“I know dad would be very proud today..." Leigh Jones's thoughts are with dad Peter after Derrygonnelly Harps win Fermanagh championship
VICTORY in Sunday’s Fermanagh championship final was tinged with sadness that Derrygonnelly Harps stalwart Peter Jones, who lost his life in a tragic accident in Lough Melvin in July, was not there to witness it.
Peter’s sons Leigh and Aaron played their part as the Harps overcame stubborn resistance from Enniskillen Gaels in the decider and afterwards an emotional Leigh said: “I know dad would be very proud today”.
With tears not far away, Leigh spoke eloquently of how his father’s former team-mates had carried his coffin when he was laid to rest and explained how the traumatic experience had brought home to him the true value of club football.
“It has been an emotional build-up and there was quite a release at the end,” said Leigh after Derrygonnelly’s victory.
“My father was just such a massive Harps man. He did everything for the club, he played into his 40s and as soon as stopped playing he went into coaching. He was part of the committee and any volunteer work that needed to be done, my dad would be there.
“He gave his life to this club and football has been a good distraction for my family over the last few months and we just wanted to provide a bit of relief by winning the championship.
“It’s an unbelievable club really, we’re so close-knit. The club is the community and the community is the club.
“Whenever dad died it showed me how special club football is and how lucky we are to have club football in this country. Dad’s team-mates carried him in his coffin and that’s what it’s all about.”
The Jones family has drawn comfort from how their club wrapped its arms around them in sympathy since the tragedy in July. The resilience Leigh and brother Aaron displayed throughout the championship campaign was remarkable and wing-forward Leigh punched the air in celebration when he landed a point on Sunday as Derrygonnelly gradually pulled away from the Gaels in the second half.
“They (Enniskillen) came out of the blocks strong and it was a good, physical game – I thought the ref had a brilliant game,” said Leigh.
“He let it go and we just went at it. I’d rather have it a wee bit more physical than the ref blowing everything. That’s just part of it and we’re a big, physical team and we’re well fit to deal with that, it’s just part of the game.
“We weathered the storm that they came with at the start – maybe they should have got a few more scores but we dug in, got a foothold in the game, got a few points and then we came out strong at the start of the second half and that was the winning of the game.”
After a scrappy first period, Derrygonnelly produced some fluent counterattacking football after half-time and a Conall Jones penalty and a late Stephen McGullion goal saw them to a nine-point win and now Derrygonnelly prepare for an Ulster quarter-final against Tyrone champions Dromore.
“The first half was intense, a bit scrappy and cagey but we came out strong in the second half and started running at them,” said Leigh.
“We have a lot of players who can come in and make a difference too with fresh legs and we got scores at crucial times.
“The penalty opened up the gap and we’re around the block long enough to know how to close out games like that at this stage.
“We’ll enjoy the next few days, winning this was our first aim this year but we’ve plenty of experience in Ulster, we know what it’s about and we’re going to be up against a very good Dromore team – any team that comes out of Tyrone is going to be a top class outfit.
“We played Trillick here a couple of years ago (Derrygonnelly won on penalties after a 3-11 to 1-17 draw) in a cracking game so we know what we need to do. We’ll knuckle down and we’ll give Ulster a good rattle.”