Enniskillen Gaels are growing stronger on and off the pitch: Simon Bradley
SIMON Bradley recalls the time when he couldn't even get a full side of players at training for Enniskillen Gaels. Now, the new Fermanagh champions are considering setting up a third senior team.
Some of that chat might have been drink-fuelled, the Gaels manager admits with a laugh, amidst the celebratory euphoria as the New York Cup stayed in Brewster Park for the first time since the club's last triumph in 2006.
All those who volunteer around the club "are enjoying the fact that they're getting to see a bit of success on the football field because we won the junior title for the fourth or fifth year on the trot, and then to win the senior title in the same year is great.
"There's even talk now of a third team next year and more people wanting to play, boys coming out of retirement - all sorts of talk on the Sunday and the Monday – you know yourself.
"I'm not involved in that talk. I said I have no problem looking to stay on next year but that I'd only be involved in the first two teams because the same management team does both those teams."
Running those two teams was a factor in the Gaels getting back to the top of the Erne County tree, having only returned to senior championship football last season, says Bradley:
"That has worked really well for us this year, in terms of being able to keep numbers up at training.
"Any training night we've never dropped below 25 - there's nights you're up at 40, which is a different problem. But I've been there nights over the years where you've had 12 and that just doesn't work at senior level."
The Gaels' success has also been based on work in south Belfast, as Bradley explains: "We've four players living up there and we kept the boys in Belfast until the middle of July before we started bringing them down.
"Two ex-players, Fergal Nolan is up with Bredagh, he's living in Belfast now a long time, and then Paul Gunn, who would have played a bit of football with us too - those two lads have been taking most of the training in Belfast.
"The boys trained with Bredagh in February, March and half of April, which was great. Our s&c [strength and conditioning] coach and trainer just sent up what we were doing down in Enniskillen. It just took the pressure off travel, because I've been in that car up and down for four years, two or three times a week and it does tire you out. You grow to resent it nearly.
"It's different for students compared to somebody working; people working are under pressure to get their job finished and get down the road. You know yourself, if you're not in the right part of Belfast at the right time you add 30 minutes [to the journey]. Everything we've done this year seemed to work, touch wood."
This Saturday night Enniskillen host Cavan champions Gowna, 20 years and two days after meeting them in the 2002 Ulster SFC semi-final.
There's a certain cyclical element to the Gaels' revival, but Bradley insists it's more due to hard work than just time:
"We have Conor McShea, Ollie McShea's cub, and Neilly McDermott, Gerry McDermott's cub, and I think that they are the only two that there are there. The Brewsters and Kevin Gunn and those boys, their sons are still another maybe seven or eight years away from coming around.
"We just have a really good crop there at the minute because there was a lot of work done with these lads, right throughout the club from under-8 up.
"We realised the mistake when we slipped to Division Two and there was nothing coming through to follow us. But they haven't made that mistake now in the last 10 or 12 years. So we'd like to think that there's going to be…not a conveyor belt of players, we're not talking that type of club, but certainly one or two each year that we can add in, hopefully try and maintain the success or at least maintain being very competitive from now on, rather than waiting for a group of players to come."
The revival has also been driven off the pitch by what Bradley terms "a tsunami of volunteers down there at the minute. There's that massive launch we had for the new pitches and a new clubhouse.
"Everything's just sort of come together this year, from the launch a few months ago to winning the senior championship."
Win or lose this weekend, Enniskillen Gaels are back.