Derrygonnelly see off Erne Gaels in dramatic Fermanagh SFC Final finish

Derrygonnelly full-back Oisin Smyth was named 'man of the match' for his marking of Erne Gaels star Ultan Kelm.
Derrygonnelly full-back Oisin Smyth was named 'man of the match' for his marking of Erne Gaels star Ultan Kelm.

Mannok Fermanagh SFC Final: Derrygonnelly Harps 2-8 Erne Gaels 0-9

A final that seemed to be drifting to an anticipated conclusion instead produced a frenetic finale and almost an amazing upset – before Derrygonnelly sealed a deserved victory, but even then with a chaotic, crazy goal.

Erne Gaels might have gone ahead for the very first time in the third minute of added time when Ultan Kelm escaped the attentions of ‘man of the match’ Oisin Smyth to fire a right-foot rocket shot, but it ricocheted up and out off the crossbar rather than down and in, and the Harps won a free out.

Within two minutes Derrygonnelly netted a highly unusual goal, fittingly from their captain Shane McGullion. Belleek goalkeeper Barry McCann, as he’d done so often, pushed up around midfield, but got dispossessed and the Harps skipper was able to dribble the ball on and on and on before rolling it into the unguarded net.

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The five-point winning margin felt about right, even though the victors had played three-quarters of the match with only 14 men, with wing-forward Aidan McKenna sent off, apparently for striking.

Even so, Derrygonnelly looked the better, more assured team, before Belleek came back at them strongly late on, leading to a very sweaty conclusion, as Harps selector Paul Ward acknowledged:

“It was pure relief when I saw Shane running towards that empty net. Look, we knew with the extra man Belleek had they were going to put serious pressure on us in the second half and we’re really proud of how the boys managed that. The effort, the work-rate, the commitment from every man who started or came on was serious there…

“They were just chipping away, and the heavy pitch made it hard, but our boys put in serious effort to make it look maybe like a 15-a-side game still but there were going to be spaces opening up in the latter stages of the game. A couple of our boys came in and added fresh legs, a wee bit of impetus. We’re just lucky to get out with a win, it’s been a brilliant day.”

An early goal also contributed to Derrygonnelly’s triumph. Mindful of how Erne Gaels had made a flying start in their semi-final, going six points clear of last year’s champs Enniskillen Gaels, the Harps were determined to begin brightly themselves, and achieved their aim.

Belleek had set out their tactical stall with two of their three changes to their programme line-up. Apart from starting with Barry McCann, who's been converted to goalkeeper this season, they also replaced two forwards with defenders, Jack McCann and Paul McCaffrey coming in for Luke Ryder and young Dan McCann.

Yet they still looked very vulnerable to booming deliveries from deep by Conall McCann, operating around midfield.

His first was punched by the goalkeeper and scrambled clear, but his second brought a third minute goal. Keeper McCann, having advanced, could not back-track quickly enough, and only palmed the dropping ball to Gary McKenna, who gathered before shooting low past the number 16.

McKenna then won and converted a free, something Erne Gaels could not do, with their skipper Ryan Lyons’s shooting skewing two such opportunities well wide in quick succession.

Indeed the first quarter was almost over when they opened their account, through Ultan Kelm, and Conall Jones instantly responded by clipping a point on the run.

The Gaels were given some hope when Aidan McKenna was shown a straight red card, on the advice of a linesman, after apparently swinging out at his opposite number Odhran Johnston, although contact appeared minimal.

The lively Tommy McCaffrey and midfielder Michael Og McGarrigle added two quick points, but too often the men in black over-carried into disciplined Derrygonnelly defending and a Conall Jones free made for four-point half-time gap, 1-4 to 0-3.

Derrygonnelly midfielder Ryan Jones competes for the ball with Brian Mullin of Erne Gaels.
Derrygonnelly midfielder Ryan Jones competes for the ball with Brian Mullin of Erne Gaels.

It was score for score over the opening 11 minutes of the second period, but then Lyons showed that he had sorted out his shooting boots, both from frees and from play, to halve that gap.

Still, Derrygonnelly appeared well capable of keeping their opponents at arm’s length, especially when McGullion made his first captain’s contribution on the scoreboard, pushing up and soaring high to fist the ball over the bar as a free from keeper Jack Kelly fell short in the 55th minute.

Belleek could not get the merest sight of the goal it seemed that they needed, but when Ultan Kelm converted a soft free and then substitute Luke Ryder sent over a fantastic point from the right side-line, suddenly, rather amazingly, this was a one-point game, 1-7 to 0-9.

However, when Ultan Kelm missed a free and then Belleek goalie McCann could only tip a 63rd minute shot from Harps stalwart Ryan Jones over the bar, that seemed that.

Instead we had those mind-boggling moments, with only an inch or two of crossbar stopping Erne Gaels ending a 42-year wait for the Fermanagh crown, before Derrygonnelly regained the title.

Their seventh success in nine seasons, their 10th overall, but surely the one won in the maddest of circumstances.

Harps selector Ward summed it up well, saying: “Every game has ‘sliding doors’ moments where you look at it and think how it could have gone the other way. We got lucky there, but we made our own luck by boys putting in serious work to turn over for that last goal.”

Derrygonnelly: J Kelly; A Jones, O Smyth, M Jones; Shane McGullion (capt.) (1-1), Rian McGovern (0-1), C McGovern; R Jones (0-1), C Jones (0-2, 0-1 free); S Gilroy (0-1), A McKenna, L Jones, E McHugh; G Jones (0-1 free), G McKenna (1-1).

Substitutes: Ronan McGovern for Gilroy (43); D Cassidy for C McGovern (52); D Ward for L Jones (59); R McHugh for Ronan McGovern (62); J Flanagan for G McKenna (64).

Red card: A McKenna (18).

Erne Gaels: B McCann; S Mimna, P Ward, U O’Reilly; P McCaffrey; J McCann, B Mullin, M Gilfeddar; M Og McGarrigle (0-1), R Lyons (capt.) (0-3, 0-2 frees); O Kelm, O Johnston, T McCaffrey (0-1), A Kelm (0-1); U Kelm (0-2, 0-1 free).

Substitutes: L Ryder (0-1) for Mimna (42); G McGloin for Gilfeddar (43); D McCann for Johnston (55); S Rooney for P McCaffrey (58).

Referee: Gerard McLaughlin (Ederney).