was time to get the younger boys in.

“Look, we've plenty of talent there, didn't need me hanging around there; that's the last thing I wanted, to be not good enough and in the way.”

The attack needed improving in other ways, and Erne Gaels scored 16 goals in nine Division One league games, which pleased Ryder:

“We worked on that. We felt the last year or two we'd lost our way in the forward line with the players we had. That was the aim at the start of the year to get those guys back up and firing.

“We've got that now, confidence is good with the likes of Shane Rooney, Tommy McCaffrey, Gareth Deery, they've been going really well this year, they're dangerous.”

2021 has been a significant improvement on last year, with Ryder's team coming close to a place in the Division One Final: “We won the warm-up competition and then finished third in the proper league. We ended up basically having a semi-final against Enniskillen, winner-take-all game to qualify for the final, and they beat us that day. Apart from that it was a pretty good league campaign.”

Although he says “I'd have worked with most of the lads at underage, a couple of years, this is the first time full-time into it.”

Accordingly, he brought other former players in alongside him: “Ciaran Smith and Conleth Cullen came in with me, and Brian Mullan is a player-coach - he was with Tir Chonaill Gaels in London, winning championships over there, so he has good experience.”

Demotion last year was something of a shock to the 2016 senior finalists, but Ryder makes no complaints: “There was no relegation from the league so boys maybe took their eye of the ball, expected to just turn up in the championship. But we lost the three games, were relegated fair and square. You have to just hold your hand up and accept your medicine.

“We knew that wasn't us. We got Brian Mullan back on board, got a couple of lads from the underage teams who hadn't played last year. I think there's six in all who didn't play championship last year, which does freshen us up. Ciaran Smith has a good way as trainer, he was a big boost, pushed everything on.

“There was a bit of soul-searching done last November, we started training back in December, soon after the defeat, so it's been a long year, they've worked hard.”

If they do go back up at the first attempt it will have been earned. Erne Gaels beat Maguiresbridge, last year's losing Intermediate finalists, in the quarter-final, then saw off Irvinestown. The latter, as Ryder points out, are “a fellow Division One team, and we have to beat another Division One team. We'll have to do it the hard way.”

To make it even tougher their opponents are neighbours Devenish, with the Garrison men also determined to return to the senior championship after their own relegation in 2019:

“Devenish are a Division One team this last, maybe, 20 years,” says Ryder. “I don't think that happens anywhere else that you'd have to beat an established Division One team to win an Intermediate title. But if there'd been relegation in the league last year we'd have been relegated so we have to take our medicine. It's up to ourselves to get out of it.

“Both teams know each other really, really well. They'd be school-mates, cousins, drinking buddies. We've already played three times: drew two, won the other after extra time, won by a point, so that tells you what it's going to be like. It'll be tight. There's no secrets - only hard work is going to win it.

“I don't think there'll be an issue that way, I think we've only had one red card all year. That was something we needed to improve on too, our discipline in championship games would have let us down the last couple of years. If we keep 15 men on the pitch then we've a chance.”

Like Devenish, Erne Gaels see themselves as a senior club, with Ryder openly setting sights high: “Yeah, definitely that would be the view. Obviously the last year or two, maybe not - but with the personnel we got back this year, the underage talent we have, that's what we're aiming for.

“A lot of our lads are mid- to late-twenties so they're a good age. That's the aim - we want to get back challenging Derrygonnelly, Enniskillen. We'd see ourselves on that level, we weren't that far away from them in the games we played them this year.”

On Sunday, they'll aim to take another step closer.

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